We’ve had several PR pros tell us this year that if you want to effectively reach your audience nowadays, you need to get your story on TV. But broadcast can be a tough medium to crack, and it requires a different type of pitching style than print or online news.
Before getting into the art of pitching broadcast, let’s tackle a common point of contention between PR pros and their clients—national vs. local news.
Getting your story on the national networks might be a nice feather in your cap, but if the audience you want to reach is catching the local news—or your client is seeking local business—that’s where you want your story to break. According to the Pew Research Center, viewership of network local affiliate news stations in the U.S. increased by 4% for the evening and late-night slots in 2020.
And just because your story airs on local TV first doesn’t mean you can’t leverage it into something bigger. You can take your local coverage and pitch the same story to the network’s national syndicate, referencing your appearance on their regional station. If you’re lucky, you may not even have to pitch them—sometimes, segments from regional networks will get picked up by their syndicate for evening news.
Before you pitch
1. Do you know the right people for your story?
Just as with print and digital media, knowing the right contact for your story is an essential first step. Sending an unwanted email to someone who does not receive pitches is the best way to make a bad impression. To avoid getting ignored, deleted or blacklisted, don’t pitch production assistants and writers, and be cautious reaching out to editors and directors who are not directly involved with booking guests or determining coverage.
If your story isn’t urgent and is more than a few days (or weeks) out, it might be perfect for the special projects producers or planning editors who work on stories with longer lead times. Or, if you have a niche story that would only be relevant to the community, there might be a producer at the station who focuses on local topics.
Knowing the right contact is step one. But if you just aren’t sure who the right person to receive your pitch is, there’s nothing wrong with sending it to the assignment desk. Often, the people you want to get your story in front of are part of the assignment desk email alias.
2. Do you know how to write for broadcast?
When crafting your pitch, less is more. We have it on good authority (from an ex-producer) that overly long emails are too daunting for time-poor producers to even consider. Another former producer we talked to this year says she didn’t have time to check out most hyperlinks included in the pitch email.
The takeaway: Keep your pitch short and make sure it gets straight to the point. Your first email is to pique their interest and convince them that they need to pursue your story. Your second email, after they’ve confirmed their interest, is for providing all the resources they might need to prepare the segment—B-roll, spokespeople for interviews, photos and voice-over. Make sure it’s ready to go at a moment’s notice.
After you pitch
3. Don’t be afraid of the follow up
According to a recent survey we conducted of almost 4,000 PR professionals, common industry practice is to follow up on your first email within two or three days. That might work for print, but with broadcast you can’t afford to wait so long.
Follow up should occur within hours of sending the first pitch (you might also want to dust off your phone and give the producer a ring), the night before and the day of the story. Follow up is essential, since professionals in broadcast don’t work a standard 9-to-5. There’s a lot of transition and turnover throughout the day and night, and an email can easily be lost or someone may forget to pass along your story to the next shift.
4. It’s not the end if your story isn’t picked up or gets bumped.
If your pitch isn’t picked up, go back to the beginning and make sure that your story is newsworthy. Maybe it’s a matter of finding a new angle that better suits the type of content the station produces.
Any number of factors—breaking news, an interview going just a bit too long—can mean that your story doesn’t make it to air. Don’t let that stop you. If your story gets bumped or it’s not picked up by the producer you pitched, go to the digital producer. Just because you didn’t make it onto live TV doesn’t mean that your journey with that station is over. If they share additional stories on their website, pitch their digital producer and provide all the same assets you already had ready to go.
If your pitch was successful and your story appeared on the news, congratulations! But make sure you avoid this last fumble: asking the producer to send you the footage. That’s what media monitoring software is for.
Joy Knowles is a marketing content strategist with Agility PR Solutions.