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Getting on the Air
by Brian Jud

Return to Public Speaking · Print/Mobile-Friendly Version

In order to be successful at becoming a media guest, you have to think like a producer. These people are responsible for creating the idea for a segment or a show as well as for finding guests to appear on a show. The topic has to be of interest to the audience, and the guests have to be interesting and entertaining enough to hold the audience's attention. Producers do not care about your book. They want to increase ratings and keep their jobs.
"A producer looks for story ideas, tries to find good interviews and pictures, and then puts together a segment for airing. I have to think of the viewer first. It's not my job to sell books, but to make interesting television. If a book helps me get interesting television, that's good." (Rita Thompson, Field Producer for CNBC)

Although each producer has his or her own preferences and idiosyncrasies, you will increase your chances of success by contacting the producer of the show, not the host or president of the network. You might think it will save time to go directly to the host on major shows with your show idea, but do not do so. Your package will be intercepted long before it gets to him or her, and you will not make friends with the producers by trying to bypass them. Know the hierarchy in the medium and pitch to the appropriate person.

Call ahead of time to find out if the show engages authors of books such as yours. You will spend time leaving unanswered messages with humans or on voice mail, mostly the latter. However, you are more likely to get a return call if you leave the right message.

Before you call, have a 30-second sales pitch prepared that will get the producer's attention and make him or her willing to read your complete kit once it arrives. It does not have to be long; in fact it is better if it is not long. For an example of what to say, listen to how the media use 5-second promos to entice you to watch their shows: "Women who leave their husbands for other women, today on Oprah."

Approaching Local Media

If you are inexperienced performing on the air, you should begin by appearing on local shows to gain experience. Or, you may have a book on a topic of local interest, such as "Covered Bridges In Connecticut." It is unlikely a national show will book you to discuss it, so you should concentrate on the local media.

When pursuing local news shows, focus on your knowledge of your topic and the local current events surrounding it. Contact the assignment editors regularly, telling them about your familiarity of the subject and their specific audience. Since there is little time for reporters to prepare stories on late-breaking events, your persistence will assure a call from the media when an event occurs in your area of expertise. The assignment editors will have your name on file as the local expert, and they will call you if you follow these guidelines:

  • Call the assignment editor to make your initial contact. Tell why your message is important to his or her audience, and why you are qualified to discuss it.

  • Be brief. Do not describe your story idea on the telephone, but follow up with your press kit and a written proposal. If you can, deliver it personally.

  • Keep the assignment editors informed about positive changes in your circumstances such as recent media appearances, presentations, major reviews and anything that will increase the likelihood of becoming a guest on their show.

  • When you get the call to appear, it will usually be on short notice. If you turn them down for a reason that is not valid (in their mind), do not expect another call. Be prepared to be flexible.

  • Your taped program may not air when planned if a late-breaking story usurps your time. Take it in stride, and find out when your segment will be rescheduled.

If you are having trouble getting on a show as a guest, try another angle. The audience members are not always selected randomly. Some are experts on the topic under discussion and are invited to be in the audience to ask pertinent questions. Try to get on the show as an audience expert, get exposure and build your credibility for an appearance later.

Creating a Press Kit

Knowing the name of the appropriate people to contact is not enough. Now you have to send them a proposal that will compel them to pursue you as a guest. The tool for doing that is a press kit (also called a media kit). This is a folder containing the basic facts about why you and your topic will make an interesting show for the audience. It is not as much about you as much as it is about what you can do. There are really no standards for what should be in the kit, except that it should be written from the point of view of: " Here is what I can do for your audience and make your life a whole lot easier."

The objective of your press kit is to entice the reader to call you for more details. Present a unique, positive image of yourself as a qualified guest who can talk about your topic better than any other authority.

According to Patty Neger (Producer of Good Morning America), a producer may receive 50 proposals every day, so your press kit must stand out from all the others received. Therefore, the key to a successful submission is your one-page summary. Spend time to make it compelling and personal. Get the readers' attention immediately by demonstrating you know who their audience is and how you can help them. In one page, persuade the producers to consider you as a guest by being clear, concise and creative.

Your press kit will be much more effective if you remember one thing: producers do not care about you or your book. As discussed before, all they care about is creating a good show, and they are constantly looking for ways to do that. Therefore, begin your letter with a headline describing why your idea will be important to the show's audience. Here is an outline you can use to tell a producer concisely what you can do for him or her:

  • Headline: Why your idea will interest the show's audience.
  • What your idea is about.
  • Why it is perfect for this show's audience.
  • How it ties in with a major current event.
  • Why you are the best person to talk about it.
  • Other guests you can provide for the show.
  • The name, address and telephone number of the person to contact to book you as a guest.

In large-type, bulleted format, tell what your topic is and why it will be of interest to the audience. Be descriptive, not fancy.

