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You keep calling that TV station, and the producers won’t pick up the phone.
You email them with intriguing and visually rich subject lines, such as “Summertime fun event,” and those snooty TV types don’t reply.
Or maybe the trouble is you don’t know how to get the attention of someone whose inbox is swamped with two dozen incoming emails an hour. In “Breaking into TV: A step-by-step guide to getting your message on TV,” Larissa Hall, digital content manager at 13WHAM in Rochester, N.Y., offers pointers that will make your TV pitch stand out.
Hall, a former Tribune Broadcasting producer, suggests these tips:
1. Be specific in the subject line.
The email subject line is your hook. Snag the producer’s interest with one that explains just what you are offering. Avoid retreads of clichés.
“You have to be specific,” Hall says. “I get a lot of ‘Mother’s Day is around the corner,’ and the ‘Tax day tips.'”
2. Tell what you want.
Hall is swamped with flowery, information-choked emails that don’t get to the point. Don’t B.S. her, she says. Unbury the lede.
“Just tell me what you want,” Hall says. “‘I want this guest on your morning show. I want this big opening covered. I want you to send cameras to this time and this place.'”
After that, a dash of your encyclopedic mastery of your subject may be appropriate—as long as you write tersely. Don’t waste the producer’s time.
3. Make video pitches.
Video is a terrific way to show off a client who’s good on camera, or illustrate how some complex thing works. Get producers drooling over the B-roll possibilities, which is an essential part of their job.
Hall asked for sample pitches from her audience, and one man offered a story on New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx, which was planning to open a new native plant garden. She suggests pitching a sneak preview, maybe even for the weather guy to do his forecast from the garden the day before it opens.
And yes, a smartphone uploaded to YouTube is fine as a way to pitch the visuals. If you can shoot TV-quality B-roll, so much the better.
4. Be topical.
If you’re working for the botanical garden, know everything about every botanical garden, Hall says. Know what President Obama is doing in the White House that affects botanical gardens in California. Set up Google alerts. Become an expert.
5. Know when to call.
Have you ever felt you’re calling and not getting anyone on the phone at a TV station? Maybe it’s because you’re phoning at the wrong time.
When Hall worked on early morning shows that aired at 5 a.m. or 6 a.m., she got to work at 10:30 p.m. the previous night. Call to pitch at 9 a.m., and she’s already back home in bed.
Evening producers get in at 9 a.m. and tend to have a meeting right away. A good time to call is at 10 a.m., before the day gets crazy. Assignment desks are best to reach around 6:30 a.m., when they’re putting together the day’s schedule.
And please, she says: “Don’t stalk anyone.”
6. Pitch events on weekday holidays.
Yes, you had to hold that river cleanup on a weekend when volunteers could show up. But TV stations are short-handed on weekends.
A great time to pitch is on holidays that hit during the week. Banks are closed, sources are out, nobody’s calling reporters back. All of a sudden that press release starts looking pretty good.
7. Ask yourself the hard questions—like ‘Who cares?’
Be your own critic—and do it before you pitch a story. If you do pique a TV station’s interest, you’re bound to be asked these questions anyway:
1. Why does the viewer care about this?
2. If they don’t, should we make them care?
3. How are we going to tell this story to make them care?
4. What details can we leave out?
Says Hall: “How are you going to show me in that quick amount of time that it’s worth me sending a camera to [cover] you guys?”