In today’s increasingly crowded media market, video outlets are choosier than ever about the VNRs they air. That makes the art of pitching as important in the VNR world as it is in Major League Baseball.
In today’s increasingly crowded media market, video outlets are
choosier than ever about the VNRs they air. That makes the art of
pitching as important in the VNR world as it is in Major League
Whether dealing with a national network or a local television station,
pitching video outlets is in many ways identical to pitching print
In print, it’s the editor who plays the key role; in TV, it’s the
producer, because typically that is the person who decides what gets
aired. But the two do have their differences.
In trying to get a station to pick up your VNR, experts say, it’s
crucial to think like a producer. ’The one tip that I use both for
pitching and producing VNRs is the question ’What would the tease for
the six o’clock newscast be?’’ says Doug Simon, president of DS Simon
Productions, New York. ’That’s what you want to think of as your pitch.
You need to be that focused as to how the station is going to promote
this segment when it goes into a commercial.’
Joe Finkle, a producer at KDAF in Dallas, stresses the importance of a
quick, simple, easy-to-understand pitch that focuses directly on his
needs. ’If you’re tying into an issue that is out there in the public
right now, a very hot topic, that will catch our eye.’
One topical pitch that worked was a VNR Medialink placed for a Sony toy
robot called Aibo. By tapping into the holiday gift-giving energy and
focusing on hi-tech markets, the VNR got significant airtime, Medialink
Getting a media outlet to listen to your pitch in the first place is one
of the placer’s toughest tasks. Different reporters have different
preferences when it comes to being contacted. A study by DS Simon found
that, industrywide, the first preference was for fax, with phone calls
coming in second.
Whatever mode of communications a placer uses, try, try and try
’Persistence pays off,’ Finkle says. A VNR company will make hundreds of
phone calls for each VNR it places, says Mark Manoff, executive vice
president with New York-based Medialink.
Sometimes success with a program can be months in coming, says Sally
Jewett, president of Los Angeles-based On the Scene Productions. On the
Scene started pitching a VNR from an aspirin maker two weeks before
Memorial Day and ended after Labor Day. The story was re-pitched several
times, including on July 4 and right after the Automobile Club of
America sent out its annual travel update. In the end, the long, slow
pitch generated 358 air dates with 65 million viewers, Jewett says.
But this kind of long-term pitch carries a high risk of becoming
irritating, Finkle notes. Good placers must know when persistence shades
off into nagging, he says.
The relationships forged between good VNR staffers and TV people are
most valuable when the story for which you are trying to get airtime is
only of average interest, Jewett says. ’A highly newsworthy story can
get out there and get on the air without that kind of relationship work,
but most stories are not that newsworthy.’
Knowing who to call is as important as having a good pitch, VNR placers
say. All significant VNR placement firms have extensive databases that
they update constantly. TV station personnel, policies and procedures
always change, and this must all be reflected in the databases, says
Brian Unger, marketing director at New York-based Target Video News.
’You have to know when to call people and you have to know when it’s not
beneficial to call them because they’re on deadline,’ Unger adds.
’You also need to have a number of different contacts at the station.’ A
personal touch is crucial, he says. Information in the database should
include a station’s regional and local preferences. Good placers will
individualize their pitches, honing in on issues that are important to
the exact markets they’re targeting.
Different VNRs flourish in different areas. Effective use of databases -
as well as common sense - can help placers decide which markets to
target as well as help give pitches their shape. One example: VNR
placers often prefer large, metropolitan markets, but one company was
happy to get a lot of air time in the Midwest for a spot focusing on
lawn care (where there are, obviously, a lot of lawns).
Rarely has the need for extensive, updated databases been demonstrated
more intensely than with the launch of Viagra. Government regulations
prohibited the release of any information until the FDA granted its
final approval. So DS Simon had to hit virtually every media outlet at
almost the same time. The company’s database had multiple contacts for
each station, which ensured that no outlet was overlooked.
Another example: On the Scene was promoting a supplement called chromium
picolinate that can help control diabetes. During the pitch preparation,
the company noted that studies show Hispanic populations have a high
incidence of the disease. Special efforts made to pitch the VNR to the
Spanish-speaking market turned out well. That tactic wound up accounting
for 7 million of the 8.6 million impressions the VNR made.
Of course, even the most skillful pitching can’t make up for a lame
story or poor production values. Online newsletter Jim Romenesko’s
MediaNews recently published a memo from Peter Greenberg, travel editor
of the Today show, to VNR producers. Greenberg lambasted the companies
for regularly sending footage that is ’unusable, and in some cases
absolutely unwatchable.’ When the producers were confronted with this,
Greenberg says, ’the reaction in many cases was, ’Well, it was worth a
Said Greenberg, ’Please believe me when I tell you: no, it wasn’t.’
DOs and DON’Ts
1. Think of how the network would promote the story and tailor your
2. Target your pitches. Shape your comments to the needs of the market
you serve. Make pitches relevant to what’s happening in the news.
3. Keep your database updated: who to contact (more than one person) and
how and when they like to be contacted.
1. Tailor pitches to your client’s narrow interests. News outlets are
more likely to air trend stories that happen to mention your client.
2. Let persistence degenerate into nagging.
3. Think that good pitching can make up for a boring story.