PR Explained | What is a Satellite Media Tour?

TIA HERE with the scoop on how some interesting public relations things work. This is all general information, but based on my experiences interning at a PR company. If you want to read more about my internship experiences, check out this post and the rest of the blog.

A Satellite Media Tour, or SMT, is what you hear on the local radio or news. It is a news package delivered from one spot in the world to many local news stations, often live. Here's how it works--at least in my experience. A company has the desire to put out a message or sponsor some kind of package featuring the talent (a person who talks in front of the camera, often an experienced and well-known face, especially in the specific category of what the package is about) discussing or presenting information to a camera, in conjunction with a news station somewhere far away.

It's a fast moving and often repetitive process. The PR company lines up stations that are interested in putting the story on their program, and sets up times for them to connect with the studio (in New York, for this example). This list of times is critical and includes the name of the station, the names of the people the talent will be speaking to (meaning the local news anchors; this is for the teleprompter so the talent can act like they know the anchors), the location of the station (where it will be broadcast--like Jacksonville, Florida, or San Antonio, Texas), the time that the segment will air (usually segments last 5 minutes and occur every 10 minutes in quick succession for hours), and whether it is radio or TV (if it is radio, the talent does not have to worry about looking at the camera unless the station wants to post a video on their website; the problem with radio is that radio people tend to talk and talk, so they have to be made very aware of their time limit and shut down if necessary!).

Meeting up for the SMT means everyone involved (minus the local news stations across the country, of course) coming together to a studio very early in the morning, often with some breakfast and coffee provided. There needs to be a cameraman, the people in the control room, the talent, and a producer managing everyone else. There are often also makeup people present, models if needed, and representatives from the company who ordered the SMT. The PR company provides the producer and handles booking the studio (with the cameramen and control room experts looped in), as well as sometimes finding a suitable talent--if one hasn't already been provided.

The people in the control room, whose job titles I'm not sure of (a switcher, teleprompter runner, and someone who records the footage as a backup and for those who requested a tape-and-ship), handle recording any b-roll before the SMT officially starts, which is often necessary if the SMT only includes one camera and they want to vary up the shots while moving from one product to the next. The producer starts calling into the stations across the country to confirm times and make any last minute changes, and then will call the first station a few minutes before they go live. They connect the talent's, cameraman's, and their own earpieces to the local station's IFB, which allows them to hear everything being shown on the local station--from ads to anything the news anchors say in commercial breaks and live. This keeps everyone timed in correctly. The local station then connects to whatever is being filmed in the NY station by using a specific locator number that bounces around in space (hence, "satellite" media tour) and shows them what exactly we're looking at, miles away. This allows them to cut back and forth to our feed (the segment) to their own (the local anchors). Sometimes the audio cuts out, which is why you will occasionally see reporters on TV look blank and hear the anchors say, "Oh, I think we lost them." Satellites can only be so trustworthy!

Meanwhile, while a segment for one of the stations is being filmed, the producer is calling the next station's producer/control room and preparing to get connected the millisecond the first one ends. The talent has no time to breathe--and neither does anyone else. It would be pretty exhilarating, communicating with stressed out people across the country as early as 6 or 7 a.m. (and having been in the studio since 4 or 5), but the repetitiveness of the talent presenting the same information again and again with sustained enthusiasm makes the process harrowing. Still, it has to be done, and it's an interesting way to break up a week.

The best part about an SMT is how, after working nonstop for six hours, you can leave work early or head straight home afterwards, depending on how many hours you usually work. Waking up before the sun and grinding through a long SMT feels more rewarding when you can catch up on your sleep afterward. It's a pretty exciting process, and it's interesting to see the city right before dawn. Besides the homeless and the people rocking the walk of shame, the streets are bare and quiet--almost misty, calm. It makes you feel even more prepared for the SMT storm.
Much love,

T.