For most people, broadcast, probably TV, is the first media engaged with in the morning. Viewerships of breakfast TV is in the hundreds of millions across the various channels. As a result, TV coverage is the jewel in the crown of any campaign. And as a result of that, TV is one of the hardest mediums to secure coverage on and as such you need to absolutely nail your pitch if you want to have success.
We invited Emmy Award Winning Journalist and Head of Planning at ITV News, Carol Jordan and Editor of ITV News London, with 13 years experience at ITN, Hannah Emerson-Thomas to talk about what they look for in a great story. Specifically how those things differ for national and regional news. They were accompanied on our panel by our in-house broadcast specialist, Matt Cole, who has 20 years experience in broadcast journalism and production at Sky, ITV and Channel 4.
In case you missed it here are their key tips on how to make your story work for national and regional TV news:
1. THE STORY IS THE KEY
When pitching to TV, whether regional or national, it’s the story that’s important. Whilst it may seem obvious, a great story can get lost amongst other assets. If your story is fundamentally weak it doesn’t matter what bells and whistles you dress it up in.
The biggest thing to remember that came from our seminar is this: stories must be news focused. Whilst on one hand news means something hard hitting, it also means something new. If it’s not new, it’s not news. If you’re covering a topic that everyone’s talking about think about how you can make it fresh. Do you have any new on the topic? Can you provide a new opinion or angle? Do you have a spokesperson that can provide more information? Whatever it is you need to be original.
Think about your story- what value does it give audiences? Is it informative? Audiences want news they can use so it’s important think about that, even from idea creation stage. If it’s a health story think what benefit if gives to their lives as individuals. Is it a new drug? Is there a ground breaking operation now available? If it’s a money story – what advice do you have? What industry information can you give? Whatever it is think about the ultimate purpose.
Whilst both broadcasters, whether national or regional, are looking for hard news stories, that doesn’t mean they have to be dry. Remember that news can be entertaining. It’s fine to make people smile as long as it’s with something new, newsworthy and something of value to the watcher. Carol put it this way: Your story has to have the ST factor. Is it the biggest, best, longest, worst, first, oldest etc etc. If it’s got that it’s going to prick the ears of news desks.
2. YOUR STORY NEEDS TO BE RELEVANT
We’ve already covered the issue of your story having value to your audience. But you also need to consider the relevance of your story.
This issue plays a big part in your pitching strategy. Are you pitching it to ITV National? In which case make sure your story ‘transcends regions’. National stations need to reach the nation so make sure your story works for people Land’s End just as well as it works for people John O Groats.
Or maybe you’re pitching to a specific region like ITV London. If that’s the case you need to narrow down your story. If you’re using research, focus on the findings of that area. Does your spokesperson have a link to that region?
Also do your research. Find out more about the audiences of the shows you’re pitching to. What do those regions care about? Take London for example. Hannah explains their older and the issues that matter most to them are currently crime and housing or rent.
3. YOU NEED TO HAVE THE RIGHT SPOKESPERSON
One big part of making your story relevant, and improving your story as a whole, is your spokesperson.
The other key thing to think about, story wise, is people. Do you have a spokesperson? Who is it? Can they talk well? Do they know what they are talking about? Are they actually available? A great spokesperson can turn an ordinary story into something worth talking about. They can also help make your story more relatable. A great spokesperson can relay the most complicated issues and deliver them in plain English for everyone to understand. If they can’t you may need to rethink things.
The main thing to think about when it comes to spokespeople or case study is diversity. This is really important for ITV regardless of which show it is. The world isn’t made up of one specific set of people so your spokespeople should reflect that. Carol stated that they need to show a diverse range of voices. She claimed, that when it comes to ITV News, spokespeople should preferably be:
- Someone outside of London
- Offer a different point of view (the show should show both sides)
- Come from a diverse socio/economic background
Hannah also stated that diversity played a big part in the quest for spokespeople for ITV News London. She highlighted the need for more women to front campaigns. She said: “Diversity is really important…Women don’t put themselves up as spokespeople as much as men…we need to encourage more women to speak up more”.
The final thing to think about when it comes to a case study or spokesperson is: Are they exclusive? Carol talked at length about the need for bespoke spokespeople for different outlets. “Competition is so important in broadcast” She said. It was stated that nothing is more annoying than receiving a pitch with a great spokesperson, turning on the TV and seeing that exact same spokesperson talking about the exact same topic on a rival channel. A good way to overcome this is to have a good range of case studies, so that even if you only have one expert to talk about an issue, you have different case studies to talk about their unique experiences.
4. GETTING YOUR PITCH RIGHT
That takes us nicely into pitching. Throughout the seminar Carol and Hannah gave numerous tips for nailing your pitch. So we’ve broken them down into the key things:
1. Think about how your story looks
“We’re in the business of TV everything has to look good” – Carol Jordan
Do you have visuals to offer? Even if it’s just a spokesperson there needs to be something to look at. Think about where your spokesperson would be. Are they in their work place? Can we get a sense of what they do?
Do you have any B-Roll? If so, great, but put it at the top of your pitch. It may swing the pitch in your favour so why would you bury it at the bottom?
2. Think about timing and logistics
“I work in planning, today is closed to me. I’m on tomorrow” – Carol Jordan
Think about what goes into getting a story on the air. There’s planning involved, filming, research and more. You need to give people time and the story needs to be upcoming. Carol suggested giving her 2 to 3 weeks lead time in order to get everything ready and to find a place in the show’s schedule.
We’ve already touched on this above but it’s repetition throughout the seminar highlighted just how important it is, regardless of if you’re pitching to national or regional broadcasters. So important that it was suggested that you don’t just make your spokesperson exclusive, but the story itself could benefit from targeting just one show.
“Think of your strategy around a big story – it might be worth making a splash with one outlet rather than spreading it thinly across multiple ones”.
Exclusivity can also help cultivate good relationships with journalists and broadcasters. If you can give them something great once, they can trust you to do it again.
4. The Pedantic is important
“It sounds pedantic but it’s important. It shows you’ve thought about it” – Carol Jordan
There are little things you can do in a pitch to help sell your story, and it’s the little things you might not think of. Things such as getting the name of the person you are pitching to right. It happens! Equally important is to make sure you are pitching your story at the right department. Do your research! Don’t be afraid to call up and ask for the name of the person you are trying to reach.
Once you’ve found out who you’re emailing think about how you address them. Don’t be over familiar a simple ‘Hi X, I’ve got a story for you’ will do.
Think about your subject line. It should be gripping and explain what the story is in one line. If you’re pitching from a well known charity or organization include them, it shows gravitas of the story. If you’re not, then leave it out. Essentially is the story that matters. The company behind the story comes second.
If you’re sending a blanket email out – change the details. Don’t suggest that it may be a great story for radio is you’re pitching to TV.
Ultimately it comes down to this: Trust your instincts.
“If you find it interesting, we will” – Hannah Emerson-Thomas.
If you want to take the stress out of devising great stories and selling them in, 4media group are experts at just this. Don’t hesitate to get in touch and keep your eyes peeled for future events.