Reporter M.A. Rosko recalls a few real-life pitching pitfalls
This week, M.A. Rosko, who was a features reporter for almost 20 years at a Twin Cities television station, is my guest blogger. Here, she shares five common mistakes you should avoid when pitching your story to the media.
The lasso dangled lifelessly on the dirt floor of the arena.
My producer gave me a countdown in my earpiece: “Two minutes to your live shot…”
It was 6:42 am at the rodeo.
I was about to interview the entertainment–a trick roper who was refusing to perform tricks on camera.
At this moment, it didn’t matter that the pitch promised all kinds of eye-popping visual amazement.
I could tell that the next 3 minutes of live TV were going to be the longest of my life.
Poor pitches? Yeah, I’ve seen ’em.
As a feature reporter at KMSP-TV in the Twin Cities for nearly 20 years, I’ve
gotten my share of poor or misleading story pitches. I’ve also gotten pitches
fancied up with t-shirts, balloons, all manner of swag. Don’t worry about the
packaging. What a reporter needs most is a story. With that in mind, here are
some classic pitch problems and how to avoid them.
- Pitching the wrong reporter/producer
It’s a story-stopping case of cut, paste and run. Believe it or not, I’ve gotten
countless pitches addressed to other reporters, from other stations.
(Calling me “Esme” or “M.J.” is, as they say, close but no cigar.)
It makes me wonder if you are pitching me something unique and tailored
to my audience. Sure, people make mistakes, but I can usually tell if a pitch is
a generic PR blast going out to every station. I’m more likely to pursue a pitch if
you’ve taken the time to understand my segments and style.
- Poorly timed pitch
Ahhh, the ones that got away.
I’ve had to pass on plenty of stories because of timing.
It’s happening tomorrow? A good reporter likes to be nimble, but few are likely to
pull the plug on a story that’s been set up, scheduled and produced with so little
notice. About 2-3 weeks lead time gives a reporter or producer enough time to
plan, not enough time to forget.
- Pitching info, not a story
Here’s my biggest secret, right here in bullet point #3.
It’s how I selected my stories among a mailbox-clogging number of pitches all
those years: CUDL. “Cuddle” is an acronym I made up for the litmus test I used to
determine if a pitch is a story…or just a bunch of information.
C= Is it current? Why does my viewer need to know about it right now?
U= Is it useful? What’s the value, the takeaway for my viewer?
D= Is there a discovery? Will the viewer say “I did NOT know that!
L= Is it local? Is it in the Twin Cities? An area important to the audience we serve?
And, of course, the story has to be visual, which brings us to the next tip.
- Pitching a talking head
When I get a pitch emphasizing what a guest can say, not what I’ll see, that’s
a huge red flag. Television is a visual medium. People in the newsroom often
overheard me on the phone, even with seasoned PR pros, saying, “Yes, but what
else are we going to see…” Don’t get me wrong–a relaxed, conversational on-
camera speaker is essential. But the most memorable stories are visual ones.
So, help a reporter visualize what the camera will see. Your visuals can be
physical props, a small demonstration you do on air, professional-looking still
shots or video, and sometimes graphics. The longer the segment, the more
visuals you will need.
- Not delivering on your promise
Let me grab my lasso; we’re going back to the rodeo to wrap everything up.
If you pitch a reporter with the promise that you can demonstrate, perform,
supply something–or, in this case, rope a bunch of rodeo clowns–be ready to do exactly that.
Whether it’s in the studio or live on location.
Whether it’s at 6:42am or 11:42am.
Delivering on your promise is a fundamental way to build trust with a reporter.
Remember–you want to earn a shot at being a return guest.
Because booking multiple segments over time is an even better way to build your brand.
M.A. Rosko is a journalist and freelance writer living in Minneapolis with her two rescued dachshunds. Follow M.A.’s travel blog and keep up with her adventures exploring the best of MN and beyond at http://www.maryalicerosko.com/.