Anecdotal evidence shows that four out of five pitched SMTs fail to
get broadcast. Robin Londner details a few creative tricks that will
help any well-targeted story garner some significant airtime.
The real estate law of location, location, location also applies to
creating interesting satellite media tours (SMTs). Location: Make sure
you have a local angle for the stations in the markets you pitch.
Location: Get the SMT out of the studio. Location: Be prepared to do
more than beam your story to the station. Ship some items to the local
station you are pitching.
Dan Zacharek, assignment manager at Detroit's ABC affiliate WXYZ, says
the first thing he looks for is whether the topic is applicable to his
viewers. "If you're trying to promote a story for us and it has nothing
to do with metro Detroit or viewers in general here, it won't have a
chance," he says.
Doug Simon, president and CEO of DS Simon Productions, says PR people
should talk to their clients to determine local angles long before the
SMT production stage, then talk up those local angles to stations. "If
your story won't be of interest to people in a lot of different
markets," he asks, "should you really be spending your money?"
Once an SMT satisfies the basic need of relevance, it will need to be
visually appealing enough to get booked for airtime. Zacharek's station
receives five to 10 SMT pitches a week, only one or two of which will
receive airtime. Because TV is a visual medium, he says, good visuals
help him choose which SMT to air.
Striving for good visuals usually means getting out of the studio and
away from what assignment editors and SMT producers nickname the "plant
and talking head" background.
"Sometimes a marginal news angle will get on the air because it has
great visuals," says Sally Jewett, president of On The Scene
Productions. "Conversely, we have seen an important story rejected
because there was no good way to make it visual."
When an SMT does not obviously lend itself to a non-studio environment,
the PR person's creativity becomes essential.
In September 2000, Joseph Panetta, SVP at Marina Maher Communications,
was pitching an SMT for allergy drug client Flonase. Panetta knew there
were nine competing SMTs scheduled that morning, but, with important
allergy survey data and a credible spokesperson waiting, he expected
pickup for an SMT on the needs of allergic children. But stations
"Then we created a mock classroom with desks, a chalkboard, window, a
clock, and US map," says Panetta. "After that, our bookings increased by
so much we had to schedule another hour, increasing the tour from two
hours to three." The backdrop cost less than $5,000.
Similarly, Dogmatic was charged with creating a backdrop for an SMT to
promote Enya's CD A Day Without Rain. "It didn't make much sense to use
a remote location, so we designed a set to match the CD cover," explains
co-founder and executive producer Michael Santorelli. "It looked like a
New Age lounge for a rock star - it made the artist comfortable and it
gave stations a look they couldn't do themselves."
Giving stations more than they might need in terms of visuals is always
a good idea, so B-roll should be added whenever possible.
"Even a straightforward story on shopping trends, for instance, would
benefit from B-roll of people shopping," says Gene Sower, VP of
production for West Glen Communications. "Stations are very appreciative
of the extra effort and they realize that using B-roll to spice up
talking heads makes for a much more interesting television segment."
Sower cautions PR people to warn stations that B-roll will be part of
the package so they won't be caught off guard when it comes over the
She also suggests sending a B-roll package in advance of the SMT so
stations can use it for promo or bumper shots to build viewer interest
for the segment.
TVN Communications is another proponent of B-roll, producing what it
calls "mini VNRs" - alternative footage, often with a voiceover - to
follow up SMTs. "It can be a good way of getting significantly more hits
for just a little extra budget," says marketing manager Brian Unger. TVN
recently produced an SMT for National Allergy and Asthma Month
(sponsored by Best Inns & Suites) and garnered "several dozen additional
on-air hits" by cutting a mini VNR package and feeding it out following
A media-trained spokesperson will also help make an SMT more
Celebrities are obvious choices for generating interest. Dogmatic used
supermodel Heidi Klum in an SMT to launch the Natural Miracle Bra with
"Liquid-Lift" cups for Victoria's Secret. "We reached the top 20
markets," Santorelli says. "Celebrities boost the markets SMTs appear
in, and the piece becomes real entertainment."
The trouble is, celebrities can be expensive. Kevin Foley, president of
KEF Media, recommends author-experts as a lower-priced alternative.
"Many author-experts will keep their fees low in exchange for promoting
their latest book," he says. "We found an author who wrote a book on
what parents need to know to keep their kids safe on the internet. Our
client made a software product that prevented kids from accessing
objectionable sites, and our author discussed it. This was very
When working with authors, Foley adds, make sure the interviewer has
received a copy of the book. Not only can they reference it, it can be
taped as a promo piece.
Indeed, any way to get stations involved can add some extra
Michael Hill, president of News Broadcast Network, says when he
scheduled an SMT with a Texas chef, he sent interviewers cowboy hats,
and many wore them during the interview. He also cites the example of a
cooking demonstration SMT that was spiced up with a special
"We had a client that sent all the stations a cooler that included
containers of fresh food and a template to lay on their desks where the
dishes of food would go," says Hill. "When they did the interview, the
station talent prepared the dish right along with the spokesperson."
1. Do include a relevant angle for the stations in every market you
2. Do use an interesting, visually appealing background or set. It will
often make the difference between your SMT getting on air or not
3. Do get stations involved by sending them items that will help them
perform/promote the interview
1. Don't let the SMT become a commercial - assignment editors can
usually tell from the pitch and won't book it
2. Don't be tight with talent - a boring medical SMT will pack more
punch if you present a patient along with the doctor
3. Don't surprise the producer. Newscasts are planned to the minute and
unexpected events will not be appreciated