Television producers are very, very busy people. One instance of not complying with their needs is enough to ruin your chances of ever getting a satellite media tour (SMT) aired on that station.
Harsh? Maybe. But someone whose life revolves around series of back-to-back live segments does not have time to be concerned about being polite.
So, making it as easy as possible for producers to understand the gist of your story in the least amount of time possible is the first step in getting on their good side.
"Sometimes people will call up and it will take them three minutes to get out what they're trying to say, says Lydia Reeves, news producer for NBC 10 in Philadelphia. "I don't have three minutes. Interested in avoiding babbling pitchers and wasting time, the majority of producers prefer e-mail over phone calls and faxes. E-mail allows producers to attend to the story on their own time, whereas phone calls often interrupt them, getting the irritation juices flowing before pitchers even open their mouths.
Faxes are not ideal, either. "So many people walk by the fax machine every day, and it is not uncommon for papers to get tossed or wrongly filed, says Al Johnson, planning/managing editor at WJBK-Fox in Detroit.
"E-mails come right to my desk, so it is certain that I will always get them."
That said, e-mails should be as concise and to the point as possible.
"If an e-mail does not grab me in the first three lines, it goes into the trash, says Holly Skalka, producer/talent booker for Fox 10 in Phoenix.
"If I need to e-mail you back requesting more information, I'm not going to, adds Reeves.
As unlikely as it is for producers to go out of their way to follow up on an unclear e-mail, it is just as unlikely for you to win them over with incessant follow-up. If a producer says they will get back to you, they will. And if they don't, it means they aren't interested.
"There is one company that calls all the time and pitches the entire tour over the phone, complains Skalka. "Then I get a follow-up e-mail.
Then I get another phone call. Even if it is the best story in the world, I will not use it if it has been over-pushed. Although follow-up is generally part of a PR pro's daily duty, it is worth making an exception when it comes to live television. Unanimously, all interviewed producers say they follow a one-strike- and-you're-out policy.
Once you have a producer's attention, it is important to make sure your story is relevant to a particular newscast. Rather than putting energy into making follow-up calls, PR people should spend time researching what the individual stations are looking for. Naturally, producers want news that their viewers can use. "We are always in search of stories with a local angle, says Skalka. "It is very helpful if companies research our market beforehand."
Certain stations only run SMTs during a particular time of day. "The morning is the only time that works for me, says Johnson. "That is when I have time available, and my morning talent is good with live segments. Knowing what spot your story is being considered for should make a difference in what you pitch and the angle you use.
Even an incredibly relevant story idea has the potential to be ruined, however, if the SMT is overly commercial. Typically, producers allow one product mention per segment. "I understand that you have to get something in there, acknowledges Johnson, "because that product is paying for it.
But if you mention it repeatedly, it will be a long time before you are on my newscast again."
Producers run the risk of jeopardizing their credibility if viewers feel as if the station's SMTs more closely resemble commercials than new stories.
"You need to give the viewer something for free. If they go and buy something after that, then fine. But that can't be the priority, says Reeves.
WJBK, for example, recently ran an SMT on hi-tech gadgets with technology expert Corey Greenberg. "Over the course of five minutes, he mentioned Best Buy three times, says Johnson. "My news director saw it and had a fit. He said he never wanted to see that guy on his show again. Having the attitude that it is better to take your chances and sneak as many product mentions in as possible is not a recommended tactic. It is more damaging to be completely banned from a station than to settle for one product mention each time your clients appear.
Using a celebrity is generally welcomed in SMTs, but again, only if there is a genuine news hook, or if they are primarily promoting an issue, and not a product. Philadelphia's NBC 10 ran an SMT that had Patti LaBelle as its spokesperson. Reeves recalls, "When we got her, no one told us that she was going to be pitching hormone therapy the whole time. The people giving us these stories need to understand that we are more interested in emphasizing the star rather than the product."
Of course, in the world of music, the promotion of a major tour or a new release is usually enough to grab the attention of broadcasters, especially if the SMT is a creative one. Dogmatic recently produced an SMT to announce the Rolling Stones World Tour, in which the band arrived in a blimp, filmed by four cameras on the ground and four in the sky. The SMT appeared on every major outlet.
When dealing with live television, producers have their guard up more than usual because there is next to no room for error. Producers are just as good at weeding out a genuinely good story as PR pros are at making something sound like one. It is ultimately more beneficial to tell it like it is, and work to develop a relationship with the stations so that they learn to trust the materials you send.
"There are some PR people who will call up and just be honest about having a product mention, says Edd Adamko, executive producer at ABC 7 in Los Angeles. "Others will call up, be slimy about it, and say that there will be nothing commercial in there at all. I know they are lying.
Once I get burned by them once, they are done."
1 Do respect producers' wishes when they tell you they will get back to
you. Incessant follow-up will only annoy those you are trying to
2 Do localize your SMT. If local audiences aren't going to be
interested, neither are the producers airing the story
3 Do be clear in your pitch. Provide producers with the who, what,
where, when, and why right away
1 Don't have too many product mentions in your SMT. Anything too
commercial will not get aired
2 Don't be dishonest with producers about the contents of your SMT. Nine
times out of 10, news stations will not be pleasantly surprised
3 Don't pitch your SMT to more than one producer at a station. If one
chose not to run the story, it was for a reason