Diary of a local morning-show pitch

THE MISSION Brian Pia, SVP, director and chief strategist, Luckie Strategic Public Relations, Birmingham, AL

THE MISSION Brian Pia, SVP, director and chief strategist, Luckie Strategic Public Relations, Birmingham, AL

The Northeast is still digging out from snowstorms. But in California, Florida, and other parts of the country, birds are chirping, the sun is shining, the grass is getting green, and flowers are starting to bloom. That means the gardening season is here.

Our client is Bayer Advanced, a national lawn and garden company and part of the same corporation that makes Bayer Aspirin. It sells products in Lowe's, Home Depot, Wal-Mart and garden centers across the United States that help you grow beautiful flowers and prevents insects from eating up your trees, plants and lawns.

We came up with story lines for the products after doing intensive research early in 2004. We spend a lot of time on the front end making sure we have great stories, because we know we'll only have 15-20 seconds to state our case with a TV producer.

On January 10, 2005, while totally exhausted from our Rose Parade efforts (we handle PR for the Bayer Advanced Rose Parade float in Pasadena) I got the entire team together to walk through the 2005 plan. Bayer Advanced garden expert Lance Walheim was on the phone from his 17-acre citrus ranch in Exeter, CA. Angela Drinkwater, our director of national media relations, was on the line from New York. Senior AE Lori Merricks, AE Shannon Goff, junior AE Ruffin Flowers and researcher/account coordinator Michelle Falls all gathered around in the conference room here in Birmingham, AL.

Lance is the author of Roses for Dummies, Lawn Care for Dummies and writes for Sunset and other national gardening publications. We book him for TV morning show segments as well as radio and newspaper interviews all over the country. He's a great guy who knows his stuff and does a great job providing helpful consumer tips as well as driving messaging for our client's products.

Local television is an integral part of our PR efforts. We've done SMTs and VNRs, but morning TV shows prefer in-studio segments. We prefer them too - it gives the anchor a chance to interact with Lance. We get at least three-and-a-half minutes of air time, and we're able plug our client's products and website.

California is an important state for us. It's one of the biggest gardening markets in the country. Out there, it's all about roses, and our client has a product called Bayer Advanced All-in-One Rose & Flower Care that fertilizes and prevents insects and diseases. (Lance and the entire Luckie team use the product on the flowers and plants in their yards. Using all the Bayer Advanced products also helps us with our pitches to journalists.)

Ruffin was assigned Sacramento and San Francisco to kick off our multi-state springtime media tour the week of March 7. She started pitching on January 31.

THE PLAN OF ACTION

Ruffin Flowers, junior AE, Luckie Strategic Public Relations

January 31

I sent e-mail pitches out today in order to give myself adequate time to follow up and book segments. I waited a few days. Sometimes the producers will respond with interest, which is always nice, but most of the time, it requires a follow-up call to track them down for an answer.

February 3

The producer for the weekend show at KPIX-TV in San Francisco sent me a reply e-mail to say he wanted to have Lance on his show March 12. It was a perfect fit. We locked in the date and will work out the details closer to the appearance.

I also started to work the phones to follow up. The ABC affiliate in San Francisco had already sent me an e-mail to tell me they weren't interested, and while this is a disappointment, it's always nice to have an answer either way. As I tried to book TV, I also booked an interview segment on a garden radio show in San Francisco for Sunday, March 13. Lance has been on the show before, and they were glad to have him back in the studio.

Week of February 7

I had to leave a lot of voice-mail messages this week. We're on Central Time, and with California being two hours behind, trying to figure out the best time to call is tricky. After leaving messages and waiting to hear back, I began the next round of calls to try to actually get the producers on the phone. I had better success this time. Most of the morning shows said that the noon show would be a better fit, and they gave me the best person to contact. I also sent e-mail pitches to newspapers in my markets this week.

Friday, February 11

As of today, I have one TV show booked and one radio station booked. One station in Sacramento wants to have Lance on, but there's a scheduling conflict. We are trying to work something out. Another station in Sacramento is looking over our press material for a morning or noon segment. And there is one more station in San Jose that is looking over our press material.

I also heard back from the producer for KRON-TV's Henry's Garden. They want to have Lance on Thursday, March 10, which fits perfectly into the booking schedule.

Hopefully by Monday, I'll hear back from the other stations. Pitching isn't easy. You have to present your case quickly and tell the producer why they should have your client on their show. With television, I always try to play up the visual aspects. We bring in lots of beautiful roses and constantly drive the viewer benefits of our gardening segments with Lance. In short, we really function as TV producers - producing the segments in our own minds before we pitch the producer so we can walk him through the segment over the phone. It takes more time if we're dealing with a new producer. If it's one we've worked with in the past, they know they'll get a great live segment that'll help their ratings.

Monday, February 13

It turned out to be a great day for Bayer Advanced. All the pieces are falling into place. This morning, I booked two segments for Sacramento TV. One for a morning show, and another for a noon show. Now comes the fun part of working out the logistics.

HOW IT PLAYED OUT

Brian Pia

Monday, March 7

Ruffin took a 6:50am flight from Birmingham, AL to Sacramento. Lance drove in from Exeter, CA and they bought up roses, Bayer Advanced All-in-One Rose & Flower Care, gardening gloves and other props for our TV segments.

Tuesday, March 8

Bayer Advanced Garden Expert Lance Walheim talked about how to grow roses during a noon live shot on KCRA-TV (NBC).

Wednesday, March 9

Lance was on KOVR-TV (CBS) in Sacramento discussing rose care and driving product mentions during the morning show. Now it's off to San Francisco, a 90-minute drive and more shopping for our San Francisco TV appearances.

Thursday, March 10

Lance did two taped segments on KRON-TV's Henry's Garden show. Topics: Rose care and how to keep slugs from destroying your citrus.

Friday, March 11

Shopping day for Saturday's TV appearance.

Saturday, March 12

Lance was on KPIX-TV's (CBS) morning show. We got about four minutes on rose care.

Sunday, March 13

Lance was on Bob Tanem's garden radio show, KSFO 560 in Sacramento talking up rose care and dealing with slugs. Lance headed back to Exeter, CA after the show.

Monday, March 14

Ruffin arrived back in Birmingham at 7:34pm. Mission accomplished.

This week, the Luckie PR team makes more pitches and follow-up calls. Later this month, Lori, Shannon and Lance head to Florida. Then it's on to other cities and driving messaging for other Bayer Advanced products.

We've been working for Bayer Advanced for nearly five years. It's hard work, but we have a great client who makes it fun. Frankly, we're having a blast!

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