After the success of my last blog post on pitching freelance writers I decided to start a weekly feature called “How to Pitch”. I’d like to encourage readers to comment with their own tips and ideas. Also, please let me know if there is a specific show you’d like to pitch. I’ll try to interview one of the producers to get the inside scoop! ( If you’re curious about being a good TV guest, here’s a post on that I did a while ago.)
First let’s start with basic stuff. Although social media is the craze (and it’s cheap) it’s still building fans one to one. Although TV numbers continue to decline the medium provides a huge opportunity to deliver your message one to many. But for most people regular press releases and pitches probably won’t get you in the door unless there is a show already planned – that your message or back story fits perfectly. That can happen, but then you’re depending on luck.
It’s better to create your own pitch, which means thinking like a producer and coming up with a compelling segment all your own. (At the end of this post I’ve included an actual pitch that got my client on Montel, just to show you a successful sample.) Here are the steps for creating your own pitch – whether it’s local or national, this is really how it works on most talk shows. Authors, it works the same for you. Unless you’re already well-known, you need to come up with a unique idea to help sell your book.
It’s not your product or service, it’s your BACK STORY they’re after. Most people try to pitch what they’re selling. This isn’t of interest to a producer – they’ll tell you to call their advertising department. You need to come up with the compelling story behind what you sell. Dig deep. What’s interesting about you? How did you come up with the idea for the product or service? What interesting clients do you have? I know it sounds cold, but any extreme obstacle like cancer, homelessness, disabilities….that you’ve overcome in order to get where you are will make good fodder for TV. Think Lance Armstrong – his accomplishments were amazing but even more so because he almost died before he did them.
Watch the show you want to get on…religiously. 9 times out of 10 they’ve already done a story on something similar to your pitch. So you may have to go back and tweak your pitch to make it more original and more compelling.
Have strong visuals. Ideally you will have some high resolution video they can use. My client Dan Buettner of the Blue Zones is almost a household name now, but when he started part of his success getting on national television was that he had beautiful video shot in the gorgeous locations where he found each Blue Zone. And this can’t be home video. Find a professional cameraman and invest in good, solid visuals. If you can’t afford it, then have a photographer friend take some really good still photographs and mention that you have those.
Develop five points that hit on your story ideas. These need to be tangible, factual and best if they’re some kind of “how to”. Blue Zones did well because Dan had advice on living longer that could be crystallized into short, succinct points.
Tie it to a “peg”. For example, the pitch below is tied to National Kindness Week. Tie your pitch to something that’s national and timely (but not TOO cluttered like Mother’s Day or Earth Day)
Include an “expert”, preferably a PhD from a known university. Even if you’re just providing studies that back up what you’re pitching, this goes a long way. If you’re able to find a good “telegenic” academic that can also be part of the pitch, even better. I always recommend an expert that is published. Most acadmics are looking for publicity themselves. You’d be surprised how many are willing to be part of your public relations campaign.
Now that you have your materials gathered, write a pitch that is short and gets to the point FAST. I always start with the phrase “I’m suggesting a segment on…” I NEVER build up to what I want. I am blunt and to the point. If they want it, they want it. Most people write sentence after sentence explaining why they’re about to pitch something and they lose the producer well before they ever get to the point. I have producers that regularly thank me for being direct, and ask for more ideas. It’s because I know they don’t have ANY time. Don’t be afraid to get rejected.
Then, don’t EVER call to say “Did you get my email?” This is a pet peeve of many producers. They hate it! Wait about a week and call them – leave a message that says “I’m following up on the story idea I sent last week. If you’re not interested, just shoot me an email back. Thanks so much!” Don’t email again, put on your big girl (or boy) panties and call them. Giving the producer the permission to tell you “no” will oddly enough leave you open for new pitches later. But if they say no, feel free to ask why but DON’T PUSH. Move on to the next one.
As I promised, here’s an example of a real pitch that got my client on the Montel Williams show a few years ago.
I’m suggesting a segment with a NEW twist on random acts of kindness for National Kindness Week November XXX. Most people don’t know that it’s been scientifically proven that random acts of kindness can lower your blood pressure, give you more energy, even help you sleep better at night and lose weight! National Kindness week is XXX so that would be an excellent tie-in for your program.
A great example is Alex Tinsman, the founder of Angel Quest. After a family tragedy, Alex’s recovery from a terrible bout of depression came only when her husband suggested she start “repaying” all the people who had been kind to them during their loss. When she started to do that, she started feeling better!
This segment would address how to make random acts of kindness a regular part of your life. We have great footage similar to this already shot and in high resolution video. Here are some ideas of how the segment could go:
Interview people on the street to find out what is the best random act of kindness they’ve experienced.
Film your hosts or other program employees doing random acts of kindness, and see the recipient’s reaction.
Have a panel discussion talk about the positive impact on kindness for example:
Ms. Tinsman and her husband to talk about their own experiences
A psychologist who can speak to how positive psychology can change lives for the better (such as Dan Baker, PhD and author of What Happy Women Know).
Let me know if this is of interest and I’ll send a press kit for Ms. Tinsman along. Thanks for your consideration!
About AngelQuest: Knowing they were on to something, Alex spent over two years performing acts of kindness full time to find out which ones were most fun, rewarding and simplest to do. Since both Alex and her husband Brian worked in the gaming industry, it seemed only natural to create a “game” that would help people get started doing acts of kindness. To learn more about AngelQuest visit www.angelquest.com