Making your financial TV pitch add up

Financial television programs reach a highly discerning and targeted audience. Christie Casalino discovers how to make your pitch a winning one

Financial television programs reach a highly discerning and targeted audience. Christie Casalino discovers how to make your pitch a winning one

Having a client appear on a financial television program is a coup for PR practitioners trying to target a very specific market. There's no better place for a company to discuss key financial information and industry trends, all the while showing off its CEO's otherwise unnoted personality, thus attaching a face to the brand. But unless you happen to represent Alan Greenspan or Bill Gates, getting your client booked takes a certain amount of know-how.

The first step is deciding which show has the right fit for your client. Tracey Yen, an account executive at Sterling Communications who has booked a number of her tech clients on financial shows, suggests visiting the websites of financial programs and printing out the synopses and recent guest lists to get a feel for their particular focus. Also, because many of these shows are aired during work hours, when access to a television is limited, either tape the program or view the streaming video posted on the website.

"Go through the entire list of programs," says Yen. "You may not get on every show, but there's definitely one for you. For example, [CNBC's] Power Lunch is a bit more trendy and driven toward a broader audience, while a show like [CNN's] Market Call is specifically driven by the Street. So if you're not a public company, then you're probably not getting on that show. Know that 90% of the time you're going to get rejected. However, one of those times, you're going to hit the mark."

Pitching financial shows requires the basic PR knowledge that you need for pitching any kind of media. When choosing your method, it's important to keep in mind the producer's schedule, as Stephanie Smith, a corporate 0communications manager at MS&L, can attest to. "From [having been] on the broadcast side, I can tell you that e-mail is a wonderful thing," says the former ABC News Atlanta producer. "Because you're so swamped in the office on any given day, if you can look at the pitch on your own time instead of getting five phone calls, it makes a big difference."

Clear and concise are the key words to keep in mind when crafting the pitch e-mail. Amy Schulman, segment producer at CNBC's Squawk Box, says, "Go into a detailed account of what specifically that person can do for the show. What can they bring to the show? What exciting aspects are going to make viewers tune in to it?"

Cory Ziskind, an account executive at Linhart McClain Finlon Public Relations, approached Squawk Box with client Red Robin after noticing the show's previous coverage of food companies. When the second anniversary of the restaurant's IPO rolled around, Ziskind used the occasion as leverage in his pitch. In addition, he referenced a Forbes article where Red Robin was noted as having atypical financial success at a time when most restaurants going public were facing various difficulties.

"The biggest key is to tie the client into the macro issues that are out there, and what it means for the industry as a whole," explains Ziskind. "On a micro level, show what that company can expect to see over the next few months."

In order to create interest in the segment, he also sent the producer a clip from the MTV reality show Newlyweds showing Jessica Simpson going to Red Robin. It was ultimately used as the segment's intro in an attempt to capture the general audience.

"Come up with creative angles," says Smith. "They use so many talking heads, so if you can think of something a little bit different or out of the ordinary, it helps." Yen notes that b-roll is helpful in breaking up the monotony of staring at a speaker, but it is not essential. Alternative visuals that can be used include market data and company stock information - just make sure that it gets into the hands of the right producers. A few days before the segment, call to confirm that they actually have the tape, and always have a backup copy.

Another way to increase your chances of getting a client booked is to pitch strategically during certain times of the year. "Think about off-times, when other people aren't available, like around major holidays. It's easier to book people Christmas week, when most CEOs are on vacation, so that's the time to do it," says Smith.

Because financial television shows run on a tighter schedule than many other media, be prepared to have your client available as soon as you pitch. Schulman says certain guests can be booked and interviewed within the same day, but in most cases, the segment tapes within a week of booking. Don't worry if your client is located in a different city than the main studio. Many guests can be taped at local affiliates, with the segment being transferred via satellite.

While it's always beneficial to have a client go through media training before an appearance, time constraints might call for a contingency plan. For example, Red Robin's CEO was unavailable to do the Squawk Box segment, so Ziskind prepared the CFO by providing possible Q&A, background information on the show, and a list of previous guests to get him acquainted with the program.

Throughout the entire process, from the first pitch to the actual taping, the relationship between the PR representative and the producer is key to attaining complete success. This is especially important to consider when approaching competing shows with the same client.

Laura Novak, a VP in Hill & Knowlton's corporate practice, advises pitching either different executives or different story angles to avoid that situation. Novak explains that even a two-minute spot highlighting your CEO is being watched by the show's competitors, so be up-front about your pitching targets. "If you don't, it will ruin your credibility with the producers."

Technique tips

Do research which show would be most appropriate for your client

Do e-mail a clear and concise pitch that shows your client's relevance to the show

Do provide visuals to sustain viewer interest in the segment

Don't pitch a client who isn't available in the near future

Don't neglect to educate your client about the program before the segment

Don't conceal from producers other shows you pitched

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