How not to pitch into broadcast

By Vanessa Chance

For many clients, getting good broadcast coverage is the ultimate PR success and yet so many struggle with it.  On Wednesday, Newgate ran a seminar with ex-broadcasters on pitching to TV and radio, which was a real eye-opener for me.

I was amazed at how much the visual dominates TV story selection. It makes sense but it is easy to overlook this when you are working with financial services clients who generally have impressive statistics and reports but less often interesting locations to film.

Ex-ITV producer and Newgate Partner, Louise Male, explained that you can increase your chances of success by offering a journalist the opportunity to film something that they wouldn’t normally be able to. For example, if you are talking about apprenticeships and can bring reporters in to film them on the shop floor or in a workshop learning a craft, this is more likely to make it on air. Offering access to exclusive locations that are interesting but normally off-limits to cameras will also help sell a story, as long as it is relevant.

However, if you just have great statistics and can’t offer a unique filming opportunity, the story could work for a studio live slot, possibly for lunchtime news, or for radio with a good spokesperson. This was a point that ex-BBC correspondent and Newgate Partner, Guy Smith, made; that spokespeople can make or break a story.

When pitching a spokesperson for broadcast, it is vital to have the right person for the story, the audience and the programme. It is just as important to make sure they present well on air and can give a good soundbite. This takes preparation and practice, and for those who are new to broadcast, good media and messaging training is essential.

At the same time, broadcast moves so quickly that there is always a possibility that a spokesperson will be dropped on the day. Broadcast stalwart and Newgate Partner, Dafydd Rees, explained that this was something he loathed doing as a journalist but it happens more often than we would like. As PR professionals we need to manage our spokespeople’s expectations so that they understand they could be dropped at a moment’s notice and not to take it personally.

The final point that remained with me is the need to work with the planning teams. They are time-pressured but open to story ideas and opportunities that work for their programme. When pitching a story, always make sure the timing is right. Never pitch while the programme is on air and be prepared to work well in advance to get the best results. Filming can involve a lot of logistical planning and this takes patience, understanding and flexibility.

Achieving broadcast media coverage is not easy but it is achievable, it just takes the right story and the right pitch.

Top tips for pitching to broadcast:

  • When you’re pitching into TV, remember it is all about the visual. If you can offer an interesting location or unusual filming opportunity, it will increase your chances of success.
  • If you don’t have a visual but have excellent stats, it could still work for a lunchtime studio Live and would most certainly work for radio.
  • Your spokesperson must be right for the story, right for the audience and right for the programme.
  • Offer interesting case studies that support your story.
  • Work with the planning desks and never call when they are live on air.
  • Make sure you are across the news and if a huge story has just broken, such as a new Prime Minister coming in, don’t call the news desk at all.
  • Always respect journalists’ deadlines.

Newgate offers specialist broadcast media training, messaging training and broadcast PR services. Please contact us if you would like to discuss how we could work with your organisation.