PR TECHNIQUE: Get on a morning show, and you'll rise and shine

It's a fierce battle for placement on the network morning shows. But if your story is hot enough, you might end up fighting off the competition.

It's a fierce battle for placement on the network morning shows. But if your story is hot enough, you might end up fighting off the competition.

There's a reason why the network morning shows - NBC's Today, ABC's Good Morning America (GMA), and CBS' Early Show - are considered by most the Holy Grail of media relations: there's simply no better way to hit millions of consumers in one shot. But to score a company, client, or expert a segment to talk live with some of America's favorite TV personalities, PR people have to muscle through the hundreds of pitches that producers receive every day. In addition, they have to figure out the politics of exclusives, when to give one, and what to do when everyone wants your client. A four-minute segment with Today's Katie Couric and Matt Lauer or GMA's Diane Sawyer and Charlie Gibson can be the payoff for a strong media relations program, or better yet, lead to a story in People, Time, or USA Today. "A lot of campaigns start on the morning shows, though a lot of people believe that it's the other way around," says Mark Bouffard, CEO of Media imPRessions, who worked with NBC on a story about his client, LifeGem, a company that turns the cremated remains of people into diamonds. "We're thrilled that Today is working with us, but we're going to leverage the experience to forward it. Now other people want it too." Collectively, the shows draw about 14 million viewers from all demographics between 7am and 9am every weekday, and feature news, current events, entertainment, service pieces, and human interest stories. Today stays on the air for an additional hour, until 10am. Nanci Ross, a senior producer for the Early Show, says that the demographics shift as the broadcast progresses. "In the first hour, viewers are male and female, from 18 to 49, and in the second hour there are more women and people aged 25 to 49, more stay-at-home moms, retirees, and people who work at home or part-time." So how do you pitch the most desirable spot on TV? First, stop selling your client, and start telling a story. The last thing producers want is for a segment to sound like a commercial. "When you pitch the story, you have to sound like a producer, not an encyclopedia salesman," says Robbie Vorhaus, president and CEO of Vorhaus & Company, and a former CBS producer. "You have to be the light, not the bulb." Some companies and agencies hire firms to craft a segment and pitch it to producers. David Post, executive producer at Nextpert News, one such company, says that pitches are treated differently because they are not coming from PR agencies, but spokespeople who will host the segment themselves. "When we do it, we put the segment together, producers get what they want, and the company is in better control." But for those who pitch for themselves, a vital step is to find out which part of the show is best for your story. "If you are not as familiar with the show as the producers are, and you don't represent Richard Gere or Julia Roberts, you better watch the show first," Vorhaus says, "You should know who hosts these segments." He recommends taping the show and looking at the differences between segments, breaking it down by half-hour. Find a segment that is like the one you would want for your client, and call the assignment desk to ask who produced it. Then e-mail the producer, don't call. "It's nice if [the pitch] is on e-mail," says Betsey Alexander, supervising producer at Today. "The subject line needs to say what it's about." Keep it short and informative. "When you're pitching them, they're thinking of how to pitch their bosses. Your story must have strong characters, a point of view, and a sense of the show's personality," says Vorhaus. While that personality may be perceived as cute and bubbly, the morning-show waters can be rough, with fierce ratings competition for those coveted viewers. Today and GMA regularly battle for top viewership (somewhere between 4.5 and 6 million), which can vary throughout the 7am to 9am period, and both insist on having the story first, if they can't have it exclusively. Negotiating that exclusive means knowing which show is the most appropriate for your story. Once you have decided which show you would like first, pitch them, and give them a deadline for a response. If they don't respond by the time of the deadline, move on to your second choice, and so on. Todd Sedmak, director of media relations for American University, regularly pitches the networks stories about university culture, as well as professors that may serve as experts in a given field. Because of a good relationship he has formed with one of GMA's producers, he tends to pitch that show first, but stops pitching once they say yes. "I know that it doesn't help them if my person ends up on Today later on," he says. Today probably wouldn't take that person anyway. In July 2001, Sedmak was in a position where all of the shows wanted to talk to Gao Zhan, an American professor who was detained by the Chinese government for 166 days. "GMA was putting lots of pressure on me for an exclusive, but because I work so closely with all the networks, I was not going to do it." He decided instead to arrange for all of the shows to go live-to-tape, meaning that all of the networks were treated equally, everyone got their story, and nobody got the story before anyone else. But for the times when you can give an exclusive, remember which show is a better fit for your client. With Magnet Communications' American Legion Circle of Friends campaign, both CNN and Today wanted exclusives. "Today was the right demographic for us," says media director Charly Rok. "But you have to put strategies and controls into place to account for when that happens." ----- Technique tips Do take an honest approach with producers when pitching an exclusive Do be reliable. Have everything in place before pitching the segment Do prepare for the effects of the segment after it is aired (increased website hits and phone calls) Don't pitch more than one show at a time, unless you have a story they will all want regardless Don't promise results to your client; news changes constantly Don't expect your segment to air the next week. Morning shows often take two months to go from pitch to air

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