here’s the results of Media Ping’s informal survey…

How to (and not to) Pitch

TV Reporters, Producers & Bookers

by

TV Reporters, Producers & Bookers

Please note that the opinions expressed in this informal survey are solely the opinions of the TV professionals and not of their stations or networks.

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ABC “Good Morning America” producer

THE PITCH–CONCEPT

What you look for in a pitch for TV coverage? The best pitches are those that tie in to news events/seasons/holidays- for example- a child psychologist who can comment on the balloon boy incident- a doctor who can comment on the availability of the H1N1 vaccine- a financial expert who can comment on the DOW hitting 10k .

Or not even as time sensitive- but tying pitches in to topical/seasonal events are always the most effective.

Also- the NEWEST, THE BEST, THE MOST INNOVATIVE- SUPERLATIVES are always good in pitches.

What mistakes do publicists make in pitching stories?

1)      Pitching the wrong producer/reporter- find out what their niche is and pitch the right person. It is a waste of time otherwise for everyone.

2)      Not separating their clients from the rest of the pack. I get so many pitches for plastic surgeons- for example- (even though I don’t do even those stories anymore!) and they all seem the same. Find out what your client’s specialty is and focus on that- what really makes them special.

3)      Not Staying on top of the pitch and the producer- it may be the right story for that moment- but could be down the line- keep in touch with the producer/reporter/booker and develop a relationship so they can go to you later if they are looking for something.

4)      Spelling the reporter/producer/booker’s name wrong!

THE APPROACH

Best way to pitch you or your station? EMAILS are the best way at GMA- forget phone calls- I don’t even answer my phone if I don’t recognize the caller’s #.

Best time to pitch (time day, day of week, how much lead-time needed)?

FOR EMAILS- it doesn’t matter.  Earlier in the day is better- FORGET Friday afternoons! You would be surprised.

EXECUTION

When you accept a pitch, how can publicists ensure you get a good story or live shot?

Publicists should be diligent and ask the producer/booker what elements they need- how they envision the segment and what elements it will involve- and then be able to supply all of those elements as needed.

It is essential if they are pitching a service a client may provide that they package the story- if it is a doctor who performs a certain procedure, for example—the publicist should be able to provide a “real” person the doctor has worked on- who can be the focus of the story- and a location to shoot it.

What are the mistakes publicists must avoid?

Calling at all– calling too much- or emailing too many different pitches.

If a publicist gets their client booked on a show- they should wait at least 6 months before they should pitch that same person- unless they have a deal with the show for a regular appearance.

TV TODAY

What are some of the changes in the TV industry that publicists should be aware of in developing ideas for TV coverage?

Everyone is getting cheaper- The more elements the publicity can provide for a segment/story the better- as in video, graphics, web support- I I ask for video all of the time now from my sources so I don’t have to hire as many crews to shoot the story..

HORROR STORIES

Any horror stories with ideas your been pitched (not by me of course!) that you could share?

The WORST—the week after 9/11— NO ONE was getting pitched because all of the attention was of course on the WTC attack and the terrorists—but I got a pitch from a company repping a spa- saying now was the time to do a story on their massage therapists because everyone was so stressed out and needed massages to relax.. tasteless!! I NEVER did another story with that PR firm after that..

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Mike Taibbi, NBC national news correspondent

THE PITCH–CONCEPT

What you look for in a pitch for TV coverage? I look for something that’s timely, new (unreported elsewhere) and available with normal resources (that is, with day of air camera crew and no complex or expensive travel). 

What mistakes do publicists make in pitching stories? mistake #1 is pitching the wrong story (a story that has no chance of being pursued) or pitching the right story to the wrong person at a given news organization or at the wrong time (too close or too far from deadline).

THE APPROACH

Best way to pitch you or your station? as i work for network news the pitches i’d be most likely to pick up are those with high news value (the story’s already in the headlines, but you have an angle that advances the story in some significant way) or with evergreen value and a broader national application, but with unique elements to offer

Best time to pitch (time day, day of week, how much lead-time needed)? if it’s a story connected to current headlines and would thus be a day-of-air shoot, then as early in the day as possible…which means you should have an updated contacts file of cellphone #s and email addresses of reporters/producers/editors.   if an extended deadline ‘futures’ type story, then just near enough in time so the tip doesn’t get ‘filed’ (i.e., lost).

EXECUTION

When you accept a pitch, how can publicists ensure you get a good story or live shot? there are never guarantees given by news organizations… a plane crash, earthquake or ‘macaca’ moment on the campaign trail will blow up any rundown… but you have a better chance at attracting a live wrap by the correspondent if you can offer front row camera position for an event still unfolding, or a key person as a possible live guest/interview subject, or some significant information/documentation that hasn’t been reported elsewhere.

