Before transitioning to a career in public relations with Tier One, I spent more than a decade on the other end of the line as an assignment editor in broadcast news in Boston, a top 10 DMA. During that time, I was pitched by a countless number of PR pros and over the course of my career I came to recognize some great….and not so great…. methods of breaking through to broadcast media. Here are some tips on what to do, and more importantly, what NOT to do, when pitching TV spot news.
First thing's first, know WHEN to pitch.
Nothing is more irritating to an assignment editor than a publicist calling to pitch a story five minutes before a newscast, or worse yet, during breaking news. In the 30 minutes leading into a newscast, the news desk is working on the last minute details for the stories that will air - confirming details, handling logistics, and generally making sure the show goes off without a hitch. Don’t call during this time to talk about your dog parade that’s a week away. *It should be noted that this means knowing the newscast times for the station you're calling – and if your news is pressing to the station – not just to you or your client.
Something else included in knowing when to pitch is understanding the news cycle. Feel free to send an email as far in advance as you want, and even follow up with a gentle phone call to ensure your news is their daybook, but don’t call days ahead of your event and ask if the station plans to send a camera. Assignment editors don’t know what’s in store for them a few hours out, let alone days. Obviously, there is an exception to the rule if you are calling on behalf of the President of the United States, or even Mark Wahlberg, for that matter.
Second, know WHAT to pitch.
The elements that appeal to broadcast media have different nuances than other mediums and vice versa. TV loves anything visual, anything with a timely, relevant news hook, or a notable human interest story relevant to the local market (or country as it pertains to national outlets), i.e. a political figure, athlete, or your grandmother celebrating her 115th birthday. TV also follows print (hint, hint) so you can look for major stories in the morning paper (or online) that tie into your client, and should always be on alert for the opportunity to hook onto other news and trends.
Third, know HOW to pitch.
When pitching TV News, get to the point - send a simple advisory with the “who, what, when, where and how,” and make sure you have the most appealing story hook in the subject line and heading. News desks receive hundreds upon hundreds of emails per day, so it’s easy for an assignment editor to glance at your email, close it, and move on to the next thing - and even easier for them to skip it all together. Have something visual? State it in the title. Kitschy, wordy titles are a hindrance when it comes to TV. News desks simply don’t have the time to read them. Keep it short and sweet.
Don’t forget, always call to follow up based on the news cycle, so if your news occurs before 3pm, you better wake up early and call the desks before their morning meeting, which is usually sometime in the 9 o’clock hour. During these meetings, assignment editors, producers, the cyber department, and management all come together to discuss the stories and events of the day, and decide what they want to cover. You want your news to be on their list! If your story takes place in the afternoon, you need to hit them before 2:30, when they hold another meeting with their nightside team to discuss what they want to cover that evening. Have a story taking place at night? Still call in the morning, to get your story on their radar, but don’t forget to follow up later. A lot can easily fall through the cracks during that handover from day to night. If you can’t help yourself and decide to call a desk about your client days ahead of time, ask to speak with the planning manager and ask that your news is added to that day’s daybook. Keep it short and to the point when you are on the phone, if you don’t have a pre-existing relationship with the voice on the other end, go straight to the point.
If your story isn’t timely, or if it’s a planned hook, like how to pick the right technology products during back to school season – stay away from the assignment desk, which is geared towards event-driven coverage, and I mean event in the literal way, which could mean anything from a hometown sports hero cutting the ribbon at an animal shelter to a massive fire, or worse. Instead, research the local market and national TV segments to identify pre-taped or live segments intended for softer news – such as a cooking demonstration or interview with the CEO of a local tech company. You still need a good hook, but you typically have time have to plan and are presenting the appropriate contact with a symbiotic opportunity.
And lastly, always be realistic.
If your story does not have mass appeal, be prepared to face rejection - and if it’s the biggest news since sliced bread but unfortunately coincides with a huge breaking news story, you’re probably not going to make air. Make a plan, set goals and manage your own and your client’s expectations and you can create broadcast success.