It’s been over a decade since I left broadcast journalism for a career in public relations. Even now that I’m on the “other side,” one thing never ceases to amaze me: so many people want to know what it takes to get a story on television news. At Evolution Communications we specialize in this type of public relations, known as earned media. I personally love this work because I still love TV news, and the publicity can be great for our clients’ companies or brands.
I know what makes a great story, and because I worked in the industry for nearly 20 years, I still have contacts at every station in town. But I also work very hard to maintain these valuable relationships and build new ones.
Here’s a list of “must dos” to maintain or build strong relationships with television news stations:
Pitch great stories.
Before I (and my team) propose a story to producers, reporters or assignment desks we ask ourselves: Is the topic interesting and relevant? Is it something they could promote to attract viewers? And, this is key, can it be told with good video or pictures? For television, that last point is critical. (The caveat- if there’s a great human element and a strong news hook, the station will be creative and create graphics or art to help tell the story.)
Once you know you have a great TV-friendly story, make sure you have all the elements lined up and ready to go, the last thing you want is to get a station interested if you can’t deliver. Make sure your person to be interviewed or profiled is prepared and available.
Reporters and assignment editors are human. They know life happens. However, if you consistently don’t deliver the story you promised, they’ll stop listening to your pitches.
Know when to connect with the stations.
News happens 24/7 but there are better times to reach out than others. We typically start a pitch by sending an email, then a follow up phone call if needed. Reporters and anchors can’t talk during newscasts, so it’s best to catch them between shows or at quirky times, like early morning or later at night. You also can text or reach them on other social media channels and ask for a good time to connect.
Be mindful of what’s happening in the news that day. If there’s a breaking story or severe weather, don’t call the station’s assignment desk.
Newsrooms have planning meetings twice a day… mornings around 8:30 or 9 and afternoons around 1:30 or 2. Try calling before or after those times if you want to talk with the folks who do most of the planning.
Know the reporters that you’re pitching.
Is the reporter a general assignment reporter who covers any story topic or do they focus on something specific like health, politics or the environment? It’s best not to waste their time (or yours) pitching a topic they won’t be interested in covering.
As much as I can, I watch the reporters and the shows that I pitch, morning and evening. If I can’t do that, I stay on top of trending topics and high-profile stories. Nothing forges a relationship with a reporter better than if they know you are aware of understand what they’ve been covering.
Connect with reporters even when you don’t have a pitch.
Staying connected lets them know you care about them, not just getting your story on the air through them. It’s like any business, networking is key to maintaining and building relationships. Send a check-in email or offer to have coffee, even when you don’t have a story to pitch.
Be flexible and available.
Simply put, when working with TV crews it’s best to go with the flow and be accommodating. Most stations are short staffed but still have big news holes to fill and may need to change your scheduled shoot on a dime.
The flip side of that is if a station calls and wants your spokesperson to quickly do an interview, you should do all you can (within reason) to make that happen. Making yourself accessible like this increases the chance that they’ll come to you again.
Lastly, be persistent but to the point.
Television stations are inundated with press releases, emails and story ideas. You need to be persistent to get yours noticed. If a reporter doesn’t get back to your email or call, give them a day or two before trying again (and stop after the third try.) If you have a good story, they will call you back. You can always reach out to someone else at the station if you’re not getting interest, but do that only if you’re confident you have a strong story.
One important thing to remember about television news is that there are a lot of kind, talented and amazing folks working in it, but they are busy, on a deadline and doing stressful work. If you catch them at the wrong time you may get your head bitten off or a terse response, so be prepared- you want to be quick and to the point with your pitch.
Be kind, professional and don’t take rejection personally. After all, it’s only TV.