What are the mistakes publicists must avoid?

—  don’t try to produce or edit or in any way control the reporter’s script/copy/storyline.

—  don’t offer elements you can’t in fact provide.

—  don’t say you’ll call back or confirm some aspect of the fact-gathering and then fail to do so.

—  don’t lie or misrepresent or overstate you’re client’s position/interest/history etc. (though there’s no obligation of course to tell a reporter the whole story or answer every question fully).

—  don’t forget to wear a watch, and to consult it regularly.  reporters are always on deadline and are always juggling a number of tasks throughout the day.

Please note that the opinions expressed in this informal survey are solely the opinions of the TV professionals and not of their stations or networks.

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Meteorologist, local NYC affiliate station

1–I look for something exciting, lots of elements, movement, color. An art museum can be interesting if you add a few elements to it to make it come alive.

2–Mistakes in pitching…The biggest mistake is when people pitch me and they have no idea what we do or what I do. Know everything you can about the people you are pitching to, at least the basics, like people, show time, what the host does that you are pitching to, watch the show/DVR before you pitch it. I have had people pitch me to come with “Good Morning America at 7am” when our show is the local show at 5am. The host/talent doesn’t have time to explain what they do, so you need to know as much as you can about them and they style of the show. Make sure you have lots of information and many elements.

3–Send lots of information, lots of opportunity for different elements in the show. We are on every 7 minutes for two hours, if you researched that and knew that, present lots of elements. If you don’t have enough elements for 2 hours, then pitch the idea of coming in for one hit to a live shot that we are doing somewhere else or when we are on the news set. Don’t over hype it, don’t insult one’s intelligence. Make a professional packet and send it along, follow up with a phone call, email, or voice message.

4–Tuesday through Thursday after 9am is the best time to pitch, at least two weeks notice is best. Always under promise and present more.

5– Whoever pitches the live shot, needs to be at the live shot or have an assistant that is present at all the conversations attend the live shot. Make sure if you can’t be there, make sure the person there can call the shots. Things change at live shots. Make sure you have plenty of elements, too many is much better than too few.

6– Publicists must avoid over promising and under delivering. Better to do the opposite. Do not have any bad surprises for when the talent arrives on the day of the live shot like one of the elements not being able to make it. If that happens we tend not to trust you with another live shot. I doubt we will work with you. If you know ahead of time that something has gone wrong, let us know ahead of time as soon as possible. We will work with you to fill that hole. Don’t keep it a secret and then spring it on us at the live shot. You’re future live shot with us will be over. Honesty always is the best policy. You want future business for future clients.

7–Changes are that budgets are smaller and you may have to work harder to get crews to come and you will have to work harder in preparing your presentation and you will have to do a lot of work at the live shot. Resources are getting smaller for stations so you will have to come up with more for them.

8– Horror stories, I have a few and it results in our never working with the client or the PR firm that represents them again. To this day we have never worked with a certain traveling kids show, and I never will. This was a situation where they did all of the things you should not do. Over promised, undelivered, and then were very arrogant about it. Elements were missing that they promised. All sorts of surprises when we got to the live shot that was not good. We were actually going to leave The Theater at The Garden and do the live shots from the street it was so bad. They left us with so few elements to work with that we could barely fill a half hour let alone 2 hours. The people who put the show together were so arrogant and rude that we will never do a show with them again and you don’t want that. They had the attitude that we were so lucky to have them wake-up and do what they thought was enough of a show for us. I even took the time to call the head of the company that produced the show, they just didn’t get it.

Please note that the opinions expressed in this informal survey are solely the opinions of the TV professionals and not of their stations or networks.

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MARK JOYELLA—TV correspondent and blogger at (www.localnewser.com)

PITCH CONCEPT

What do I look for? A story I can reasonably turn that very day.  I rarely have the luxury of planning shoots days in advance, so I’m looking for something that I can run on immediately, something the bosses will think is worth covering, and something that I can demonstrate has a local tie.  (If it’s a new medical procedure, I’m going to want a local hospital where we can shoot, a local doctor who can talk on camera, and even a patient)

Mistakes PRs make? Trying to hard to drive the story.  You have to remember the medium.  It’s local news.  If a reporter can’t sell the story to his/her boss as a news story, it doesn’t matter what YOU think the “angle” should be.  Yes, no company has ever offered a deal like this to consumers before, but why does the reporter care?  Connect it to news:  a company’s making a historic offer to consumers hurting from the economy.  Now, the pitch has a tie (peg) to real news that stations may be looking for a fresh story on.

