Broadcast Media Insights: Interview With Sarah Smith, Booking Producer at Yahoo Finance
For the first installment of our media insights blog series, I connected with Sarah Smith, a booking producer for Yahoo Finance, to discuss strategies for pitching booking producers and how PR professionals can foster their media relationships.
Sarah started her media career as a member of NBCUniversal’s East Coast Page Program and previously worked at NBC as a Production Associate for the TODAY show. From sharing details about how her role as a booking producer has changed over the past year to what she looks for in a source, here are some of the key insights from our conversation.
What to Disclose in Your Pitch
When asked how PR professionals can best help her as a booking producer, Sarah stressed that the more information you can offer in a pitch, the better.
“For me it’s always helpful when people establish a relationship and give me a sense of who their clients are. I think the goal for PR and someone who’s booking is to have a working relationship that is beneficial for both people. Transparency about who you have and who’s up for what is always helpful.”
When reaching out to a booking producer for the first time, Sarah recommends you share not only who you’re pitching, but also a list of clientele for future segments. She emphasized that it’s good to know who she can reach out to for certain topics, whether it’s a market strategist, the founder of a startup, an economist, etc.
Sarah also acknowledged the shift on the PR side toward being proactive and disclosing all of your information upfront, sharing that she prefers well thought-out pitches with more direction.
“When I get a pitch, I’m what we often refer to as ‘the first line of defense.’ I’m the first person giving it eyes, and then I decide, knowing the teams, whether it’s something they’re going to be interested in or not. So, it’s always helpful if there’s a good amount of information — kind of the who, what, when, where and why, because that’s information I can give to the team. The goal is to minimize the number of questions they’ll have, and limit the back and forth before you get to the crux of it, which is the yes or no.”
Best Sources to Offer as Guests
When considering guests to pitch for a show, Sarah recommended offering the highest ranking person you can provide.
“Think about the highest-titled person you can offer who will also provide a good on-camera segment, because I know those things have to mesh.”
While non-executives may be better on-camera, if there’s a possibility to get the CEO on the show, Sarah explained that’s typically what the production team is going to go for.
“Today for example, I had somebody offer me a VP as a guest. If I get that pitch, I’m happy to bring it to the team. But I also know the team is going to come back to me and say, ‘Can we ask for the CEO?’ In this case, I went back and we were able to get the CEO. So, sometimes it can be a little tough in the beginning if they offer someone with a lower title.”
Sarah went on to note that pitching a CEO is especially helpful for booking small businesses or companies with a smaller market cap.
While pitching the CEO to Yahoo Finance is likely your best bet, depending on the segment, a CFO or VP may be a good alternative if they can discuss certain topics in greater depth.
“Because we’re a financial news network, the CFO is another great option for us because they can usually get a little more in the weeds with the financials and discuss what the outlook is for the next quarter.”
If you decide to pitch a VP or someone with a lower title, including a video clip of the source in your pitch is another great way to be considered for a segment.
“If it’s not the CEO or another top executive, it’s always helpful to receive a video clip of the person with the pitch because then I can say, ‘Hey, I know this is not exactly what we asked for, but this person is strong on-camera and could give a unique perspective,’ and maybe down the line the CEO will be willing to come on. It just boils down to the focus of the segment, and what’s going to work for that conversation.”
When to Give Bookers Notice of Upcoming Announcements
When asked how much notice bookers typically require for booking a guest to come on and discuss routine events such as quarterly earnings, Sarah responded that the earlier PR gives notice, the better.
“If we can get those things on the calendar earlier rather than later, it’s always great. Sometimes we can even book guests months in advance — typically a month or two out — so I appreciate as much advance notice as you can provide.”
That being said, bookers try to accommodate announcements with a tight turnaround time as best as they can, especially if it’s offered as an exclusive or a first-on.
