Securing radio and TV appearances can be a great way to get exposure for your business or brand. But what kind of stories are broadcast journalists interested in covering? And what’s the best way to pitch an idea? Here’s some tips to get you started…
Do your research
Radio & TV producers receive hundreds of emails every day. So before you pick up the phone to talk to a producer or fire off an email pitch, do your homework on the programme or ‘slot’ you’re pitching to. Is there a regular format? Who do you think is the audience? What kind of stories do they usually run? If you haven’t watched or listened the programme you’re pitching to - or at least tried to find out the answers these questions - your idea is unlikely to hit the spot.
Find the right person to pitch to
Next, find out the name of the person who can make a decision about whether to run your story. This is usually the producer or editor but, depending on how the team is organised, it could also be a journalist or researcher.
A quick search on Google, Twitter or LinkedIn should throw up some names, but it’s generally quicker (and more accurate) to phone and ask. Just avoid calling at obviously busy times (when the show is on air, for example).
If you get through to the right person, you may be able to pitch your idea over the phone, but do have an email pitch ready to send, as even if they like your idea, they'll probably ask you to email over the details.
Your email pitch should outline your idea in a few paragraphs and have a compelling email subject header (that makes it clear exactly what your story is and doesn’t try to be clever or obscure).
Bear in mind that most journalists get hundreds of emails and press releases every day (many of which are deleted, unopened), so a compelling email subject header is far more likely to get their attention.
Remember timing is everything
While some stories make it into the press simply because they’re interesting or unusual, many are ‘hooked’ onto other events e.g. new reports, anniversaries or awareness days. So when you pitch an idea to a journalist. they’ll be thinking: ‘Why do people need to hear about this now?’
But having a good (& timely) idea isn’t enough; if you don’t give journalists enough time to put the story together, you could miss out on coverage.
That’s why it’s vital to know the lead times (that is the time between the producer deciding on the content and it being aired) for the programme or ‘slot’ you’re pitching to.
On a daily news programme, where lead times tend to be shorter, you can pitch on the day a programme is broadcast (or a day or two ahead) but on more feature-led shows, items might be commissioned days, weeks – or even months – in advance.
Do bear in mind that programme makers are in competition with one other for stories - sometimes even on the same radio or TV station. So while general press releases are usually ok, if you pitch a more indepth story or feature to several programmes (without being upfront about what you’re doing) you could make yourself very unpopular.
That said, it’s not always practical - particularly if your story is timely - to wait for every journalist or producer to come back to you with a ‘yes’ or ‘no’. If this is the case, say you’ll leave your idea with them for a certain number of days (or even hours) in your email pitch. This way, if they come back to you with a ‘yes’ and you’ve placed it elsewhere, no one can say you were underhand.
Think visually (even for radio)
Whether you’re pitching an idea for a prime time news slot or a daytime chat show, it’s important to describe to the producer what they will be able to see and hear.
I’m a regular newspaper reviewer on my local radio station and the guests I meet in the green room are a great example of this. I’ve taken part in a ‘clubbercise’ exercise class, a weightlifting session (see pic below), mixed non-alcoholic cocktails and tried olives from a local vineyard (the owner had brought them, along with hummus and homemade bread for the presenters to try on air).
At the same time, be aware that there’s a difference between offering great content that allows you to show what you do and plugging your business. For example, the non-alcoholic cocktail maker was from a local restaurant (which got quite a few mentions in the piece) but the story was actually about not drinking and driving at Christmas and featured other experts - including a guy with a drink driving simulator game.
If journalists think you’re just trying to plug your business, they won’t want to run your story.
Radio and TV producers are always looking for experts and ‘talking heads.’ So if you have specific expertise, don’t be afraid to pick up the phone and introduce yourself. As ever, timing is everything, so do call when you know there will be opportunities coming up. So if you’re a financial expert, it can be a good idea to call up a few days before a government spending review, for example. An education expert might do the same just before exam results are published. A health & fitness expert might get in touch just before New Year when people are often making health changes.
And do remember that producers and journalists frequently search online for experts to appear on their programmes. So make sure your website, social media profiles (and, in particular, your LinkedIn page) are up-to-date, with good quality photographs and examples of you in action, if possible. Contributing to online publications or writing a blog can be a good way to ensure you’re found more easily.
And don’t promise what you can’t deliver. If you’re pitching an idea for the breakfast or ‘drivetime’ slot, you must be available to do an interview at that time.