“Air” conditioning: Human-interest and visual angles are keys to pitching TV

When I interview print or online journalists about their editorial coverage and PR preferences, their answers are all over the map. Sure, they all want PR pros to target pitches more carefully, and most list email as their preferred method of communication. Beyond that, there’s tremendous diversity in the topics they cover and how they want to be approached by PR pros.

But when I talk to producers at local TV stations, their answers are remarkably consistent, especially when it comes to news programming. Here are some of the top tips they’ve shared with me:

Highlight visual potential. Above all else, TV is a visual medium. Talking heads and press conferences typically make for boring segments, so it’s important to specify the visual potential in your pitch. “People might say they have great visuals, but it turns out to be somebody holding a sign,” one producer told me. Instead, “tell us you’ve got 20 people dressed as clowns riding unicycles.” In some cases, a good visual could be a prop that the on-air talent can use in the studio.

Aim for broad appeal. Unlike other kinds of media, TV news serves a broad, general audience. Niche topics are unlikely to get play unless there’s a strong human-interest angle.

Put a human face on the story. With many kinds of stories– especially those dealing with health and medicine — you’ll improve the odds by offering a real person as a focal point. For example, if the story is about a new medical procedure, many producers will require a local patient who has agreed to speak on camera.

Media train your experts. TVproducers want experts who are comfortable on camera — people who speak in plain language and know how to construct a sound bite.

Help with logistics. Unlike print journalists, TV crews often have to transport bulky camera and sound equipment to news locations. Do your best to ease the load by arranging for parking near the site. One medical producer told me about a hospital PR rep who went beyond the call of duty by meeting the crew in front of the facility with a golf cart.

Schedule events for evening news coverage. If you’re publicizing an event and want coverage on the evening news, it’s best to schedule it for late morning or early afternoon. Give as much notice as possible so the producers can plan ahead.

Be responsive. TV is a fast-paced medium. If a reporter or producer expresses interest in your organization, a timely response is essential.

Research your targets. Human-interest and strong visuals may be universal requirements for any TV program, but you should also consider any factors that distinguish one show from another. Obviously, morning news shows tend to be lighter and more lifestyle-oriented than evening news programs. Some may be geared more for certain demographics, such as women or specific age groups. The more you can demonstrate an awareness of these distinctions, the more successful you’ll be.

Exercise news judgment. Although TV is unique in many ways, there’s at least one characteristic that TV journalists share with their print counterparts: They appreciate PR pros who know what makes a good story. Pitches that consistently meet that threshold will make it more likely that producers will pay attention to your client or organization.


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