Pitching TV? Tips from Chicago’s top morning television producers

Pitching TV?  Tips from Chicago’s top morning television producers

Want to reach tens or hundreds of thousands of customers and prospects every morning?

Sure, you can set your sights on any of the network morning news programs. But you’re likely to have a better chance of getting on local TV. When it comes to getting face time with customers or prospects, local is where it’s at.

Depending on your market, there are super-sized audiences for local TV news shows.

In Chicago, ABC7, WGN, CBS2 Chicago, NBC5 Chicago, Fox 32, and WCIU run dozens of hours of daily content starting as early as 4 a.m. and extending through lunch and mid-day. That spells abundant opportunities for PR pros to send story ideas and trending topic angles to get your CEO, subject matter expert, author, chef, restaurateur, local neighborhood hero, good Samaritan, pet adoption center or trickster poodle in front of local television audiences.

Chicago morning TV producers who recently spoke to the Publicity Club of Chicago say they book dozens of segments weekly, and rely on public relations pros to supply the ideas for at least 50 percent of their feature segments (and a much smaller portion of their hard news reports).

These Chicago TV producers shared their advice, experiences and frustrations working with public relations professionals (you can see photos of the event on the Club’s Facebook page).

Here are some of the most useful and real-world insights I gleaned from media pros:

  • Scott Doll, Executive Producer, NBC Chicago

  • Adina Klein, Senior Segment Producer, WFLD Fox32 / WPWR MY 50

  • Tyra Martin, Segment Producer, WGN Morning News / People to People

  • Rebecca McCann, Morning Executive Producer, CBS2 Chicago

1. Make their lives easier

These producers receive mountains of email pitches from PR people – from 200 to 900 each day, and yet many fail to make the cut because they don’t provide a description or link to photos that demonstrate the exciting, cool or unusual visual that will make a client truly segment pop.   

Scott Doll said “Visuals always help” and PR pros should have a solid instinct on “What takes off” in the story. He urged us to be “prideful” about what your pitching. WGN’s Martin wants “teaseable” topics. Will your expert’s news make viewers stick around after the commercial break?

That took me back to the times I’ve pitched stories that I knew would not interest a given reporter, but the client wanted them on my list. Experience has taught me to be careful of which reporters, producers and editors I’ve targeted for TV. Plus, with so many outlets and blogs welcoming contributed content these days, there are other options for news coverage besides TV.

If your gut tells you a story won’t make it on TV, don’t suggest or promise it!

The TV producers repeated many bits of advice I’ve heard often at the PR industry lunch-&-learn style events:

  • Be short and concise. Producers don’t have time to read.  Bullet points help them digest your pitch quickly. Fox 32’s Klein says her ideal pitch is just a three-line description.

  • Send timely news hooks. NBC5’s Doll says his team needs experts now on North Korea. Follow what’s trending on Twitter, where CBS2’s McCann turns at 1 a.m., the start of her work day.

  • Don't be creepy. And WGN’s Martin says while she’s active on social media, she doesn’t look kindly when PR people refer to her personal Facebook posts in their pitches. “Don’t stalk my social media and try to relate to me,” she said. “It’s creepy.”

  • Know something about the anchors who’ll interview your clients. Tell producers why TV hosts will relate to and enjoy interviewing your expert. Take the time to know the types of morning show segments. For example, watch and learn that two members of the CBS2 morning team are new moms and may be interested in a parenting expert or infant safety or monitoring gadgets.

  • If you’ve got an evergreen story, send it. WGN’s Martin keeps a folder of ideas.

2. Don’t send blanket emails

Be careful about the 'spray and pray' approach to pitching. NBC5’s Doll discourages PR people from sending one segment idea to a bunch of reporters and producers at his station.  “Even if you pitch 10 people, you don’t increase your odds. In fact, you jeopardize your chances,” he said.

(FYI, That advice conflicts with advice a while back when an ABC7 producer encouraged a PR crowd to send to one pitch to numerous producers and reporters on the news team. The bottom line: Know each team has different preferences and styles when it comes to welcoming segment ideas.)

If there’s big, breaking news, PR people shouldn’t waste time trying to pitch features or stories that aren’t relevant. Your pitch will get lost and any phone calls you make will be viewed as a nuisance.

3. Save producers time and nerves!

The producers were blunt in their complaints about some common PR practices.

Fox 32’s Adina Klein wants to avoid multiple back and forth emails that waste time. After a client is booked, ease her workload! Send her all the information she’s requested – names, titles, bios, photos, web and social media links – in one concise email. She urged the PCC audience to avoid the “20-email chain” that forces her to dig through her inbox under deadline.

WGN’s Tyra Martin says it frustrates her when guests don’t arrive on time. WGN’s Tyra Martin urges public relations pros to help get them to the station -- escort them or arrange rides to ensure their clients make it to the station as early as 5 or 6 am. She recounted the many times she witnessed PR pros furiously texting and emailing while in the studio waiting for their clients to show up.

4. Deliver a great live interview

Be honest with yourself and your client about whether they can carry the live TV interview. Assess whether they are ready for prime time. If the answer is “No” get some coaching and fast.

WGN’s Martin said the best interviews feature excited and engaged experts who have dynamic personalities and information. “They don’t have the anchor carry the whole interview,” she insisted.  

That reinforces what I tell clients all the time: Live television is not for the meek. Be forceful and aim to engage in a conversation when they are on TV. Don’t treat the interview as a game of volleyball, where the host volleys a question and the expert politely responds. Dynamic interviews happen when the client is engaging, delighting or leading the conversation by telling easily relatable stories that support the messages about his issue, product or service.

Michelle Damico loves the news and PR and mentors young professionals. As Principal of Michelle Damico Communications, she’s been providing strategic communications and excellent service to clients and journalists for more than 20 years. She invites your emails at michelle <at> michelledamico.com and you can find her on Facebook, too.

Photo courtesy of Publicity Club of Chicago and Gus Cadena Photography

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