Tell who you are and why you have the credentials to make these statements. List the two or three major points that will hold the attention of the audience. Tie your subject in with a major national news event, if appropriate. Be creative, but not frivolous. Do not include "confetti" just to get the recipient's attention. You want your audience to focus on your proposal by proving you know the audience, and you have an idea that will interest it.

Your proposal should always make a connection between your subject and what will interest the audience. Is yours a timely subject that sheds light on a late-breaking event? Is there any controversy or debate value in your topic? Is it a new story (or a new twist on an old story) that will convey something different to the viewers, readers or listeners? Describe why your book is unique, different from all the other ones written on the same topic (if that's the case).

Be innovative in your approach, but not outlandish. Eric Marcus (producer of Good Morning America) tells of a woman who had a book about how easy it was to transport atomic weapons clandestinely. She proved her point by coming to his office, through security, with a mock atomic bomb. It got Eric's attention and her a segment on the show.

The producer is responsible for creating a cohesive show, not just a series of guests. So, instead of pitching yourself as the perfect guest, send him or her your idea for a complete show revolving around your topic. This could focus on you, or it could involve a panel of guests made up of people you recommend.

Your proposal will be ineffective in breaking through the producer's preoccupation if your message is not clear. Do not bury your important words in cliches and rhetoric. Briefly state what you want to occur and why it is in the audience's best interest to hear what you have to say.

Just before Abraham Lincoln gave his famous "Gettysburg Address," Edward Everett gave a two-hour oration. Lincoln's was written on one page and took less than ten minutes to deliver. Yet there is hardly an educated person in the United Sates today who cannot recite at least the first line of Lincoln's speech.

Your proposal should be as concise as the Gettysburg Address. Do not waste time warming up with extraneous information. Be succinct, and present your story so the producer immediately sees the relation between the needs of the people in the audience and your ability to meet them. Demonstrate how you can solve problems and make the show more successful. End your cover letter by summarizing the reasons the audience will benefit from your information, and tell the producer you'll be calling soon to follow up.

Expanding Your Media Kit

Now that you have the producer's attention, provide additional information in your media kit. Do not be shy about putting your best foot forward, and consider including these other elements in every package you send:

  • A brief autobiography describing your major accomplishments in your subject area. Be creative but not so that it reduces your credibility. Your resume should present you as the authority on the subject, one who will present accurate and believable information to the audience. Convince the decision-maker that...

    1. You are a recognized expert in the field and a credible source of information. List your credentials in the field. Establish a feeling of confidence in the producer that you are qualified to speak on your topic and can handle questions from the host and the audience competently and authoritatively.

    2. You are knowledgeable about issues important to the show's audience. Be specific in your remarks. Speak the jargon of the viewer or listener.

    3. You are intelligent, articulate, likable and, entertaining. It is difficult to demonstrate these qualities by talking about them. Quotations from producers attesting to your presentation skills will be more effective. Include a list of your previous media appearances and testimonials from producers and hosts. Use these to build your credibility as an informative, entertaining guest who has the best interests of the audience in mind.

  • A photo taken professionally, perhaps with a background suitable to your subject (in a kitchen for a cookbook). You may choose to have your photo printed on your letterhead to avoid the possibility of the photo becoming separated from the package. Always write your name on the margin of your photo in case it is separated from your press kit. It is not necessary to include a photo in a package sent to a radio station.

  • A fact sheet about your book or product with the price and any other information the audience will need to purchase it. List stores selling your book in the station's market area.

  • A list of questions the host can ask you. These questions should direct the conversation to topics you feel are important and address them in the order in which you want to discuss them.

    Although hosts do not want to be spoon-fed, they do not mind being guided. If you are concerned about the host's reaction to your list of questions, you could stress that the questions are meant to define background information or to explain jargon that is critical for the audience to understand the overall concept. No host could be offended with that approach. Your questions also demonstrate areas in which you are not prepared to talk.

    Create two lists of questions, identical except that the one you keep in front of you during your radio interviews contains the answers. Write your response to each in outline format, not in paragraph form. Use acronyms or trigger words that prompt examples in your mind to remind you of what to say.

  • A copy of your book or sample of your product. To minimize this expense, determine beforehand if the recipient needs a copy. Most will. It is not necessary to send new books to radio stations, so save your damaged books for them.

  • Copies of relevant reviews, testimonials and newspaper articles. Also, include a summary of your travel calendar, giving the producer a variety of dates from which to choose.

  • A demo tape containing segments of shows on which you have performed. A demo tape consists of examples of you performing on different shows. It could be a video of your television appearances and/or personal presentations. Or it could be an audiotape of various radio shows.

When you appear on any show, ask for a copy to be made of it. Then have a professional production company edit various performances to one smooth-flowing tape, usually less than ten minutes in length.

