All Blog Posts

Tips for Improving Your Pitch to Local TV Stations

Sky Opila

News studioLast night the Chicago PRSA Young Professionals Network held a workshop called "Getting to Know the Television Newsroom." Paneled by NewsMarket's Jim O'Reilly and WTTW's Paris Schultz, we had the opportunity to discuss a topic that seems not to happen quite as frequently around the office - television.

Many in the public relations profession feel confident and comfortable with pitching and understanding print and online publications. After all, it seems pretty straightforward, right? However, TV stations bring some more confusing elements to pitching your story.

Why? Because visuals matter, time matters and, even moreso in importance than many print publications, location matters. These pieces of news that are vital to a TV news package take some extra work on the part of PR practitioners.

Here are some tips I picked up from last night that I think can help everyone when trying to pitch your local TV station.

Pull out the visual elements

No doubt, television news is a visual medium. Visually appealing and compelling stories generally are best and can take precedence. The first thing you should consider before sending ANY TV pitch should be the visual elements.

What catches the eye? What makes someone want to see this rather than just hear about it? In your pitch, it doesn't hurt to tell the producer or reporter exactly what it is that's visually appealing. This will let them know what to expect and help add credibility to the real news value of your story.

Think in terms of the teaser

News stations operate in seconds. They don't have pages to dedicate to a story, but maybe only a mere 30 seconds. Every time they put together a package, it needs to tell the story concisely and in a fashion that is visually appealing and memorable. So when crafting your pitch, think in terms of the teaser.

The teaser is those few seconds right before the station breaks to commercial where they preview a story. That short teaser needs to attract the attention of the viewers to keep them watching the station and sticking around past the commercial break. Teasers, by nature, are interesting, intriguing and compelling.

So what part of your pitch is interesting, intriguing and compelling? Start thinking about the news value in your pitch and think about the teaser. Pitch your story like a teaser. Because even though you may be pitching a reporter, that reporter needs to take the story to a meeting and pitch it to their producer who then needs to give the go ahead. If you can quickly and concisely convey the value of your story in a compelling way, your chances of seeing your pitch turn into a TV news package may increase.

Go local

This tip should come as no surprise to anyone. A local news station demands local news. At least here in Chicago, most of the local news broadcasts are surrounded by a national news program. NBC morning news is followed up by the Today Show, ABC local morning news is followed up by Good Morning America, and so on.

What this should tell you is that the producers are already relying on the national news broadcasts to bring you most of the compelling national and international news. They don't need to worry about what's going on in Iraq unless it impacts someone in their coverage area specifically.

Remember this all important fact when putting your pitch together. What is the true local angle here? Jim O'Reilly told a great story last night at the PRSA event that really stuck with me and rings so true for local news. Jim talked about a promotion Oreos and Volkswagen were doing to have people guess how many Oreos could fit into a VW Bug. The winning guesser, would win a brand new Bug. After doing some digging, Jim found that the person who won the car was a woman who had a low income and had to take three buses on a very long commute to work every morning. Winning this car changed her life for the better. Jim, then working in a newsroom, ran with the story of the woman. Oreos and Volkswagen got their mentions, but the immense local angle is what made the story.

Every story has a great human element, and if we as PR professionals can spend a little time digging that out, we can help our chances of getting the story on TV.

Take your client out of the picture

This practice rings true not only for TV, but for all pitching we do. Every client or company certainly wants to tell their story and be front and center. However, as Paris Schultz pointed out, news stations have a job to do, just as PR professionals have a job to do. And while these two rely on each other and interact frequently, their agendas are totally different.

You may really want your CEO in front of the camera with a great sound bite, but a news producer does not care at all. He or she just wants to tell the news story, whether your CEO gets a clip or not.

So when crafting your pitch, take your client or company out of the picture. Think - what is the real news behind this story? There are tons of great angles to every story, but you need to find them because news crews aren't going to do it for you. Blatant product pushing pitches aren't going to resonate well unless you find the real news story and it happens to involve your product.

Be wary of deadlines

TV stations have deadlines all day. But you can guarantee that right before any newscast, folks are busy and running around trying to get things together. Make sure that before you pitch a station, you consider the time of day. Some great pitches may go unnoticed because they were sent 15 minutes before the 5 p.m. newscast.

Though the timing varies, every TV station will have a news meeting at some point in the day to discuss what's going on, prioritize the stories, assign people to coverage and determine what they want to fill the newscast with. These meetings, often in the morning, are crucial for your pitch at.

When sending your pitch over, don't be afraid to send it very early the morning and call with some quick reminders (or even just send an e-mail). Both panelists from last night's event agreed that a little follow up can go a long way. Make sure your story remains top of mind and comes up for discussion in that meeting.

All in all, when pitching a local TV station, don't panic. There's nothing to be afraid of here. However, there are certainly some important elements to take into consideration when putting your pitch together that might help you turn an idea into a result.

Creative Commons License photo credit: Matti Mattila