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TV Placement Secrets
Get to Know Your Local Station’s Public Affairs DirectorVolume 5, Issue 1, January 2005
“I’m shocked at how poorly PR folks pitch local TV stations,” says Akilah Monifa, director of communications at CBS 5/UPN in San Francisco. “PR people tend to pitch print media better than they do us,” she adds. “TV seems to be a mystery to them.” Monifa shares these quick tips to enlighten her PR peers, and also reveals several easy ways to score coverage on your local TV network:
1. Target the right person—get to know the assignment desk. “PR people think they’re golden if they get their information to a news director, an anchor or even a reporter,” she says. “Those people are not the primary gatekeepers at most news stations, which tend to be assignment-desk driven. In fact, a reporter is never going to see your copy. So the key is to make sure the assignment desk gets your newsworthy information in a readable format. Stories work their way upstairs from there.”
2. Puree your press releases—use email instead. “Another myth is that a pile of press releases is brought into an editorial meeting and that the best ones are discussed to help decide which stories get covered,” says Monifa. “This comes from watching too much TV—it doesn’t happen that way,” she laughs. “The truth is the assignment desk staff are the only ones who see your copy—and they usually want it via email. Include only your contact information, who you’re pitching to, what newscast or segment you think might be a good fit and what the story is. Remember that TV isn’t really an in-depth medium. They don’t want to see a lot of background. They want the facts and visuals that help tell the story. That’s it.”
3. Look behind the curtain—demystify TV with a visit to the studio. “When PR people deal with print media, they try to meet reporters over coffee or tea. But I don’t see that happening in TV. I think PR people are scared to step foot into the studio.” Her advice: “Most stations will let you sit in on a news broadcast or during the taping of a public affairs show. So call and ask to take a tour or to meet the people on the assignment desk. Just call the public affairs or corporate communications person at the outlet—we’ll introduce you. There’s no excuse for not doing this.”
4. Think “earned” media—not nightly newscast. “Public affairs shows, original local programming, sponsorships and even PSAs are all easy options for getting your message out there,” says Monifa. “But they’re all overlooked by PR people who are focused on getting past this specific producer or onto that particular news segment.” Her advice:Partner with the press. “There are a lot of media sponsorships available with your local TV station,” Monifa assures. “For example, we recently sponsored the AIDS Lifecycle Ride. They were dissatisfied with their volume of news coverage in the past, so they asked us to be a media sponsor. The result was that we created and ran PSAs for them. But we also did a live broadcast with our medical reporter from the road during the ride. They wouldn’t have gotten any coverage if they had merely sent a release. But because they partnered with us, they earned live coverage for seven days.”
She offers this suggestion: “Research what your local station is interested in with regard to sponsorships and civic or community involvement. Visit the site and click on the sponsor links. From there, approach the director of public affairs or communications. People in these positions are going to help you if you’ve done your homework and can show that your PSA or partnership is a good fit. If your station doesn’t have a public affairs director, then talk to the general manager.”
Pinpoint public affairs shows. “Most stations have at least one public affairs show,” says Monifa. “These are actually mandated by the FCC. In our case, we have half-hour public affairs shows that run in two segments on Sunday, at 8:00 a.m. and another at 6:30 p.m. The good thing about pitching these programs is that you get more exposure. For example, compare nine minutes on a panel with Jesse Jackson discussing community affairs to thirty seconds on a weekday newscast.”
Her advice: “Offer community affairs angles for your local station’s public affairs shows. Again, your best bet is to call the public affairs director or director of communications—not the newsroom.”Pitch original programming. “Most local stations also run at least some original programming, which is typically easier to [get on],” assures Monifa. “For example, we have a program called ‘Evening Magazine,’ which runs five days a week from 7:00-7:30 p.m. We’re always looking for more information and segment ideas. We also have a show called ‘The Raw Deal,’ where a consumer reporter talks about consumer issues in the Bay Area.”Her advice: “Dig deeper than the nightly newscasts. If you have a fundraiser, for example, you’ll get more play on ‘Evening Magazine.’
Similarly, our last three segments were profiles of people who survived the Japanese internments—so think outside the news box.”
In addition: “Getting onto original programming can drive wider coverage,” Monifa assures. “For example, we had Jesse Jackson and Walter Cronkite on. That got piped into the local network and then the national news.”