For a PR professional, there’s no better feeling than landing your company or client a well-earned media placement.
Even though there are so many more outlets for coverage than ever before, landing a broadcast segment still feels especially exciting. Perhaps it’s because there’s something a bit glamorous and tangible about seeing your hard work and the story you’re trying to tell play out on television.
Though overall TV viewership is down from previous years due to the rise of online news, there’s still something very powerful about visually telling a story. TV is still an effective way to reach potential audiences. According to Pew Research, 50 percent of Americans report getting their news from television.
So how can you land your company or client placement on local or national TV news?
We sat down with two experts, a broadcast journalist and a PR professional, to learn more about earning broadcast coverage. Jennifer Joyce is a reporter for FOX29 in Philadelphia fields pitches from PR pros and works with them to share stories that are relevant to the community. Gita Amar is a senior director at PMK•BNC, where she has a long history of success pitching for broadcast programming, landing clients coverage on CBS, NBC, CNBC and more.
How TV is different
It’s important to distinguish the difference between pitching for TV and pitching a traditional newspaper journalist.
When pitching TV, your story must be visual.
“Ask yourself questions,” advises Amar. “Do I have the b-roll I need? No one wants to see a talking head unless you have something else to offer.”
As with pitching any journalist, PR professionals must do their homework and be familiar with the outlet or journalist they are pitching. When it comes to pitching broadcast outlets, this information becomes even more important.
“Watch the show!” says Amar. “The biggest mistake is people aren’t watching before they pitch.”
Not only do TV news programs have different segments within a show, the shows themselves might be different. For example, a news station’s morning show might be lighter and allow for more fun, feature-y segments than the station’s 6 p.m. evening news.
“You have to know the show, and know the anchors and the reporters,” says Amar. Find out their likes and dislikes. Does this reporter like working with kids? Does this reporter enjoy stories about animals? You can’t pitch something you don’t know.”
Joyce agrees. “The biggest difference is knowing who you’re pitching and knowing what each person is going to be looking for. The producer in charge of planning our morning show is looking for different content than the 10 p.m. news producer,” she says.
It’s all in the timing
Where traditional journalists may have more lead time for stories, TV journalists are often working on a day-to-day basis. Deadlines are extremely fast and can vary depending on which reporter or show you’re pitching.
For example, Joyce is a nightside reporter at FOX29, meaning she works from 2:30-11:30 p.m., gathering stories for the 10 and 11 p.m. news broadcast. She arrives at work at 2:30 p.m. and immediately steps into a daily editorial meeting, where the news desk, news editors, producers, executive producers, assistant news director and news director all meet to discuss the news they’ll be covering that day.
At this meeting, each reporter must pitch their idea for what they want to cover that evening. After you pitch a reporter, then they must pitch the larger editorial meeting. At FOX29, each reporter is then assigned one story to pursue, and they get on the road soon after the meeting to follow the story.
That means you’d want to pitch Joyce before she steps into the editorial meeting if you want to get a shot at her covering your story. Timing is everything.
“It’s my responsibility as a reporter to make sure we have something that we can turn around that day,” explains Joyce. On a given day, Joyce had four story angles she plans to pitch at the editorial meeting. “How can I find my next story?” she says. “It’s something I’m always thinking about. People will stop us on the street to share ideas, and Facebook is huge now too. We get a lot of messages on social media.”
Tips for pitching TV
Here are five tips you should keep in mind when pitching TV producers:
1. Personalize your pitch.
“I get so many pitches that seem so corporate—it was clearly copy and pasted, and sent in a mass email,” says Joyce. “My biggest piece of advice is to make it seem like the pitch is tailored to the person you’re sending to in some way.”
Joyce says she likes when PR pros personalize their email subject lines to her (“Hi Jenni—came across this”). “The more personal the better,” she explains. She also recommends subject lines like “Local person XXXX” to remind her that it’s an area pitch that’s specific to Philadelphia.
Amar agrees on subject lines. “Tease your story in subject line,” she advises. “Keep it short and interesting. Put what show it’s for: ‘noon show’ or ‘interview available with X.’ This way, the producer can see that you’re thinking like them.”
2. Keep it visual.
It’s worth repeating: Broadcast must be visual.
“We need something to show,” Joyce explains. “Stories with a lot of stats or numbers may be awesome for a newspaper, but it can be difficult to get across on broadcast. Viewers must be able to see the action. If there’s nothing to show, then it’s not going to work.”
3. Find the impact and determine your unique angle.
Joyce says the biggest thing she looks for in a potential story is community impact. What affects the most people?
“We look for what will grip our viewers either positively or negatively,” advises Joyce. “Recently, we did a story that became a big deal: It was about parking being taken away in busy part of the city, and the community was up in arms. Anytime we can find a story that’s really affecting people, we go for it.”
Amar says to convey why the story will make a difference for viewers. Is there a social or economic impact? Does it affect a specific community, city or industry?
“Know where your story stands,” advises Amar.
4. Don’t be afraid of the phone.
The phone is a controversial communication tool when it comes to pitching journalists. According to our Annual Journalist survey, 72 percent of journalists wish PR pros would stop calling them to pitch story ideas.
However, Amar says when it comes to pitching TV, PR professionals can’t be afraid of getting on the phone. “The best people who do broadcast pitching get on the phones,” she says.
Amar advises that it’s important to read the voice of the person you’re calling. Do they sound hurried? She advises PR professionals to ask the person on the other end of the line if it’s a good time to chat. If it is, it’s time to show your passion.
Amar says people are afraid to use the phone because they don’t want to have a conversation about their story. PR professionals are nervous because they have to be extremely knowledgeable and make their pitch fast.
“You must have energy on the phone,” she says. “You have to love the story you’re pitching and be knowledgeable.”
5. Manage expectations.
“Everyone thinks their client is important,” says Amar. “
Amar says PR professionals have to be realistic and ask themselves, “Is this story actually a fit for broadcast? Not every pitch is going to change the world.”
She says PR pros should be comfortable being honest with their client about when a story just might not be a fit and about how long it might take to garner coverage.
“Not every pitch is going to make the big shows. Know and tell your client — it may take us six months to get there,” she says. “Be frank with your clients. If you’re not you’re doing everyone a disservice.”
Persistence is key
Just like with any type of pitching, it’s important to be persistent. You likely won’t get a “yes” on the first try.
As easy as it is to become discouraged when pitching broadcast, Amar says it’s important to stay positive and keep at it.
“You can’t pitch just once,” she explains. “It might take two or three tries before you get through to someone.”
How do you pitch for TV, PR Daily readers?
Jessica Lawlor is the features editor for the Muck Rack blog and handles content initiatives and social media for Muck Rack. A version of this article originally appeared on Muck Rack, a service that enables you to find journalists to pitch, build media lists, get press alerts and create coverage reports with social media data.