There’s plenty to be excited about when pitching broadcast media. These are the people that we trust (and often idolize) to share the daily news. People that we see on our television screens, computers, and smartphones on a regular basis.
But consumers’ newfound ability to access to-the-minute updates any time, anywhere, has presented new challenges for broadcast TV. By the time the evening news airs, many viewers have already seen the stories elsewhere, like on social media. As a result, many of the broadcasting industry’s top leaders are shifting their focus altogether. Now both quality and timeliness are vital, and new ways to distribute information are a must.
Whether you typically watch the news on television or online, for many of our clients, pursuing a spot or digital mention on broadcast news is the ultimate win. But for PR, digital marketing and communication professionals, reaching this goal might seem like a nearly-impossible challenge.
Here are four ways to nail your next broadcast pitch and lock in that coveted TV win.
Knowing the “News Values List”
There’s a secret “bible” of sorts among broadcast journalists. It’s called the “News Values List.” Comprising six key elements – impact, timeliness, prominence, proximity, conflict and human interest – this list represents the qualities that make a story newsworthy. Understanding news and content value will also help you better compete in a sea of pitches fighting for attention and on-air publicity.
Here’s a breakdown of each value and why it matters:
- Impact – This should typically be the lead or guts of your pitch. Impact addresses how this will affect the viewers lives. Simply put, it’s showing relevancy. The impact of the pitch quickly establishes the importance of the content to the producer or reporter. It also inherently explains the consequences of the news itself.
- Timeliness – This addresses the question: Why are you telling me this now? For broadcast news, this element is critical. With audiences’ overwhelming need to consume information constantly, and new emerging trends such as 24-hour streaming news services, showing why a story matters now is critical to meet demand. The story itself doesn’t necessarily have to be new, but some new information or current hook has to be showcased to make it relevant.
- Prominence – Prominence poses the question: What makes your client worth interviewing? What qualifies them to tell the story? Establish credibility in your pitch. Illustrate why a reporter or producer would want to have your client on the network show rather than some other joe-schmo. In digital marketing, this concept is most commonly thought of as authority. It likely won’t be the lead of your pitch, but it is important to establish.
- Proximity – Proximity is all about understanding the relevancy of your story to the news outlets’ given audience. This is especially important when pitching regional broadcast media. If you are reaching out to the Dallas CBS News affiliate for example, your pitch should have some tie to that region. For national broadcast, proximity is slightly less of a factor, but it can be correlated with the national broadcast demographic. For example, if you are pitching TODAY or GMA, proximity could be the story’s relevancy to millennials and stay-at-home mothers who are the highest watchers of the network program.
- Conflict – Let’s face it, a little bit of an argument or controversy can really spice up a story and capture a large audience. Conflict is the driving interest behind politics, sports, and competition that we all so naturally crave and love to watch. Conflict also engages us emotionally and provides audiences the opportunity to be the judge. Showcasing conflict in a pitch can be a narrow line, but if the opportunity presents itself, it’s not something to stray away from.
- Human Interest – Ever wonder why stories like Batkid or the Ice Bucket Challenge get such strong media traction? Well, besides the obvious pull at the heart strings (who can deny Batkid stole the hearts of American’s across the country), it’s because people want to see stories about other people; about those whom they can relate to. Put a human face on your pitch and it can be a very handy tool. If it’s a larger narrative you are pitching, find a way to make it personalized.
Keep Things Conversational
With the six news values at your disposal, now it’s time to go out and pitch! But even with the secret weapon at hand, there are a few final elements to keep in mind.
No producer wants to, or has time, to read a pitch that sounds like a stuffy school essay. Unlike print reporters who often focus on one story at a time, TV news producers are juggling multiple stories and overseeing an entire newscast of content. That’s why it’s important to keep your language conversational, succinct, and to the point. Think about how you would talk about the pitch or story with your friends or family, and incorporate that “voice” into your pitch.
Here’s another tip: Try reading your pitch out loud. Are you sold on what you are offering? Sometimes the simple task of putting a voice behind your words can illustrate if you’re truly hitting the mark or not. If you can feel confident your pitch sells verbally, a producer will likely feel confident it will sell verbally on-air as well; and fit their approach as a visual, listening news medium.
To B-Roll or Not to B-Roll?
There is another TV news mantra to be aware of: “Show, don’t tell.”
Video is what sets broadcast journalism apart from all other news mediums. The savvy digital public relations professional is likely familiar with the term “b-roll” (for a history lesson, you can see the reasoning behind the phrase here). It’s a key part of the art of storytelling, and it can be a nice added bonus to help get your foot in the door with a producer. Even a 30-second clip can quickly lose its luster without video to back it up.
Incorporating b-roll into your pitch isn’t as intimidating as it sounds. There is no need to go out and recommend to a client they invest in a high-def camera and editing studio just so their product or platform can get on-air. Instead, think of b-roll and video more as a frame of reference, and another lens to approach your pitch.
For example, say your client is partnering with the local environmental estuary to clean up trash in the Bay – that’s b-roll! Or, say they are working with a home-security company to crack down on a rash of break-ins – that’s b-roll as well! These are all highly visual elements to consider and showcase in a broadcast pitch — especially when the video element may not be as apparent, for example in the case of launching a new car.
Don’t Be an Overbearing PR Person
There has never been a more recent time in which society was more aware of the value of exceptional media coverage. As the world continues to fight back against the coronavirus, and a new political era is upon the United States, extensive media coverage has brought journalism to the forefront.
While we are all eager and excited to pursue media relations for our clients, it’s important to also to lead with empathy. Yes, we want to get straight to the point in our broadcast pitches, but a quick, “Hope you are well,” or “Thank you for all your hard work”, can go a long way. Especially for broadcast, where producers and reporters are working around the clock, all hours of the day, to bring viewers the latest and most accurate information.
While print journalists can easily work from home during COVID-19 quarantines, broadcast crews are in a more difficult situation. It takes an entire team to put a newscast on-air, and spanning that team (and equipment) out across multiple home locations is no easy task.
You will likely be one of the countless people reaching out to a broadcast journalist with your pitch, in hopes of reaching a large audience. Don’t let a small thing like lack of sympathy, or over persistence, be the one element that stops you from nailing that on-air spot and spreading greater brand awareness.
Rebecca Rogers is a media specialist in the LEWIS San Francisco office. She spent more than a decade working both on-air as a reporter and as an Emmy-nominated producer for NBC, ABC, and CBS News outlets across the country.