5 Strategies to Get Featured on TV
How PR people can win the media over
Public relations is an integral part of a company or an organization. Their role is specifically to engage with stakeholders, particularly the media.
Public relations (PR) officers are image shapers, hence, generating positive publicity and enhancing the organization’s reputation. It is not an easy job, as you need to persuade the most skeptical people in the world, journalists.
When I was a TV reporter, I worked with heaps of PR officers, some of them managed to win me over, others, made me cringe. Those who made a great impression, we keep in touch to this day. Currently, I work as a public relations lead specialist for a private corporation.
The advantage I have is that I was a former journalist as well. Therefore, I get to utilize my knowledge of television with my new career. Having said that, I am sharing five practical, non-theoretical strategies that you can bring into play as a PR officer, to win the media over, and get a spot for a news feature on television.
1. News Agency and Consumers Compatibility
In organizing a press conference, ensure that the news agency you are inviting gives you the proper exposure you need for the company’s target audience.
If your product is for the high-end market, ask reporters from cable business news channels, i.e. CNN, Bloomberg HD, CNBC, to cover your event. Business people and politicians regularly tune in to these channels.
On the other hand, if your target audience is the masses, better to invite reporters from commercial broadcasting stations, i.e., ABC, NBC, CBS.
These networks have more exceptional mileage because their frequencies are readily available via satellite. Unlike cable that requires their patrons to pay monthly access.
However, inviting reporters from commercial stations requires a double effort of convincing. These reporters are harder to please to get your story on-air. Unless your press conference is a matter of national concern, then, you don’t need to call them, they will call you.
Most of the news programs on these channels are time-sensitive because of their regular entertainment shows. Unlike cable news channels that have more space, as the news runs 24/7. Regardless of which news agencies you would be inviting, make sure you have these three must-haves:
Providing journalists a press release is a given. But it would be better to hand them a hard copy and a digital one. Some reporters on television are also writing for their network’s online news website.
Giving them a digital copy is convenient. The traditional hard copy can be used during the event, as it gives the journalists a concise summary of what they should be expecting.
Giveaway materials are another way to promote your brand. This stuff does not have to be extremely expensive, but please make sure that they have a purpose.
When I was a reporter, I tried avoiding PR giveaways that have no use at all. Especially, plastic table displays. It is a clutter; they always ended up in the bin. It is a waste of resources and a missed promotion.
Print your brands on stuff that reporters would appreciate, such as planners, sturdy notebooks, high-quality pens, USB sticks, power banks, vacuum tumblers, among others. These things are useful for their daily grind.
Guaranteeing that your guests won’t starve is common sense. Be a good host, don’t be rude. Regardless of what time of the day your scheduled event is, provide your invitees food and drinks.
I remember attending a two-hour press conference at a foreign embassy, they were promoting their development projects. They had scheduled it for 11:00 a.m., and the organizer only provided us bottles of purified water. Nothing more.
The result? None of the reporters they had invited, including me, wrote a story about it. They also had a hard time inviting us to their succeeding events.
FYI, television networks compete with each other, but their reporters in the field are good friends. They frequently discuss if they should be making an extra effort to write the story or not. If the majority say, “Nah, I’ll pass on that,” believe me, the rest will follow. More likely, they will write a summary of the event for attendance purposes, but they won’t assertively lobby it to make the story go on-air.
2. Think Like a Journalist
If you have a corporate mindset, your strategy won’t work. Most journalists don’t think like business people. Some have astute business knowledge, but they won’t write the news similar to a business proposal. Journalists will never adjust to your corporate language.
Therefore, as a PR officer, think like a journalist. I’m reinforcing the golden rule that the simpler, the better. Do not face the media if you cannot even explain the presentation to them like you are narrating it to a six-year-old child. Journalists don’t have all day to listen as they’re always on the go, and deadlines to beat.
Suppose your goal is to make it to the news lineup, particularly on prime time. Then, make your moment with them worthwhile.
Create A Compelling Narrative
Some PR officers will launch their products or projects by merely promoting. Magazines, online, and newspapers are more natural to please on this one. But getting that on TV is a whole different ball game. To get a feature news spot on TV, you need to have a compelling narrative.
