I was recently tasked with getting as much local media coverage as possible for an event.
Odyssey Teams (an Abbi Agency client), along with the MPI World Education Congress Convention, came together to create more than 250 prosthetic hands for amputees in developing countries. My job was to pitch to local television stations, newspapers and magazines to cover the news and spread the word.
The successes and failures that this PR newbie experienced with this event taught me a lot about one specific aspect of my industry: how to pitch local TV stations. Here are the top four things I walked away from the event with.
1. Be personal.
As much as I dislike doing it, I’ve learned that picking up the phone and making a call before
you send out an email is the most effective way to ensure your story gets some sort of coverage. Before you even send the press release to the assignment editor, give him or her a call. Ask if the editor has a second to chat about an upcoming event or story idea that you have. Provide a very brief overview so that it’s on the station’s radar, and say you’re going to email more information.
Don’t waste time by giving the editor the full rundown; instead, use the call to make sure your email gets read over the hundreds of other email pitches the station gets daily. If you’re respectful of his or her time and follow up promptly with good information, the editor is far more likely to remember you and push your story along.
2. Get the timing right.
The most important thing to know about local TV pitching is when
to pitch. Every news station has a daily meeting; most will have two—a morning and an afternoon/evening meeting. It’s important to know when they take place, and the best way to find out is to call and ask the assignment editor.
I made my initial pitch the day before the event, just to get it on the station’s radar, knowing full well they wouldn’t make a definite decision until the morning of the event. Then, the morning in question, 15 minutes before the morning meeting, I made a follow-up call to remind them about the event. An hour later, I called once more and politely asked how the meeting went and whether someone had been assigned to cover the event. Three of the four local news stations were interested in the event and sent somebody to cover it.
3. Know where the story fits best.
Most likely, your story isn’t going to be breaking news or a top-of-the-hour feature, but it’s important to know where it fits best within a news broadcast. That means watching the local news, reading the websites, and knowing what they typically cover.
The event I was trying to get coverage for was a local philanthropic event. From my research, I knew that most of the local news stations had a special “community” or “care” section. When I pitched, I stated exactly where I thought the story would fit best.
Even though I learned it after the fact, something I can take with me for future pitches is how to “package” the segment in your pitch. News stations have their own lingo (which is a blog post of its own), and when you’re pitching, they’re thinking exactly how to package your story. If you do the hard work for them initially, the chances of getting your story featured are much greater.
4. Know how to follow up.
Your local news station has sent someone out to cover your story, but your work isn’t finished yet. One of the most important things to do is follow up with anyone who helped cover the story. If a photojournalist, videographer, or reporter came out, thank him or her personally before leaving but also try to send a follow-up email later in the day, or early next day, expressing thanks and offering to help with any future stories. You can also feel free to include a short list of other clients (no more than three or four) that might make for interesting stories.
Call the assignment editor who took your phone calls, read your pitch, and pushed your story along. If it weren’t for that editor, you never would’ve received any coverage. This will keep your rapport going with the station and will make it even easier to receive coverage later on.
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After the Odyssey Teams event was over, I was able to earn more local coverage than I initially thought I would. I now know how to talk to television people and have begun building a relationship with these local stations, which will make it much easier for me in the future.
Amanda Shepherd is social media coordinator at The Abbi Agency. A version of this story first appeared on the agency’s blog.