If you’re a startup trying to grow a national – or even global – brand, you may not think that getting your story on the local TV news can help.
Local TV news segments can also bolster recruiting efforts for local talent and establish goodwill with the members of your community.
Below are some tips on how to get your company a story on local TV.
1: Have Something Visually Interesting
Is anything about your startup visually compelling? Like maybe a warehouse full of robotic cameras that shoot product photos for Amazon?
Or do you make software that fixes rogue financial algorithms? While that may be important, it won’t catch the eye of the TV news viewer. Be honest in your evaluation. Would the product or service you offer actually be something you would watch?
Once, we were trying to pitch a story about the cryptocurrency industry’s growth in Chicago. It seemed interesting to us: We’d told the story of how financial exchanges in Chicago had evolved over the decades, from red-faced men shouting and gesticulating in the pit in the 1980s to the more subdued reality of today, when investors trade quietly on their laptops.
The producer came back to us with a response that was, essentially:
“What the heck kind of visuals does a crypto story have?”
Lesson learned. Which brings us to our next point…
2: No Visuals? Use People
Even if you don’t have a visually interesting product or service, it doesn’t mean all hope is lost. You can still get a local news reporter’s interest by offering up your founders (or members of your leadership team) to comment on industry topics they’re knowledgeable about.
The best way to do this is to first ask the person you want to get on TV what they have to offer on these industry topics. They must have something new and interesting to add to the conversation.
“Pitches like, ‘Hey, if you’re ever looking for a guest to talk about …’ Forget about it,” said one producer we talked to for this article. “The person’s got to have some insights and perspectives of interest.”
For example, if you’re a property-tech startup, don’t pitch producers by saying, “Our founder would be a great source to speak to rent control issues.” Say what the founder’s unique perspective on rent control is. Are they for it or against it’? Both? Neither? And why?
If you don’t have something original to offer, you’re probably not going to get a story on the local news.
3: Have People? Look for Human Interest
Another way to get the interest of a local reporter is to show a “human interest” angle.
Maybe you have an accounting firm but you lead an ice cream-focused running group on the side.
Maybe you operate your digital marketing startup from a zero-waste office.
Or maybe you’re a business consulting agency that volunteers in a local school to teach students coding skills.
Any of these might be enough to get your story on the local news.
(Still not sure where to start? Check out our tips on how to get a reporter’s attention.)
4: Find Your Targets
Almost every local TV station has an assignment desk. The “assignment desk” is a newsroom phrase for the team of people whose job it is to find compelling stories and assign reporters or producers to look into whether those stories are worth covering.
Usually you can find the email address for a station’s assignment desk by searching the station’s website. We’ve found that the quickest, most effective way to do this is performing a site-restricted search on the news station’s website.
For example, if you’re trying to find the assignment desk at Fox 32 Chicago, whose “call letters” – another newsroom term – are WFLD-TV, Google the phrase: “assignment desk site:fox32chicago.com.”
Adding the “site:fox32chicago.com” snippet restricts your search to things on the Fox32Chicago.com domain.
(BTW that example actually works: the first result was a page instructing one to “send story ideas to our Assignment Desk at email@example.com.”)
Boom! You’ve got it.
Granted, it’s not always that easy. Some local stations use different terminology (they may say “Contact our news team” or “Submit a news tip”). But by searching the station’s website for these phrases, and clicking around a bit (it takes patience!), you’ll find the right place to submit your story.
If you’re pitching TV stations in Chicago, we’ll save you some time. Here are the appropriate contacts for local assignment desks:
- Fox 32 Chicago (WFLD-TV): firstname.lastname@example.org
- NBC 5 Chicago (WMAQ-TV): email@example.com
- CBS 2 Chicago (WBBM-TV): firstname.lastname@example.org
- WGN TV (Channel 9): email@example.com
- ABC 7 Chicago (WLS-TV): firstname.lastname@example.org
5: Know Your Target
Local news producers are perpetually inundated with requests from companies who want their story featured on TV. Showing that you know a little about the way their programming works goes a long way with overworked producers who receive dozens (sometimes hundreds) of pitches a day.
The simplest, most enjoyable way to bone up on a station’s programming is by watching. (If you don’t have TV, you can do this on a laptop by watching clips on the station’s site).
As you’re scoping a local TV news outlet, try to identify whether there’s a particular segment that would be a good fit for your company’s story. Maybe it’s a bit featuring local businesses. Maybe it’s a bit on your particular industry, like retail, manufacturing, or education.