Therefore, create one. Journalists’ brains are wired for storytelling. If you failed to come up with a compelling tale, journalists would build it for you, and that is critical. They will air the story based on their interpretation.
Sometimes, the odds will be in your favor. But what we are trying to dodge here is to do damage control because of bad publicity. The last thing you wanted to happen is to end up on the losing end of what experts called, the media framing. So, work well on your narrative.
Visual Is Not An Option, It Is A Requirement
In preparing your press releases, include compelling photos and videos for TV reporters. Better yet, give them contacts of case studies they can visit and interview. Visual is a must on television.
When I was still a program researcher for an international award-winning investigative news show, my segment producer asked me to find a malnourished child to get featured on our program. I found ten undernourished children, and they were all rejected.
My producer said, “These won’t work. They still look healthy to me. I want a case study that when people watch, will move them to tears.”
After two more days of searching in poverty-stricken places in the metro, I found a malnourished child on his deathbed. It was approved. The show got good ratings.
Then people started contacting our program as they wanted to help the child. Some scholars would argue such practice is exploitation, but that’s how television works. Nevertheless, your job as a PR officer should know these realities to prepare proper materials before your press conference.
The Infamous “Other Matter” Questions
In most scenarios, reporters who will attend your press conference already have an idea or a topic in mind. So, an hour before the event starts, do the rounds.
Ask the journalists if they have questions they would want to ask. A portion of your invitees have prepared questions; others would just wing it during the conference. It is essential to do the rounds to ensure if they have side topics in mind.
So, you can prepare for it. Journalists are good allies, but they will never be your best friends. The media has a different logic. So, be prepared for the most thrilling “other matter” questions.
These are the questions that have no relation to the topic in your press conference. Irrelevant, but newsworthy. They might do this during the question and answer portion or in an ambush interview.
Usually, these are the stories that go on-air because they are controversial. Therefore, always expect that, and be prepared. Some journalists can be told not to ask about other matters. Others can’t, they might even feel provoked. It is a culture of entitlement in the industry.
Besides, that’s their job, and your job is to navigate through it.
Further advice, whether you give a comment or not, that is still news. Better come up with a standard reply that will not hurt your organization’s reputation.
3. Don’t Settle With Reporters, Target Their Bosses
Having journalists as connections is the fundamental responsibility of a PR officer. So, gather as many as you can, especially those working in the prominent television stations. Journalists can pitch your events, businesses, and projects to their desk editors, but it is not a 100% certainty that it will make the cut.
My recommendation is to aim higher. Target their managers.
Must Cover Vs. Must Air
Connection with reporters could take you to a mile, but not the whole nine yards. Accordingly, start with your journalist contacts, and soon propose to meet their desk editors, news operation heads, and station managers. These people have the authority to dictate and approve events that reporters will be covering.
Strong relations with these executives will put your organization in the “Must Cover” assignment. Meaning, you can expect that they will send a crew to cover your events.
However, we are still not settling for that either. Our goal here is to make sure it will be watched on a TV screen. So, the next target is the executive producers, news production head, and the biggest fish of them all is the chief of the news and public affairs department.
These executives own the programs. They have the final say over which stories should go on-air.
Also, they would even suggest to the news operations team to cover functions that they wanted to put on-air. By having these people backing you up, you are not merely placed under the “Must Cover” category, but a “Must Air” feature story.
Secure Communications, Instant Corrections
Like I have said earlier, media frames stories based on their own logic. Therefore, it is inevitable that they will air the story in the representation you would not prefer. If this happens, you will end up calling the reporter for a correction. So, the reporter will call their editor, and the editor will call the producers.
The process is too long. But if you have connections with the news production executives, the communication is more convenient. It would save you time and energy. Also, to spare you from unnecessary anxiety. Therefore, the decision and reactions to your request will be immediate.
4. Relationship Investment
In any form of relationship, we invest, and we put a lot of hard work to build and sustain it. Relationships with the media are no different. It is similar to dating, you need to invest financially, but also time and memories, but this one is on a whole new level.
Planned and Unplanned Sponsorship
Providing a substantial budget for sponsorship is a must. Connections with journalists costs money. But unlike in advertisement, wherein a company is directly paying a network to air its products through commercials, the sponsorship is financial support for events or activities.