APPROACH

Best way to pitch? I like email, because I’m never at my desk and my desk phone’s a complete waste.  My cell phone’s really best used for immediate things, not pitches.  You stand such a good chance of catching me about to do a liveshot at noon, or standing in a news conference or at a crime scene.  I still check my email from the field, and if I like the pitch, and need a story, you bet I’ll call you.

BEST TIME? I’m always looking for fresh story ideas first thing in the morning.  I have an editorial meeting where I’m required to show up with some good pitches, and an email waiting in the a.m.–especially one that’s only in MY email, not EVERY reporter in the newsroom’s email–AND–one that I know I can turn that day–well odds are, I’ll bring it up in the meeting.  But again, the more local ties (doctor, patient, business owner, college student, whatever) the better.

EXECUTION

Ensuring a good story? Know what kind of stories I do, and what I need to make a good one.  First, remember that a reporter loves no story as much as an exclusive.  Give a story to just one reporter–one you trust–and that reporter will work HARD to make it good.  Also know that the more you have ready for the reporter to choose from (interview subjects, video opportunities, etc.) the better.  But beware, the reporter won’t want it all, and may have his/her own ideas of how to tell the story.

Mistakes? Don’t oversell.  Don’t mislead.  Don’t promise a “dramatic” announcement at a news conference, only to tell me something less than interesting.  (watch the news at night–would your announcement fit in that show or not?)  Don’t imply you’re bringing ME a story, when you’re really offering it to EVERYBODY.  And don’t take it personally if I get pulled off your story to cover a house fire, shooting, dog in a storm drain, or who knows what else.  It happens every day, and stories get changed and killed over and over.  I hate it as much as you do, and it wasn’t my idea.

TV TODAY

Budgets are tighter than ever, stations have endured rounds of layoffs, and the margins are gone.  As a result, reporters are working harder than ever.  They don’t have the luxury to invest a lot of time in stories–some may do more than one story a day.  The easier you make it, the better chance of selling your story.  [And remember… when you get a reporter’s attention, and they say, “great, when can I do it?”  if you say, “let me call and check,” that’s disappointing.  Reporters always want to hear, “how about now?”]

HORROR STORIES

I’ve gotten news releases/letters that suggested a story would be great for my “readers,” when I work at a television station (do they even bother to know who I am?) and I’ve had PRs try–hard–to inject themselves into my work when I cover their story.  If you stand next to me, tell me what questions to ask, try and coach interviews while I’m talking to them, and then follow me around asking me “what’s your angle?” I’m not going to want to work with you ever again.

Check out reporters and know their work.  Find ones you like and feel are professional.  Offer them a real story–with some shred of news value–and a way to turn the story quickly.  Pick your best people, and have them ready to be interviewed that very day.  Remember that this is television, and we want a logical location to shoot video (i.e., not your corporate conference room, but rather, the factory, or whatever it is we’re talking about).  Watch the news, and be ready to pitch on the fly.  If a local story breaks, think of your business and if there’s an angle there.  Pitch it the next day.  Local news loves to stick with a good story.  If you can bring a new, local angle, you have an excellent chance of getting coverage.  But don’t wait.  If flu vaccine ships on Tuesday and local stations are all over it.  Call that day and say, hey, our clinic has shipments if you’d like to see people getting shots and talk to one of our doctors.

If a government report comes out saying home sales are rebounding, email reporters and say, hey, this local construction company has a great angle on new home construction.  We’ve got a house being built in this neighborhood…lots of visual work being done, and we can get you the president of the company to meet you at the lot and talk about the rebound.  If you’d like to go live from the house, we’ll keep the workers on the job for you.

That’s the kind of PR I’d respond to.

Please note that the opinions expressed in this informal survey are solely the opinions of the TV professionals and not of their stations or networks.

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WNBC reporter

The biggest mistake publicists make in pitching a story is stressing the visual elements…”we have balloons and clowns and cheering kids…”

We are interested in the STORY.  You need to stress how it effects people; why our audience will care about it; and what real people will be available to discuss how they have been impacted.  For example, recently, Suffolk county legislators were voting on a ban of a certain kind of crib.  Their PR people stressed that two families whose newborns died in these cribs would be available.  Their presence changed what would have been an ordinary legislative vote into a compelling story.

You must have more than experts (lawyers, doctors, researchers) to make a story work-  you need real people–(patients, parents, crime victims) whose personal stories can make your story relevant to our viewers.

