How to walk the talk shows

Getting your client booked on a talk show is easy if she's Jennifer Aniston. Douglas Quenqua finds out what you can do if she's not

Getting your client booked on a talk show is easy if she's Jennifer Aniston. Douglas Quenqua finds out what you can do if she's not

Daytime talk shows have exploded over the past five years, which might lead you to believe that it's easier than ever to score a spot on one for your client. After all, there are only so many self-help authors and B-list movie stars to go around, right?

Wrong. It turns out the daytime talk show trend isn't unlike the Starbucks phenomenon - overwhelming supply is only creating more demand. Instead of a limited talent pool spreading thin among an ever-widening field of producers, the success of shows like The View, Dr. Phil, and The Ellen DeGeneres Show has inspired a growing army of publicists who are trying their luck.

"These producers are inundated with piles of crap," says author and publicist Lisa Daily. "They get hundreds of press releases and letters every day."

Naturally, if your client is Colin Farrell or Julia Roberts, you needn't bother with the pile at all. But if it's a first-time author or small-time newsmaker you're trying to get on the air, you're going to have to climb your way out from under it. Doing so is never easy, but there are ways to increase your chances of success.

Those who do it often say the primary rule is never to pitch a person or a product. Meet a producer halfway by pitching an entire segment.

"Producers aren't looking for guests, they're looking for segments," says Susan Harrow, media coach and author of Sell Yourself Without Selling Your Soul: A Woman's Guide to Promoting Herself, Her Business, Her Product, or Her Cause with Integrity and Spirit. "It should be very developed but short," Harrow explains of the best kind of pitch. "You should create the panel of guests, envision the segment, and mention the visual props. A producer should be able to [envision] it right away."

Pitching a segment instead of a person serves two major functions. First, it makes your pitch feel less like a sales call. Second, it saves the producer the trouble of coming up with a story to incorporate your client into the show - which isn't really the producer's job anyway.

Obviously the best segments are those that are in some way shocking, compelling, or informative to a typical daytime audience, which is largely women over 34. But even if your client doesn't immediately fit the bill, a little imagination can go a long way.

Daily, who had so much success placing first herself and then other mid-list authors on daytime television shows that she opened her own specialty agency, Dreamgirls PR, tells of one particularly circuitous, though successful, search for the right angle.

"We're in talks now with the producers of Living it Up! with Ali and Jack for the author of this book called Career Quest, a practical and spiritual guide to finding work that you love," she says. "It is a wonderful, well-written book, but there is nothing shocking in it. So we looked into the health risks of staying with a job you do not like. It turns out your heart rate goes up and, of course, so does your stress level, which can lead to gaining weight."

The resulting segment: "Is Your Job Making You Fat?"

Anastasia Worcester, currently a publicity manager with Brookes Publishing, suggests looking for seasonal angles. When she was at Penguin Putnam, for example, she used the fact that April is National Parenting Month to pitch an author of a book about disciplining troubled children. After one successful effort, "he made many more television appearances in months to follow as a parenting expert," she says.

Both stories are good examples of creative thinking that can impress a producer, but it's also worth noting the advice of Amy Brownstein from Brownstein & Associates. "Know the show inside and out, and tailor your pitch to that," she says. But she also adds, "Don't ask for too much. Be aggressive but humble, and protect your client. I'd rather have him or her on for the right reasons than the wrong ones."

In other words, don't be so eager that you make a producer not want to work with you. Know when your client isn't right for the show at that time, and be willing to walk away. It will only increase your chances of working with that producer in the future.

Also, be sure not to twist the angle so much that you write your own client out of the segment. It's important that whatever segment you propose begs the input of your client - not someone else's.

"You could have a great segment idea, but if you haven't positioned your client to be the perfect person, then they could just take the segment idea and run with it," warns Harrow. If a producer is interested, he or she will want to do a pre-interview. "They just want to see what kind of a person they're bringing on their show," says Worcester.

She and others suggest doing media training with your client before the pre-interview. Coach him or her to be comfortable and act naturally. It is important to be eager, but not too eager; smart, but not patronizing; engaging, but not overbearing.

"If you are a nutcase on the air, the producer will lose their job," says Harrow.

No one wants to be the person who pitched the maniac. Because when it comes down to it, working with producers is the same as working with reporters: It's all about creating and sustaining relationships.

"Once you work with them, then they are more inclined to work with you again," Worcester points out.

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Technique tips

Do pitch a segment, not a client

Do tailor your pitch to a daytime television demographic and a program's particular audience

Do coach your client before the pre-interview

Don't hound a producer

Don't pitch a segment that doesn't expressly call for your client's involvement

Don't bring your idea to more than one show at a time - particularly the big programs. If you want your segment on 'Oprah' or 'The Ellen DeGeneres Show,' give the producers a few weeks to consider it before offering it elsewhere

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