PR TECHNIQUE: Satellite media tours - Action stations: getting SMTson air

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

weren't booking.



"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

satellite.



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

the SMT.



A media-trained spokesperson will also help make an SMT more

compelling.



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

successful."



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

excitement.



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

delivery.



"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."



TECHNIQUE TIPS

1. Do include a relevant angle for the stations in every market you

pitch

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



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