In my current job as a PR officer, we consolidate a list of annual events of our media partners such as founding anniversary, sports meets, and community outreach projects.
We provide sponsorship in exchange for exposure of our brand and logo during their functions and television programs. On the other hand, unplanned sponsorships are for arising essential circumstances. Therefore, it is also highly recommended to align separate funds intended for this.
One thing I enjoyed to the fullest when I was still a reporter was the media days. Where fun was my priority, the story was second. Providing such events for the media strengthens your relationship with them by creating memorable moments. This event could be a night party, training vacation, domestic or international free travels.
This is an excellent opportunity for the company to promote its brand to its media partners. Typically, these events and trips are all expenses paid. If your company conducts this, the media will not merely remember you, they are looking forward to your next call.
The Power of Gift Giving
A gift is different from the regular freebies you provide during press conferences. Gifts are fancier. Our team has a separate budget procurement for this. In my personal experience, being a former reporter, which I utilize now as a PR officer, is the proper timing of sending gifts to my media contacts.
Why? Giving a gift to a journalist before asking for a favor for publicity can be seen as bribery. Never situate yourself in such a reputation.
Just a caveat. There are three kinds of journalists out there. First, the rigid: they are the hardcore self-righteous journalists. They take their credibility to the highest form of morality. Therefore, giving them gifts might backfire. They could be offended by such conduct, perceiving that you are buying their integrity.
Second, the neutral: they are more open to these engagements. But if their network said that accepting gifts was not allowed, hen they won’t. I was one of the neutrals.
My previous network’s policy allowed a reporter to receive gifts, but not over $70.00. More than that, return it. Lastly, is the corrupt: once they sniff that you can be extorted, give in once, and you are trapped in a vicious cycle of extortion.
So, question, when should you give a journalist a gift? Do it after they aired the story. Therefore, it won’t look like a bribe but a token of appreciation, a symbol of gratitude.
Moreover, better to know the birthdays of your media contacts. Text them and send them a gift or a card on their important day. It gives extra points for a good impression. Do this as well at Christmas season, and bereavements. Send a company wreath, show them that you care.
5. Attend Social Gatherings, Read Current Events
As a PR officer, you need to build an empire of connections. Not just the media but also other stakeholders. The wider your links, the better access you will get. Therefore, be present at social gatherings. Consequently, arm yourself with tons of business cards to send out, this tradition still works.
In my personal experience, attending social gatherings, even though I am not an extremely extroverted person, serves a useful purpose. Whenever my journalist contacts ask me if I have the email or mobile number of a celebrity or a government official, I share it with them. By doing so, I hold the favor cards for future advantage.
Eat and Breathe News
Journalists breathe news every day. You should too. Develop a nose for news. Inhale current affairs, eat current events, make it part of your system to be updated on a wide range of issues from politics, stock markets, crime reports, global affairs, and entertainment.
You need to follow these stories because some of this news could be an opportunity for your organization to jump on for favorable publicity.
Public relations is vital to establish a good relationship between the organization and the public. The Public Relations Society of America’s definition of PR:
“Public relations is a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.”
Having mentioned this substantiates the critical role of the media in society. Notably, on television, a traditional, but still influential medium for information dissemination.
Consequently, the public relations job is to build and earn the press’s trust to send the message across to the people.
Unlike advertising, where loads of money is being spent, public relations is less costly because the strategy is to have a long-term relationship with stakeholders, especially with journalists. In a more casual description, public relations is a persuasion business.
These five strategies are based on my personal experiences merged with my journalism background and my current job as a public relations lead specialist.
These are the practical maneuverings that worked for me, these might work for you as well. Some of these useful tips could be unconventional, but this is how we get things done on the ground. Dealing with journalists seem very daunting. But they are also people, and people can be persuaded.
Originally published on medium.
Communications & PR Specialist | NZAid Fellow | MA Intl. Dev. | Ex Reporter for TV5 & Bloomberg TV-PH | Former Editor-in-Chief of the Philippine President | Toastmaster | Freelance Contributor | Storyteller of Life & Love