There is some debate on whether you should send a demo-tape with your media kit. Generally, it depends on the type of show you are pitching. Producers of local shows are more willing to book unproven authors without seeing a tape first. A local news show will rarely request a demo tape, using your list of previous media experience and testimonials as proof of your ability to perform. They prefer some assurance you will perform well, and your testimonials or the word of your publicist may suffice.

Producers at national shows and local shows with large audiences want more assurance that you will make a personable, interesting and informative guest, and they will usually require a demo tape. However, do not send it unless you are asked to.

You may also hear the terms Electronic Press Kit (EPK), Video News Release (VNR) or Audio News Release (ANR). They are used to provide the producer with additional footage of you in action, and they are used to introduce you. If you do not have a video of any shows, have someone conduct an interview with you in a recording studio so that you can give producers an example of how you perform in front of a camera.

A Video News Release is a pre-taped piece that is the video equivalent of a media kit. It is shot, edited and produced just like a news story. It is done in a way that a station can edit it and use part of it. An Electronic Press Kit is a video news release that primarily includes behind-the-scenes shots and a one-on-one interview with the talent.

Some producers may use your press kit, demo tape or EPK to help them make a decision. But, they all depend upon their intuition. Before you are booked on a major show, you will receive a telephone call from the producer for a pre-interview. He or she will ask you questions and listen carefully as you respond. Can you sustain a thought? Do you have examples to expand upon your theories? Are you articulate and relaxed? Do you have a sense of humor? Do you have energy? And how many times do you say the words, "in my book"?

The criteria producers use are as varied as the number of producers. Give them what they want and need. If you are right for the show, you will get on it.

It is important to remember that your media kit will be received along with those from nationally known authors being pitched by publicity firms or large publishers. Although they will have four-color photographs with elaborate artwork, you can still successfully compete with them by placing the cover of your book on the outside of your press kit (which can be a standard folder purchased from an office supply store). When you have your book printed, always ask for additional covers. Trim the spine off several of them so only the front and rear remain. Paste the front cover of your book on the front cover of the folder and the rear cover of your book on the back of the folder, and your kit will have the impact of a multicolored print job.

Or, you can use your additional covers intact, as the folder for your press kit. In either case, if you included your photo on the rear cover of your book, you won't need to send a separate one with your press kit.

Follow up

Once a producer sees a good proposal, he or she will call the author or publicist immediately if for no other reason than to reserve the guest for a week or two to mull the idea over. If you have not heard in three or four days after you have sent your package, call to make sure it was received. You will probably get a voice-mail message, and if you do not hear in another week they have probably decided not to use your show idea for the time being.

Follow-up is always critical to arranging an appearance. Many people make the mistake of calling once, sending a media kit and waiting for a response. Media people are busy with deadlines and meetings. They will not call you back unless they believe you can help them with a story idea. Therefore, the onus is upon you to stay in touch with regular, gentle reminders.

Contact the producers (or assignment editors) as news events relating to your topic occur. Remind them of your expertise in that subject. Vary your follow-up by combining your calling with writing, emailing and faxing. Sending a fax or email is acceptable as a follow-up device, but your first contact should be via the telephone.

"Follow-ups are great if you say, "Have you seen the book? Can I answer any questions for you?" But don't follow up and follow up and follow up. There's a fine line between persistence and being a pest." (Lori Dolney Levine, Senior Talent Executive, Fox After Breakfast)

Use common sense and do not badger them. Each time you call, get a feel for their availability to talk. If they are busy, offer to call back later when things are not so hectic.

No. No. A thousand times no!

You will be rejected more times than not. But do not take it to heart. You may have the best book in the world on your topic, but it is not right for everybody. The producers know what is best for their audiences, and they may reject a great book because it is not right for their shows.

Producers at the major shows are inundated with proposals from authors, publicity firms, corporations and others seeking a guest appearance. The media decision makers do not have the time to respond to every inquiry, so it is up to you to follow up with them until the issue is resolved.

Find Out More...

Handling TV Interviews, by Vera Marie Badertscher

Help! I'm Going to Be on TV!, by Barbara Florio Graham

How to Appear Your Best on TV, by Brian Jud

The Seven C's of Media Appearances - Brian Jud

Copyright © 2003 Brian Jud
This article may not be reprinted without the author's written permission.

Brian Jud is an author, book-marketing consultant, seminar leader and television host. He is a prolific writer of articles about book publishing and marketing, a syndicated columnist, and a frequent contributor to the Publishers Marketing Association Newsletter. He also hosts the television series The Book Authority, and has appeared on over 500 television and radio shows. Brian is the founder and president of the Connecticut Authors and Publishers Association, and founder and president of Book Marketing Works, a book-marketing consulting firm (http://www.bookmarketingworks.com/).


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