Contributed by Ericka Stachura
I was watching the local news yesterday and saw a bizarre story that made me think 1) it must have been a really slow news day in Boston and 2) what is it about this story that made it worthy of two minutes of TV coverage? The segment featured a couple who got engaged at the New England Aquarium with the help of a ring-bearing seal. We are in the business of pitching hard news to TV producers on a regular basis so when a fluff piece shows up, it serves as a good reminder of what ultimately gets the attention of the assignment desks. After watching the segment back a few times, here is my best guess at how this story made it into the lineup.
- The Cute Factor. Let’s face it – seals are cute. Even if the news producer doesn’t think so, I am willing to bet about 90 percent of their viewers think seals are cute and will watch any segment that shows their fuzzy little faces. Add a love story about a camera-friendly couple getting engaged and you just upped the cute factor by about a hundred.
- Visuals. The story had video from the actual engagement – from the seal swimming over with the (dummy) ring… to the guy on bended knee… to the bride-to-be’s reaction. The story would not have worked without it. The station then sent a camera to the couple’s home for an interview about what happened to round out the story and give the viewer the inside scoop.
- Timeliness. Sure the couple became engaged earlier that day, but many more couples will be getting engaged over the holiday season. This adds newsworthiness to the topic of engagements/weddings and makes the segment more relatable to viewers.
- Luck? Even the best story pitches need a little bit of luck. If a camera wasn’t available to go interview the couple that afternoon, the story probably never would have happened. If it wasn’t a slow news day, the camera would not have been available. A slow news day is a rare event and any PR person that gets one on a day he or she is pitching news is lucky.
So what does this mean for businesses trying to get in front of the TV cameras? While you can’t always control what other news you are competing with, you can give yourself a leg up by doing your due diligence and thinking like a producer. Here are some do’s and don’ts to consider when pitching the assignment desks:
- Don’t hold an event on the same day a bigger news event is scheduled (e.g. if you are a tech company, don’t make an announcement on the same day the newest iPhone is hitting shelves). Exception – if your news ties into the bigger news event and can add value to the story, piggy-backing on the bigger story may work.
- Do assess the cute or cool factor of your story. Put yourself in the viewers’ shoes and imagine what you’d say after seeing the segment. If it doesn’t make an impression on you, the story isn’t there yet.
- Don’t expect to get TV coverage without a great visual story. Think about what assets you have to offer a producer in terms of footage and tell them when you pitch. If your visuals can’t compete with a ring-bearing seal, keep digging!
A cute headline never hurts for TV either. So, what do you think “SEALed the Deal” for this story?