“The other day, someone sent an email that said, ‘I have an announcement coming out tomorrow at 10 a.m. and we can give you an exclusive. Can you do it?’ Turns out we couldn’t make it work due to timing, but then we did it the next day. So, if we’re not able to do it the next day or in that tight of a turnaround window, we do our best to get it as close to it as possible. We try to leave a few slots open in case of breaking news, but some days are just busier than others. That being said, if something’s time sensitive, I try and push on my end to get some sort of answer so we can go from there.”
In terms of the best times of day to pitch to bookers, Sarah shared that she prefers receiving emails in the mornings.
“If it’s an evergreen pitch or it doesn’t have an embargo or strong timeframe on it, I prefer to get those emails at the start of the day. As I’m going through those emails in the morning I’ll make a note that, ‘Okay this is something I’ll follow up on.’ If it’s something time sensitive, for the next day maybe, getting a pitch after 5 p.m. can be tough. By then the show for the next day really is set. So, the sooner the better if it has a time stamp or a finite window.”
How Yahoo Finance Slots Their Programming
This past November, Sarah transitioned into her current role in which she now books across all eight hours of Yahoo! Finance LIVE programming. She says this new format has been helpful for matching segments with the anchors that are best suited to cover them.
“I personally like the role because I’m able to work with all of our anchors and reporters, each of whom have different interests and strengths.”
She continued to say this is especially helpful for PR specialists because it enables their clients to speak with anchors who are experts on the story being pitched, leading to more impactful on-air conversations.
“It’s been good because then you’re pairing guests with anchors who are really experts in the field. So, I think that’s a big help and it’s also rounded out the hours in terms of the focus. We’ll still cover markets across the board, but it’s nice to have a bit of direction in terms of which stories we’re going to put where.”
Clicky Topics Yahoo Finance Likes to Cover
While the news cycle is rarely dull these days, on the off chance it’s a slow day in the newsroom, there are certain evergreen topics that would spark Yahoo Finance’s interest.
“There are certain topics that our viewers always seem to click with. Conversations around retail trends, cryptocurrency news, big tech and retirement saving tips are usually popular topics for our viewers.”
Most recently, stories about how small businesses have evolved since the pandemic have also been popular.
“Right now, our audience seems to be interested in anything with this storyline of pivoting from the pandemic, or how things have changed in the wake of the pandemic for a certain company or industry. So those are conversations we can have across any of the eight hours.”
Sarah noted that Yahoo Finance is unique in that they will cover small businesses and shine a spotlight on private companies — something their competitors don’t always do.
“Our programming is unique in that we will feature small businesses on the show if there’s an interesting hook, so it’s hard to say it always has to be a company that is on the verge of going public or has IPOed. Private companies work, too — certainly they don’t have to be listed. I think something that sets us apart from other networks is that we’re willing to talk to folks from private or smaller market cap companies. We do a lot of startup segments and that’s not always something our competitors do.”
Ultimately, giving viewers more variety in their programming is a goal for Yahoo Finance as they aim to reach new audiences with more diverse backgrounds.
“We want to give our viewers a variety, because our audience is growing. For example, our female viewers have increased year over year, along with the growth of our Gen Z audiences, and we’re looking to reach other folks as well. So it’s not always the public companies that people are interested in. I think it’s good that we keep things broad because we allow for diversity in our programming.”
To close out our conversation, Sarah circled back to her opening comments to drive the point home that the relationship between PR and booking is reciprocal, and one that she doesn’t take for granted.
“The relationships between us and PR should always be reciprocal. I could cold call for stories, but it’s the relationships with certain PR people that make a difference. Sometimes a PR rep will suggest this great new, timely guest and you’re like, ‘Oh my gosh this is amazing, I’m so glad I fostered this relationship.’”
Thank you, Sarah, for taking the time to speak with me and for sharing these fantastic insights. If you’re looking for more media relations and thought leadership support, check out our public relations capabilities or get in touch with our PR experts today.