Perfect case in point–the American Airpower Museum in Farmingdale.  We return time and again to this museum to cover events—not because the museum is unique (what museum isn’t); but, because those who run the museum create events that feature real people who took part in historic events and can talk about them and detail their personal involvement…

In all, visual elements are important; but visual elements without a compelling story won’t be enough to bring us to your event.

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Kaitlyn Ross–reporter Capital News 9

THE PITCH–CONCEPT

What you look for in a pitch for TV coverage? For TV Coverage there NEEDS to be a visual element. No matter how great your event is- if it’s just a bunch of people sitting in a room, you’ll have a tough time getting a camera there. Also- it should be timely. This may go without saying, but don’t hold a press conference for something that’s going to happen a month from now. We’re looking for immediacy, and a “day-of” hook. ·

What mistakes do publicists make in pitching stories? *** The biggest mistake I see is trying to tell us how to do our jobs. I never want a pre-written quote from a mouthpiece. I want the actual interview, in person, with the questions I want to ask.

THE APPROACH

Best way to pitch you or your station? An email followed up by a phone call. ·

Best time to pitch (time day, day of week, how much lead-time needed)? Best time at our station is between 8 and 9 in the morning. It’s before the morning meeting, but everyone is already in. If it’s a big event give the initial pitch with at least a week of lead time and then a reminder that day if you really want coverage.

EXECUTION
When you accept a pitch, how can publicists ensure you get a good story or live shot? Provide the REAL people. If it’s a hearing on dairy farmers, I want to speak with the farmer, NOT the politician that’s sponsoring it. Give us the people who are going to be impacted and make it relevant to the day’s news. Also- know your audience. If it’s a political story- try and contact the political reporter at the station. If it’s a lighter story- keep your eye out for the stations morning reporter (Me :)) Who might be more willing to go for it. ·

What are the mistakes publicists must avoid? Again, I would say trying to do our jobs or being too pushy. All journalists understand you have an agenda to get through- and that’s why we’re both there- but we’ll pick the hook ourselves.

TV TODAY

what are some of the changes in the TV industry that publicists should be aware of in developing ideas for TV coverage?  I think just realizing that we need something we can see- make it interesting, make it real.

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Sports Anchor, New York market

THE PITCH–CONCEPT

What you look for in a pitch for TV coverage?
The main thing is enough advance notice.  Sometimes we get calls for
stories in the afternoon that are happening the next morning!  We need
some time to make things happen.  But the stories need to be visual and
newsworthy.

What mistakes do publicists make in pitching stories?
Sometimes not enough notice.  Also, they’ll call the news dept AND the
sports dept.  A couple of times I have shown up to an event and found
our news crew there, bc the PR person called us both and never told us
the other was coming.

THE APPROACH

Best way to pitch you or your station?
Be courteous, direct, and make sure if you’re pitching an event,
that the people who are there are ready and prepared to be interviewed
by the reporter.

Best time to pitch?
One week is fine.  One day is too short.

EXECUTION

When you accept a pitch, how can publicists ensure you get a good
story or live shot?
Greet the reporter…tell the chain of events as to how the event
will take place, and line up the interviews for the reporter.

What are the mistakes publicists must avoid?
Constantly trying to make the reporter interview someone for the publicists’ benefit.

TV TODAY

Things just must be visual.

Longtime News Manager at NYC Local affiliate

We are looking for stories with a human look, a human twist that will touch people, that people can relate to.

If a charity is pitching a story, then we want to talk to someone helped by that charity, say a victim of a disease or an injustice who can tell the audience how this organization had made a difference in his or her life.

The one thing I’s really emphasize to a publicist is NEVER OVERSELL.  Good stories will sell themselves.  You don’t want to get a reporter out to do a story and here her say, “This is not exactly the story we were told about.”

If we are coming out for a live remote, we want to know what our access is going to be, who we are going to talk with and are there any limitations and are all the story elements in line.   We want to know that if we come out to do your story we are not going to be interfered with, have to compete with people shooting with their camcorders, or transmitting video by cell phone.

Emotions, the human element are still key.  There still is a WOW factor, even in the news.  And don’t be afraid to pick a target demographic for your story—every story doesn’t have to appeal to every segment of our audience.

Make sure we have all the elements needed for the story, including any video, b-roll you can provide.  Remember that in the current climate, we have less people working to fill the same amount of news hours.

Please note that the opinions expressed in this informal survey are solely the opinions of the TV professionals and not of their stations or networks.

John Lee Media

Public & Media Relations, Communications, Media Projects

johnlee@johnleemedia.com

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