The Five Mistakes You Are Making When Pitching TV by Joe Chambers, Emmy-nominated journalist

The Five Mistakes You Are Making When Pitching TV by Joe Chambers, Emmy-nominated journalist
September 8, 2018 Kelly McFalls

The local channels in Boston put together a total of 62.5 hours of news every weekday. Each station is averaging 35 stories per hour. That means on any given day you have 2,187 opportunities to get your client coverage that can be seen in millions of households in the Boston area. So why aren’t you? Chances are that you are making some of these big mistakes.

1. You are wasting my time
This is the cardinal sin of pitching television news. As a producer, I receive around 400 emails every day. Reporters are in the same boat and the assignment desk gets even more. 90 percent of them get deleted without ever being opened. Headlines like “Great event this weekend”, or worse “Interview Opportunity” get deleted immediately. When crafting your pitch, you need to think like a journalist. You have six seconds to win my attention and make me stick around for another paragraph. Within the first line I should know why my audience will care about this story. Once you have established that, you can fill in the where and when of the story.

2. You aren’t pitching the right person (at the right time)
You need to know what your story is worth. Generally, there are two types of stories that you will pitch.
VO (Voice-overs): These are the vast majority of stories your client will want you to pitch. They are quick, 20 second scripts that make up the bulk of a newscast. Charity functions, races, product launches, the latest and greatest study from your health care team are all likely voice-overs. Don’t bother a reporter with a VO, they will ignore it. Email a producer and pass along the information to the assignment desk. Be very brief. No one is going to read your release if it’s longer than a page (or even half a page). Also, timing is important. Packages are assigned at the start of the shift.

The producer generally spends the next two to three hours finding stories to fill the rest of the newscast. If you want to save the day, email (OR CALL) the desk and the producers with your pitch while the producers are stacking the show. For the 4/5/6pm that generally happens before noon. If you have an event happening at night, email before 4. If you want to crack the elusive morning show, stay up late and call at midnight. They don’t want to be awake at that hour any more than you do but a morning show needs fresh content more than any other time slot. NEVER call between 5-7 AM, 4-7 PM, or 9-11 PM. They are busy and will likely hang up on you if you ask “will you be covering our event today?”

Packages: If it isn’t a VO, it is a package. Reporters, producers and the assignment desk all pitch stories for packages in the assignment meeting. Get to know people’s names and emails. Keep a list and update it at least every six months. If you think you have a great emotional story then reach out directly to a reporter. Email or call their cell. Promise exclusivity (everyone wants to be only on) and do it at the right time. Most journalist spend the 30 minutes before the assignment meeting searching every source they have for a decent story. You can be a hero by sending the perfect story just in time. The morning meeting (for the noon/4/5/6 PM shows) is usually at 9 AM. The afternoon meeting for the late shows is between 2-3 PM depending on the stations. Don’t be afraid to ask the desk when those meetings take place. On that note, the assignment desk is one of the hardest working group of people. Be nice to them because they are usually the key to getting a reporter or photog at your event.

3. You are accepting defeat
How many times have you had stations confirm they were coming to an event only to back out at the last second? News happens and generally you are pretty low on our priority list, but that doesn’t mean we don’t want to cover the story. We just simply don’t have the bodies. So, take some initiative. If no one shows up to your event, take some pictures, write up a brief synapsis and email it to the station (you should also have a one-page synapsis printed out and ready for every photog and reporter that shows up). If you can get me a picture or video, I am far more likely to run your story even if it is just a quick mention.

4. You aren’t thinking like a journalist
The bulk of pitches I receive describe the event/study/product, but they never really focus on why I should care. News judgement is driven by the question “Why should the audience care about this?” Answer that question immediately in your pitch. A charity walk is not the Xth annual “run to remember this person” or “cure this disease”. It is a gathering of survivors ready to share their story and motivate others to take action. When developing your pitch think about what the audience will care about. What will make someone sit on their couch for another five minutes without going to bed or heading to work? Once you have come up with the pitch, think about what elements you can offer the reporter or producers that will play well on TV. That could be emotional audio or great video. If your client has created some incredible life changing medicine but you can’t provide a compelling patient, your great package just became a 20 second VO.

I recently received a pitch from a PR firm. They wanted to bring someone on for an interview. The pitch was that the person would discuss all the ways that Boston is falling short when it comes to attracting major events. They weren’t thinking like a journalist. I am not going to bring someone on to tell the people of Boston all the ways that their city is failing and doesn’t measure up to other places. Frankly, your client is going to look like an arrogant jerk. This type of story may play on the radio or newspaper, but it isn’t going to work on TV (Print/Radio/TV pitches should be different). You are far too limited by time and format to make that story work in your client’s best interest.

5. You aren’t thinking about what you want from the coverage
Before you ever come up with a pitch you should have a clear understanding of what your clients wants out of the coverage. Are you looking to build awareness for your client, or call people to action? Who is the target audience? The coverage you receive often depends on the pitch you put together. Sending an email about an event the day it occurs might get you a VO recapping the event but won’t help you boost actual attendance. If you pitch one thing, but have expectations of completely different coverage, I am going to ignore you next time.

So, to wrap it all up. Keep it short. Pitch the right people, in the right way, at the right time. When you do pitch a TV station, know why you are doing it and what you can offer the station. These are straightforward ways to get your clients the coverage that they probably deserve.

Joe Chambers is an Emmy-nominated journalist with more than 10 years of experience working in television newsrooms across the country. He currently lives and works in Boston


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