Helping journalists, producers and conference planners find the female guests, speakers and expert sources they need.

So, you want to be on television…

by Shari Graydon

Experts from Informed Opinions’ database on a demystifying media tour at TVO’s The Agenda

Good news: we have some strategies to help you get there. But first, some context.

For three years in the mid-1980s, I worked for the world’s largest PR agency. My job consisted of getting client spokespeople on TV, on radio and in the newspaper. Before social media democratized people’s ability to get attention, big corporations paid big money for such services. 

Our clients included large pharmaceutical companies pushing new drugs, mammoth consumer goods companies selling fresher-tasting coffee, and — infamously — a soft drink giant catastrophically messing with its own time-tested formula. Despite my limited experience, I secured front-of-the-business-section placement for a cell phone manufacturer, dozens of talk show appearances for an epidemiologist pitching a quit-smoking aid, and profile for Colonel Sanders’ two daughters pretty much everywhere I called. They were completely charming, dressed entirely in KFC logo’s red and white at all times, and spoke in infectious southern drawls. (And bah thuh end uv th media tour, ah did, too!).

This job constituted the beginning of my political awakening. It helped me understand how power works in the world. Three years in, disenchanted by my success at subverting genuine news, and resentful about how much bigger the paycheque was being deposited by my less effective male colleague, I quit to go to grad school. 

But I’ve been drawing on the invaluable lessons I learned ever since, happily sharing them with individuals and organizations that have important information worthy of front page or top-of-the-news-hour profile. 

So here’s what I can tell you about getting your insights on television. First of all, you need to actually watch the network or news program you want to feature you. That helps you understand what they consider to be of interest, how they’re inclined to frame issues, and whether they actually devote much time to the stories they cover.  

Secondly, you need to contact the right person. You’ll want to go online, search for someone affiliated with the program or network whose title includes “producer”. Although a show’s host might well weigh in on segments and interviews, they’re usually harder to reach, and they mostly don’t bear primary responsibility for lining up guests. Whether via email or on Twitter, you’ll probably want to reach out to someone with producing duties. 

Thirdly, you need to craft a clear, concise and compelling pitch. 

If connecting on email, you’ll want to write just a few short paragraphs that answer the following questions:

  1. What’s the issue? (This should be not just a problem, but also well-considered solutions.)
  1. Why should the people who watch this program or station care? (If it’s a local channel, think local. If you’re pitching a national show, you’ll need to be able to demonstrate its cross-Canada relevance.) 
  1. What makes it especially timely now? (It’s called “news” for a reason. Even if the issue is an intractable social problem, what’s different now, or about to happen next week or month to make it timely?)
  1. What qualifies you to provide valuable context? (This is where you cite your most pertinent personal experience or professional credentials. No attaching your resume or C-V; just offer one or two sentences that summarize the most relevant among your designations or affiliations.)   

Your ability to share all this information in a tight package using accessible language is key. You want to demonstrate to the producer that you’re going to be able to talk about the issue in ways that a lay audience will understand.

Finally, what’s even better than cold-pitching someone who’s never heard of you, is cultivating a relationship before you need it. 

If you’ve already positioned yourself as a source of appreciation and/or useful information in the weeks, months or years before you pitch your own story, the producer is more likely to open, read and respond to your email. So when you see a well-produced segment on the program that intersects with your area of expertise, that’s a good time to reach out on email or social media to say, “Bravo. I appreciated your responsible coverage of this issue,” and/or “here’s some relevant information you might be interested in for a future story.”

In addition, when a journalist contacts you — either through your employer, or because you’re in our database — make note of her name, title, affiliation and contact information. Be as generous and accommodating as you can with your expertise. And follow up after the interview you give translates into coverage to say thanks. 

Because most of us don’t receive nearly as much fan mail as we’d like, we’re more likely to remember and respond to those who appreciate us. 

Even then, however, never underestimate the value of a good subject line. The words you write in that very limited space have to clear the first hurdle: getting the recipient to open your email instead of the 29 others immediately before and after it.

Similarly, if you’re tagging someone on social media, you have to be especially brief and compelling. Ideally, you’re able to tie your issue to a breaking news story, making clear that you can offer especially valuable insights, or a new angle that hasn’t yet been covered.

Good luck, and let us know if you’re successful.

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