Chicago’s morning news shows air earlier and earlier, and local producers have to fill a combined 15 hours of news each morning. However, that doesn’t mean they are an easy sell, since these decision-makers tend to reject 95-98 percent of ideas sent them. What separates stories that air from those that don’t?
A panel, moderated by WGN’s Bill Moller, included Platform Manager Michael Batkins of WMAQ; Producer/Booker Emerald-Jane Hunter of WLS’ Windy City Live!; Supervising Producer Tracy O’Brien of CBS/WBBM; and Executive Producer Sandy Pudar of WGN, offered PR pros insider tips on the pitches that wake them up.
Pitch according to the station’s interests and reference relevant topics that were previously covered
Lackluster pitches showcase little knowledge of the person who is being pitched, the station being pitched and, worst of all, blanket generic pitches. Media experts expect PR professionals to be familiar with their shows and what they are looking for to fill their time. Even though all journalists would like to get exclusives, they appreciate that even when they are given the same guests and topics, the pitches have different spins.
Pudar suggests that PR people “become familiar with what’s being been done and refer to [topics] we’ve covered. [Let us know] you watch our show. Tell us who will be a fit for our program and why. This catches our eye. Avoid boilerplates! It’s all about relationships so show that you are aware of our personalities, our shows, our themes and reference them. Mention names!” Summon your creativity to find a newsy niche to a story.
Include visuals to tell the story
Batkins’ advice is to “Spell out the visual components of the story and show me why it belongs on television. What will we see? What can you provide? I need to know what I am going to get.”
Hunter, whose segments all live online, is a major proponent of creative pitches. “Put thought into your pitch and figure out how to make it interactive so we can have fun with it,” advises Hunter, “Check our Web pages, Facebook, and Twitter. Find ways to tie-in that pitch so it fits.” She also adds that providing a YouTube link for viewing your client on camera in action is key.
Be concise in your text
The panel unanimously admonished the audience against making long-winded or unclear pitches, which are among their greatest pet peeves. Pudar states it bluntly, “I don’t need to know everyone’s history. Just give me one or two sentences saying, ‘This is my client. This is what he can talk about.’”
O’Brien suggests that bulleted pitches are preferable, with Hunter adding that the subject line should be clear, concise and include a news hook.
Use numbers to communicate value to the viewer
“Consider the viewer benefit,” suggest Pudar, “like providing ‘five crunches to flatten your tummy immediately.’”
O’Brien agrees that putting a number with the pitch adds value. “Give me unusual facts we have not heard before, like ‘three things to know before hiring a nanny,’ for example.” She added, “Offer a two-sentence tease line then a fact sheet once you already have us.”
Enhance your pitch with social media
Assistance with social media promotion offers a slight edge. “Social media has changed media pitching dramatically. Everyone can get the word out much faster about what we have coming up and what we’ve just done, “ O’Brien explains, “We find more breaking news on Twitter and Instagram. Promise us a client who is big with social media and will blast when they’ll be on TV and retweet it to show your traffic. If you can get that done, you may get on.”
Don’t be overly promotional
Never make a pitch that is too self-serving or merely a product commercial. Moller acknowledges that “telling stories about clients may not have been something the client wanted, but if it gets them on the air via a ‘soft sell,’ it will help polish their brand.”
Be aware of each station’s specific lead times
“If you get a ‘no,’ it might just be about timing,” explains Hunter, whose guests on Windy City Live! are booked three to four weeks in advance. However, if your pitch is especially good, keep in mind that it may be archived in case they need to fill a gap at the last minute. Other guests on the panel preferred pitches with only two weeks lead time to avoid feeling overwhelmed unless there is an approaching holiday.
Do not pressure producers for an immediate response to your pitch
Another one of O’Brien’s pet peeves is being harassed by phone several minutes after receiving an email pitch. “Give me a day or two to follow up with you if I am interested,” she says, “but if I am not interested, I am not interested”
Hunter on the other hand, would rather not receive phone calls at all, “When I am on the phone, I am distracted. If it is written, I can track it down. Phone pitches never work.” Remember not to oversell, overpromise or act pretentious.
Showcase your client’s expertise
All media love when professionals are tuned into the news and can offer sources proactively. “If there is something in the news, I love to get a note in my inbox offering a source. It really makes my job easier,” said Pudar.
If you’ve seen a segment covered on a different show and have an even more qualified expert to offer on the subject, don’t be shy about pitching them as well. O’Brien says to “Know the personalities of the different anchors and try different things. Tie stories to a news peg.” She greatly appreciates expert opinions when it comes to stories that involve schools, communities, and large groups of people where “there’s a lot of action and emotion.”
Prepare your guest with proper media training
Potential guests must be passionate and comfortable public speakers who can tell the audience something they don’t already know. Under most circumstances, it is best for guests to do their interviews live from the studio rather than using unreliable video conferencing such as Skype. If they can be flexible about the times they can appear, it reflects positively on you and your client. “If someone can come into the studio at 4 a.m., that goes a long way with us!” says Pudar.
Want to learn more about pitching your client to the morning news? Our ProfNet Connect service can help you showcase your client’s expertise directly to the media. Follow the link to learn more: http://www.profnetconnect.com/
Author Sue Masaracchia-Roberts is a crisis management and media relations expert and a member of the ProfNet Connect community.