Prime time pitching tips

July 10, 2013

Turn on your television. Those are the words we hear, say, or text when something BIG happens.  I’m talking about 9/11 big, or Tsunami big.  TV is still where people turn first to witness events that change the world.

As a former television producer, I have a bias both for and against the medium. I love television news; it is the most visceral of all information distribution.  But it can also be the most frustrating. TV news cuts a broad swath, but there’s little room for nuance. Most TV news stories – even at the network level – are told with a few sound bites framed around conflict and the reporter’s perception of the issue.

So how can substantive stories that aren’t “tsunami big” get their due diligence on television?

As a producer, I looked for stories or segments that could win the following trifecta:

  1. Is it newsworthy?
  2. Can it be articulated visually?
  3. Is the subject matter interesting not just to me but also to the audience?

If I got a press release or a pitch call that didn’t meet these basic criteria, the story didn’t make it on the rundown. Except for the water-skiing squirrel. I just couldn’t help myself, nor could anyone else – that squirrel went viral (in a 1980s sort of way).  But aside from that lapse, my colleagues and I worked hard to make the news relevant to our viewers. If you want your story on the nightly news, that’s what you’ll have to do too, keeping a couple of things in mind: television is about show not tell, and your pitch needs to frame up a scenario that provides the solution to a problem.

TV news – like print – frames most stories around conflict. This can actually work to your advantage in the pitch – just make sure the story is set up to provide a resolution. One of our partners, GRID Alternatives, has great success in getting TV coverage of solar installation events to provide solar for low-income homeowners.  GRID focuses their pitch on the human-interest component of the story; while there is plenty of controversy around clean energy policies, GRID circumvents the conflict by putting the benefits out front.

Just add compelling video and audio and you have a story that will resonate with producers and audiences, and deliver your message effectively.

Julie Dixon produced television news programs for more years than she cares to admit, working for affiliates in Denver, Sacramento and San Francisco. The highlight was producing a segment with Walter Cronkite, an experience that rendered her uncharacteristically speechless.