How To Pitch Your Story To Television News

Posted by John Engleman on December 10, 2013

In a previous life, I was a sports director at a top-rated local television station. I had three deadlines daily: 1, 6 and 10 p.m. It was a fast-paced environment that could reach break-neck speed. I was constantly on the phone with my reporters and news producers, and coordinating sportscasts in the newscast while simultaneously writing scripts.

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The way I saw it, interruptions from firms pitching me story ideas (usually satellite media tours) would just put me further behind. I’d cut them off. It was almost always a national pitch. We were 99 percent local, 99 percent of the time. “We’re not interested, thanks.” Click.

Karma has a funny way of coming back on you. Now in the PR world, pitching stories is a big part of what I do. But, having been on the other side, I know what I’d want to hear if I was calling the 2010 me.

  • Get to the point: If you’re going to be pitching a station or assignment desk person that you have no relationship with, get to the meat of the pitch immediately after your introduction. The last thing you need is to catch a breath for 2 seconds, giving an often overworked, over-caffeinated assignment editor a chance to cut you off. Word economy is crucial once they pick up the phone. They should know your basic pitch 10 seconds into the call.
  • Be confident: Dead air doesn’t convey confidence. Be authoritative. To the person on the other end of the phone, you’re the subject matter expert of what you’re pitching. You’re charged with expressing why your story should be important enough for them to dedicate a reporter and photographer in a time when newsrooms have to do more with less.
  • Help them out: Offer elements that can enhance the product. Email b-roll or photos of an event or product that can be used in newscasts and websites. That can end up being the tipping point of getting your story on the air for myriad reasons. A photographer could call in sick, leaving a reporter at the station who doesn’t have experience shooting and editing video. That reporter still needs a story. There are also the stories that are an hour or further from the station. Say a camera breaks. It happens. And they all of a sudden don’t have a story, and are short on time. It never hurts for them to have a story in reserve.
  • Be respectful of their time: Assignment editors and reporters are always busy. At the end of your pitch, be sure to thank them. After the story is complete, send the reporter a thank you note. Building relationships is critical in pitching. What if you pitch that same market a month later? Be thankful and respectful of them. A good relationship with a reporter can end up being mutually beneficial in the long run.

What tips do you have when pitching to television stations? Tell us in the comments below, or tweet your responses using the hashtag #mcgblog.