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How to Get Great Local TV News Coverage

The Internet may have changed everything, but let's face it, most Americans still get a lot of their news and information from local TV news. And the principles of getting local TV coverage remain the same:
  • Keep it simple and direct and relevant to the day's news
  • Make sure -- MAKE SURE -- you have good visuals to illustrate your story
Compared to print, PR actually has a better shot at developing good relationships with TV journalists, and here's why: they need us more. "People think I have relationships with John Chambers [Cisco CEO] or Meg Whitman [ex-eBay CEO] but I don't," says Scott Budman, tech reporter for NBC Bay Area (KNTV-11). "I don't. I have relationship with you [PR people]."

Translation: writers have more time to develop relationships and hence don't need the PR person as an intermediary as much. TV people have intense jobs that require a lot of logistical coordination [lighting, locations, backgrounds, etc.] so we PR types can come in handy -- if we know what we're doing.

PRSA Silicon Valley had a "meet the editors" day at KNTV last week, and Budman & Co. gave a great inside look at how a TV newsroom really operates.

For instance, assignment editor Sabrina Hughes gets 2,000 emails a day. She reads seven daily newspapers and watches all the TV stations coming into the newsroom. Still, she said, between 12 pm and 3pm [after the noon news is over and before the craziness starts for the evening newscasts] she is open to hearing from PR people. Call during a newscast or in the hour beforehand, and she's liable to hang up on you.

[It almost goes without saying that this tutorial applies verbatim to virtually all local TV newsrooms across the U.S.]

Other tips from the day:

  • B-roll tape is still appreciated. That's the non-news background footage that you can provide to a station in advance, which they will hang onto and use as needed. For KNTV, Beta tape is still the preferred format.
  • If you provide B-roll to the station, there's a somewhat better chance that they will cover your next story -- because they can illustrate it with B-roll rather than sending a camera crew out.
  • Know their different newscasts: there's a different audience for the midday news (e.g., at-home moms) than at 5am (commuters), so pitch accordingly.
  • Don't misrepresent what you can provide: this is always true, but it's especially true for TV news, which has to commit a remote truck and reporter to cover your story. So if you say a celeb is coming to your event, and that's what got them interested, you darn well better produce that celeb, or your name will be mud.
  • When pitching, ask the station if it has a "planning editor." KNTV does. This is the assignment editor who's tasked with taking a bit of a longer-range outlook on the news, beyond that day or the next. If they have such an editor, you might get a better hearing from them for your pitch than the assignment editor who is rushing to get that day's telecasts done.