Media relations

Broadcast coverage: Tips for better pitching

Written by Matt Smith

30 July 2019


I recently went to an event that focused on how to maximise broadcast coverage opportunities. It featured panellists from Channel 4, the BBC and Sky News, and was primarily focused on broadcast media opportunities during the “silly season” (read: British Summertime). However, there were plenty of insights that I want to share here that extend far beyond the summer and into general considerations for broadcast coverage.

How to pitch

The first thing that struck me was, unlike other sections of the media, broadcast correspondents invite calls from PRs. They’re unlikely to read emails from people they don’t know, haven’t previously worked with or haven’t spoken to.

Now, it’s always best practice to research as much as possible about any journalist before picking up the phone to them. But it’s rare to hear journalists encouraging a pitch over the phone. Many journalists actively discourage PR calls and ask for emails instead.

But these broadcast correspondents want to work with people they know and trust, so pick up the phone to them. Keep it light and informal – make them want to work with you again!

That said, make sure you are pitching to the right person. If you have something that will interest a specific correspondent, you should go to them directly. And make it clear why you think it’s right for them. But if you don’t – go to a planning desk

Context and timing

Despite the summer focus of the session, it gave a fascinating insight into the ways stories can sink or swim on broadcast at other times of the year.

On the one hand, the silly season brings with it stories of pigs being sun-creamed and zoos feeding their penguin ice lollies. But the news editors and correspondents are also desperate for interesting non-weather stories and often struggle to find a top lead story for each day during the summer period.

Parliament’s summer recess gives them (in theory, at least) a bit of respite from political stories and more time for other topics. Brexit’s dominance in the headlines is also fuelling demand for lighter stories.

So think about the broader landscape you’re pitching into and what marries or distinguishes your story from that. And don’t forget that weekends can also be good times for stories to run on broadcast.

Packaging your story up

‘Packaging’ is the term given to the process of pulling together all of the elements a journalist needs. They can do this themselves but aren’t averse to the idea of receiving a pre-packaged pitch, not least because they’re growing increasingly thin on the ground.

They’re time poor and thus appreciate the effort. Although it’s not essential, it can really help your story to get picked up.

They’re also always looking for experts to call on to add to stories – people who are happy to talk for 5 minutes to fill time during the day as a story progresses.

The broad elements of a broadcast package are:

  • A strong top-line story
  • Access to subject matter experts
  • Strong visual hooks, including a great location for filming (if at all possible)
  • Stats to provide context for viewers
  • Interesting case studies for interviews
  • Access/timings and exclusivity are key – they want something nobody else will have

There’s no guarantee that even a story covering all of these bases will make it into the public domain, but it will give your pitch the best possible chance.

Talking heads

The little black book of spokespeople they can call upon to appear in their reports is key for broadcast correspondents. Here’s the steer they provided on what makes for a good spokesperson:

  • Diversity is really important, especially to Channel 4 – in that they called it out specifically. They are actively growing their list of diverse spokespeople, such as Women in Tech etc.
  • The seniority of a spokesperson is important to help progress a story, as it lends gravitas to have more authoritative people on camera – but they will want a chance to actually interview them, rather than working with canned comment or B-roll
  • Credibility and natural tone. They shouldn’t be media trained within an inch of their life! They must be engaging and provide personal insights, as opposed to pre-approved soundbites
  • However, good media training matters so that speakers know what to expect from the experience
  • And they must be prepared to answer questions people want to know the answer to in person. That accountability is key for the audience.

Thanks to Good Broadcasting for running the event.