How to pitch a busy TV reporter

WGN TV’s (Channel 9, Chicago) medical reporter Dina Bair wants to read your pitch, not hear it, and she wants to read it when you’re going to bed.

WGN TV’s (Channel 9, Chicago) medical reporter Dina Bair wants to read your pitch, not hear it, and she wants to read it when you’re going to bed

National health beat TV reporter Dina Bair doesn’t have time to take a phone call from a PR rep pitching a story during her day at WGN TV. She doesn’t even have time for voice mail pitches: “They’re always too long with too many details.”

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Her favorite method of getting pitches: e-mail. She says, “I love to read e-mails.” Her preferred time to read these pitches: Long after the frenzy of daily news gathering has subsided, at home, at 11:00 at night, when she can give them her full attention.

The subject line on your e-mail: it’s important

Bair recently spoke to Ragan about what grabs her attention when she reviews electronic appeals from PR folks who want their product, service or client on her two-minute news segment on WGN:

“What I love is a catchy subject line for your e-mail pitch. That’s the key. Your subject line might be a lead line in broadcasting, or it might be a headline in the newspaper. It can’t be some long sentence with a lot of details.”

According to Bair, that subject line must be quick and easy to read, and it must be something that commands her attention immediately: “Above all, you’ve got to deliver on that terrific subject line when I read your pitch in the e-mail below. You can’t promise to cure cancer, and then do nothing of the sort, because if you do that, I’ll delete your e-mail without responding to it.”
(Watch more from Bair on

Get down to business instantly in your pitch

What is the best PR pitch? Bair says it’s the pitch that gets down to nuts-and-bolts right away, at the top of the pitch. You’ve got to think of the classic inverted pyramid news story. Get the important stuff, the five W’s, in the first two paragraphs, and lure the reporter to read for detail further down.

There are many days when Bair is simply too busy reporting on developments in national health stories to consider doing evergreen features. “On a typical day, I’ll come in and check my e-mail and then decide what our story of the day will be. Sometimes it’s a breaking story that overrides everything else, like the uproar over the studies questioning the effectiveness of the anti-cholesterol drug Vytorin. But often we work on evergreen stories, and for those stories, I’m open to a good pitch.”

Good advice for novice PR pitchers

Bair has some common sense advice for PR pros who are trying to avoid beginner’s mistakes. For example, PR people often pitch her stories about a doctor who’s flying through Chicago, or who has written a book. Her advice: Don’t do that. She tells them, “Well, it’s great that your doctor client is coming through town, but what pictures am I going to get of him or her? They aren’t going to be in their element, in their clinic, working with patients. It’s just going to be a talking head. I can’t make a news story with just a talking head.”

What’s the best PR pitch?

Bair advises that PR pros do a little thinking about what her job is. They should remember that she must write a two-minute creative story that will interest her viewers instantly. Their first concern, Bair asserts, should be to write a creative pitch that includes all of the facts and is interesting, but doesn’t become too flowery. “Don’t go into too much detail. Put the detail further down in the pitch,” she advises.

The clinching pitch: sell your story to TV

Dina Bair answers some FAQ’s from

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