Suggesting a specific program makes a producer's job easier and shows that you took the time to get to know the station.
Another important point when pitching the local news: understand the station’s requirements for booking guests.
Pay attention to who the outlet decides to book as a guest or commentator and why. Do they only feature founders or CEOs of startups that just received funding? Do they feature leaders from B2B startups, or only B2C? Take note of what qualities or features are shared by previous guests on the show.
6: Craft Your Pitch
Your pitch to the TV producer is your chance to explain exactly why your being featured on the station would be good for them. (Not just for you!) As you write your pitch, keep in mind what the station and its viewers care about.
Typically, local TV audiences want news stories that are either useful or entertaining.
Useful could mean a feature on exactly where speed traps or red-light cameras are stationed on popular roads and highways. Entertaining could mean a story about a local cat that became a minor celebrity on social media because of its sassy attitude.
Your business may not be as useful to local viewers as knowing where the speed traps are on their morning commute (what is?), or as entertaining as Max the Shelter Cat (ditto). But if you can write a pitch that brings some utility or delight to local audiences, you’re much more likely to get a response from a producer.
Another important element is timing. Local TV producers want to cover trends that are relevant in the moment, before they become yesterday’s news. Show how you can help do that by highlighting exactly why NOW is the time to talk about your company.
For example, we had a client that had a highly visual product, one that the producer agreed was interesting. But he needed something else before he would agree to film – a “news peg” – to help sell the story to his higher-ups – the people who ultimately made the call on whether or not resources would be devoted to doing the piece.
Because our client worked in the ecommerce industry, we were able to tie the story to Amazon Prime Day, which (luckily for us) was only a few weeks away.
Has a law just passed that affects people in your town? Is there a local trend that your company is a part of? Even those silly-sounding social media holidays, like National Ice Cream Day, may be good ways to get local media interest. (Here’s a list.)
Some other points to keep in mind:
- Be concise: TV producers are overworked and underpaid. Long emails are tiresome, so keep your word count to a minimum. (One successful pitch we had recently contained only 163 words, and research suggests that that’s a good target.)
- Use plain English: Producers have to explain your story to a general audience who aren't fluent in industry terminology, so leave the jargon out. That includes anything your relatives wouldn’t understand when you’re telling them about your job at Thanksgiving. Seriously.
- Don’t be afraid to follow up: Producers' schedules can be crazy, so make sure to follow up after your initial email. For most pitches, following up once a week is enough. (Any more than that could be pestering.) But if your idea is tied to an actual news event, it’s okay to follow up more quickly.
Still struggling to write a pitch? Try using a trope – overused but often useful story frameworks.
7: Figure Out Logistics
Once you’ve secured a reporter’s interest in your story, give yourself a pat on the back! It’s not easy. But that doesn’t mean you can just sit back before the big day. As far in advance as possible, you should ask the producers questions to get your team prepared.
Those questions may include:
- Will the segment be live or taped? (If live, there’s very little room for error and no ability to reschedule, so you’ll need to make sure you have everything prepared ahead of time.)
- How long will the filming process take?
- How many people should be interviewed?
- Are there any special power / electricity requirements for the TV crew’s gear?
- Does the film crew need somewhere to park?
- How should people dress? (Some producers will tell you to wear solid colors, because certain patterns, like stripes, will shimmer on camera.)
- Does anyone need to sign a release?
- Are there questions that can be reviewed beforehand? If not, can you tell us the general line of questioning you plan to take?
- Would it be appropriate to wear a logo’d shirt for some extra branding power?
8: Prepare Talking Points
Whether or not the producers provide questions in advance of the shoot, you can always look back at other recordings of the show to see the structure and get a basic sense of what questions could be asked. Create talking points and rehearse them, without memorizing lines. In addition, be prepared to craft an elevator pitch for your company that is quick, simple, and non-salesy.
Give Your Local News Story a Long Life
Trying to get your company featured on television requires a lot of work. But if the work is done right, the benefits of appearing on TV are big.
Whether or not the folks who watch your local news fit within your target demographic, the recording of that segment can be repackaged to resonate with your audiences, whether that’s potential customers, employees, partners or investors.
One way to keep it alive is by capturing it on your website’s press page. (Don’t have one? See our tips for building a press page that rules!)
For more tips on how to secure media coverage for your business, check out our guide to DIY PR for Startups.