As a broadcast professional who worked in television for 18 years, the worst start to my work day probably wasn’t much different than yours (other than my alarm clock going off at 2:00 am.) That was; an inbox full of new email and a few dozen new phone messages, none of which had anything to do with the day’s major task at hand. Oh, the dread. But, perhaps the difference between my inbox and yours was that most of my new messages were from people I didn’t know, pitching things I had never heard of and demanding my attention anyway.
Booking guests was just a small chunk of my job responsibilities. I launched and ran three national television shows for my company over the past 13 years. As the Supervising Executive Producer/Content Manager, I was in charge of pretty much everything – creating, planning and managing content for the shows, websites and social media, the staff, network demos and specials, affiliate relations, promotions, etc, etc, etc…
Now, this “woe is me” set up isn’t without purpose, it’s to help you understand the beast you’re trying to bait and catch. Media people are busy, no matter which branch they work in. Yes, there are more types of media outlets than ever before thanks to the great digital age, but the powers-that-be learned during the recession how to get by with shrunken staffs and never looked back. So journalists are now professional jugglers, producing more content across more and more platforms. It goes without saying that getting their attention is no easy feat.
I know all the no-fail rules dished out for pitching media. But I’m going to be honest, unless those doling them out have actually worked IN media and been on the receiving end of all those pitches, they don’t really know for sure what fails and what flourishes. Since I’m in the unique position of having run multiple national television shows at the same time (not many can say that) I can tell you what worked for me. Here goes some tough love.
Define Your Story
“I’m an independent artist looking for exposure.” I can’t tell how you many of those messages I received and the only place that pitch went was straight into my trash file. That isn’t your story, that’s your situation. And it’s the same situation many independent artists are in, which makes it far from special.
We all have a story; what we’ve given up, who or what has inspired us and changed our course, our motivations, our struggles. Those human interest points are your story. If you can’t articulate your story or why it would appeal to an audience, there’s little to no hope of it ever being told to the masses. Even if your end game is to simply get exposure for a band, brand or product, the media works in storytelling. So to develop it, sit and visualize the big picture and figure out what makes your story unique.
Research Best Media Matches
Once your story is ready, you need to figure out which media to pitch. Unless you have some clout, broad strokes won’t work. Not all media outlets are created equal and not all of them will be interested. So you have to do a little digging first.
Defining your story will help you find good media matches because it forces you to think outside the box and find potential coverage in places you didn’t know existed. Find some keywords within your story and cross-reference those with your media search. Then, determine if its brand, format and audience fits your message. The more dots that connect, the more likely your story is to get picked up.
For example; we received thousands of pitches over the years from authors who wanted to be on “The Daily Buzz,” but only a handful ever made it on the show. That’s simply because most didn’t fit our brand, target demo or format. The show was hip, fun and fast-paced, filled with pop culture, celebrities and comedy. However, had any of those authors or their publicists done a little homework, they would have discovered that our sister show, “Emotional Mojo,” featured authors several times a week. The show was designed to motivate and inspire viewers and its format allowed for more in-depth discussions. Authors, and their message, almost always fit that bill. It takes some leg work, but it will prevent you from wasting time and may pay off by helping you stumble onto platforms and people you didn’t know existed.
And forget trying your luck by sending email or social media messages to the anchors and DJs you see and hear. More times than not, your pitch dies with them (trust me!) Seek out booking producers, assignment or managing editors, executive producers or ‘beat’ reporters. They’re the ones usually in charge of booking content.
The Pitch vs Press Release
I’m going to make a confession about all those messages I was greeted with every morning – I skimmed them first to see if any big stars or stories were being pitched. If not, I’d delete most standalone press releases. Yep, the dirty secret is out. For all the hard work put into them, press releases are not much of a sell on their own. The first thing media people should see is a pitch, which is different from a presser.
- The pitch is more of a personalized letter, a greeting if you will. It’s the opportunity to address journalists on a human level, as opposed to bombarding them with the same automated facts, stats and testimonials going out to all the media.
- It should spark interest immediately by summarizing the story and why the audience would be interested in it. Include interesting, informational gems as a teaser. It should lure them in and leave them wanting to know more.
- The best pitches include ideas for coverage. Sometimes I used them when producing it, sometimes not, but it showed me they truly believed in their story and cared about my product too.
- Close the letter with a call to action. When the pitch worked, I liked having more information at my fingertips. So conclude with a prompt for it.
Have Your Ducks in a Row
So you must have ‘the more’ info included, but don’t overload journalists and send every publicity element under the sun. Remember, quality over quantity. Be selective and pick and choose the elements that best sell your story and fit their format. Depending on what you’re pitching, some of those include:
- Press release (these help when it comes to actually writing the story)
- EPK (electronic press kit)
- Video/audio links
- Visual elements (pictures, graphs, etc)
- Website/social media links
If the story is picked up, then you can then provide the journalist with all the information and elements in order to produce it. Don’t make it convoluted in the beginning because it may just scare them away.
Timing Is Everything
Everything about the media is built around the clock; their deadlines, a story’s newsworthiness, cashing in on viral trends. That’s important to understand across the board. Here’s how it plays out for pitches.
- There’s no question that having a timely angle to your story, something on the burner to promote, is its best chance of getting picked up, so don’t forget to include it. It seems obvious, but you wouldn’t believe how often it’s left out. But please, don’t drop a story in a journalists’ lap and expect them to turn it the next day. Give them plenty of lead time.
- If there’s no immediacy in your story, try pinning the pitch on something that is timely, like a current news or pop culture event. If given some thought, it could be a nice addition to something they’re already covering.
- Be respectful of journalists’ time. Respond when asked, have answers, don’t nag and don’t assume they’re open for business 24/7. Trust me, all media people have those guests and publicists “we’re not dealing with again.”
Reaching out to media is a defining step and the first impression is crucial. If and when you make those connections, building the relationships is just as important. The biggest challenge is to offer as much, if not more, value to a journalist than you want in return. This requires trust, respect, proactiveness and pleasantness – the same qualities necessary to build any relationship.
Author: Reina Carbetta