PR pros can look at cable TV again

Cable news outlets are more open to pitches with the election over, but PR pros must consider timing and audience demographics to solidify clients' prospects.

Cable news outlets are more open to pitches with the election over, but PR pros must consider timing and audience demographics to solidify clients' prospects.

Many Americans are currently going through cable news withdrawal, having abruptly dropped their nightly addiction to Aaron Brown, Chris Matthews, or Bill O'Reilly right after the election. But the end of the political season is something of a godsend for the PR industry because it opens up networks that had been dominated for the past year by pundits, analysts, and pollsters. "With the Presidential race now over, there are many more opportunities to get the cable news networks interested in coverage," says Henry Miller, COO at New York-based Goodman Media International. "Cable news is once again fair game for any topic that qualifies as newsworthy," adds Bob Brody, SVP and media specialist at Ogilvy PR. "Producers are now easier to catch on the line, they're taking more time to hear you out, and are more open to booking guests unrelated to the election." Even with the announcement that Time Warner will close CNNfn next month and roll some of its content into sister news network CNN, there are still plenty of chances for PR pitches to fill cable news' 24/7 need for stories. The timing must be right But timing is all-important for pitching cable news, which perhaps more than other any media outlet is a slave to the news cycle. "You must always be aware of the day's headlines so you don't call a producer and pitch a client when there's breaking news," says Judi Durand, account director with Blanc & Otus/Hill & Knowlton in Atlanta. "It just does not reflect well on the PR pro." Because cable networks are so hard-news driven, Miller suggests that the best strategy is to figure out how to integrate your client into the news of the day or week. "It's easier to get the cable news networks to include somebody in a story that they're already going to [air] than it is to get them to focus on a new subject," he says. But if you are pitching a standalone story, remember that most cable news producers generally have a very short-term mindset. "If it's an event you want them to cover, go to them two to three days in advance just to pique their interest," says Durand. "But if your story is tied to a holiday or other observance, you can start two weeks in advance because holidays don't get bumped." Durand recently worked with client Allstate on a pitch about the car insurer's new referral service for body shops around the US. They positioned it as a way for customers to find quality auto repair when far from home. "We knew that Thanksgiving was coming up and that's the time when most cars are on the road, so the producers were interested," she says. Although opportunities on cable news networks are greater now, the audience demographics have changed since September and October. "I'm pretty sure that the cable news audience expanded dramatically during the election season and that would translate into a greater number of younger viewers than they typically get," Brody says. "The viewers for all the cable news outlets are generally an older audience." The nature of cable news also varies dramatically between daytime programs, which are news- and features-oriented, and evening and late-night shows, which tend to be discussion-based. Since prime time cable news thrives on controversy, David Lerner, president of Riptide Communications, suggests an appearance on shows such as Hannity & Colmes, Hardball, or The O'Reilly Factor is not for the faint of heart. "You have to have a thick skin; you have to know how to stay on message and not get unnerved," says Lerner, who represents numerous progressive organizations and causes. "So you do need to have different training and give different advice." Targeting local outlets Beyond the national cable news outlets, there are also local news networks in major markets such as New York and Washington. "They're a little bit like all-news radio, running news every half hour," Miller says. "So there are more opportunities to place a news story, but fewer opportunities for guest appearances." Most cable news producers are on a never-ending deadline, so they rarely respond to e-mail pitches and they're difficult to get on the phone. But Durand says you can develop good personal relationships. "The relationship has to be reciprocal," she says. "The reporters and producers will call me to find a source more often than I call them because they know the people I bring to them are telegenic, they speak clearly, and they represent leading brands." Pitching... cable news networks
  • Since cable news producers have a very short-term mindset, this is one case where pitching stories two and three months out isn't an advantage
  • Cable news tends to be driven by the events of the day or week, so look to position your clients as experts who can contribute to stories the networks are already committed to running
  • Developing a relationship with a cable news producer might make it more likely that he or she will take your call, but it won't get your client on the air - only good stories will do that

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