Thursday, October 27, 2005

How to pitch, part 5

This is the final part of how to pitch a story to an entertainment editor. You've done your research, know what media you want to pitch to, have come up with a press kit, complete with photos and samples of your work. All you need now is for someone to write about you. But no one is. Why?

First, there is the inverse law of promotion. Those who need it least get the most demands for it. Those who need it most have to go begging.

For example, Great Big Sea has a publicity firm hired to screen media requests. It's rare that a paper or TV station will get a call from them offering up the boys. We have to go to them and beg for a moment of their time. They're big enough that they don't need the publicity, or can be picky about it. Which is very obvious when you say it, but it's something to keep in mind. People already know a lot about the band. The band itself is probably burnt out talking to the media (we can be annoying at times) so they're going to be choosy.

You, on the other hand, probably are unknown outside of some friends and family who think you're cool. You need the publicity, but you're going to have to work that much harder to get it. Unfair? Sure. But reporters also know what stories people are going to read. If it's a choice between Alan Doyle and you, the unknown, guess which story is going to be read or watched?

Still, there are ways you can get around this. Before you call the reporter, come up with five good ideas that you think would make an interesting story. And not your new book, cd, etc. You get to push that during the story. I'm talking about adversity you've overcome. I'm talking about scandal. Something cool that people will want to read. Your band members sold their cars to pay for the CD. You wrote your book in hospital recovering from a brain operation. You learned to paint while in jail. The actors in your play will be nude. Something. Anything.

What are some good pitches?
1. "I'm launching a series of Newfoundland Romance novels. Nothing like this has ever been done like this in Newfoundland."
"What are some of the titles?"
"Sedna's Passion, Man From LaManche..."
"Sold. When can we meet?"

It was that simple. Newfoundland romance novels are a brilliant pitch by itself. But Man From LeManche? Sign me up. We were batting romance novels sentences around the office for days. The winner? "She hadn't screamed that loud since the time she won at the bingo."

Go here to read the story.

2. "As you know, the commemoration of the Holocaust is coming up. I've got a showing at the art gallery of some paintings I did while in Israel last year..."

Again, sold. It links into a broader event that is of public interest. And she was a recognized artist in town, so it's a good combination.

3. Joel Hynes, if I recall, pitched a story about a play he had coming up at the LSPU Hall, which was based on his then unpublished novel Down in the Dirt, which had just won an Arts and Letters Award for best unpublished novel. The novel, as much as he hates to talk about it, appears to be at least partially autobiographical. Hynes himself is an interesting character once you start to talk to him.

4. "Our band is going out to play at the Youth Correctional Centre as part of a program they have out there. So we'll be giving them some entertainment, showing them how to play some instruments and showing them that there are alternatives for young people."

Nice pitch. The band was just starting out, didn't even have their own equipment. But the youth centre is a good angle and it's an interesting program.

5. Not an arts story, but happened to my co-worker, Donnie Power. A guy called and wanted a story done about minor soccer in the city. A bit dull. Donnie asked if there was a player he could focus on with a good story to tell. The guy didn't think so, so Donnie said he would see what he could do.

A week later, the guy calls back. Says the best player in the league is a 14 year old kid who arrived in the city a year or so ago from Sierra Leone. His parents went back to that country, which was being torn apart by civil war, and rescued him after he had been kidnapped by militias to fight in the war. Was that a good angle?

Are you fucking kidding me? We put it on cover and I think Donnie won an award for it.

The point is, you often don't know what you have. You may have brilliance and just be unaware of it. Brainstorm with your friends, cast members or band mates. Come up with 4-5 ideas. So when you talk to the reporter and if he shoots down the first idea, you have a few back-ups. Odds are if you keep throwing story ideas at the reporter, he'll pick one. Or will help you find an angle because he appreciates the effort.

A good angle is so important. Not just because it catches the reporter's attention, but because it'll catch the readers' attention. When I get a good story, I work that much harder at it. I know it's good and I want to spend the extra time getting it just right. I'll work at it.

That in turn shows up. The writing will be better. I'll work harder at getting it prominent placement in the paper. I'll lobby for it to be cover (in the case of The Express). A TV reporter will lobby for more time to tell the story properly. All of this increases the chances that it will be read. Remember the goal isn't to get yourself in the paper or on is to get yourself noticed. A good pitch, a good story angle, increases the odds.

So think about it. Everybody has a story. I know they do. You do. It might mean having to expose yourself more than you might feel comfortable. But if it helps sells what you're trying to do, it’ll be worth it.

A few end notes:
• Regardless, you should always call, even if you haven't done all this work. You might fluke into something. A story might have collapsed. It might be a slow week. The reporter might be a fan of your work and will give you a break. These things happen. The worst that can be said is we're not interested or don’t have time.
• If you're an author, painter or a solo act, then you have to do all the publicity yourself. But if it's a play, consider who you want to do the interviews. Who is the most articulate? Who can talk up a storm? Also, there is no need for the same people to do all the talking. If it's a play, why not have the director and the lead actor talk to one reporter, the writer and the lead actress talk to another. Mix it up.
• Having said that, generally reporters only need two people to talk to. Three at most. After that, it's just too many voices and the story can get bogged down. Unless the reporter says he wants everyone, then two is enough.
• Really think hard about the photos and how you want them done. Photos sell the story. I can't emphasize that enough.
• Figure out where you want to meet the reporter. I've done so many interviews at Hava Java (a St. John's coffee shop) that I'm surprised they don't charge rent. But it's noisy and there can be distractions. Why not pick a place that sets the mood a bit. Your house in fine, it gives the reporter something to work off. Your studio - recording or painting.
• I said reporters don't need free things and we don't. But it never hurts to make friends with the reporter. Or better still, make them a fan. Any time that Sean Panting, Colleen Power, David Blackwood, Barbara Pratt or Kevin Major wants to do a story, I'll be interested because I like their work a lot. I can’t tell you how to do that because everyone has individual tastes, but if you can, your life is a little bit easier.

So there you go, longer and more long-winded than I would have liked, but I think I touched the bases. Thanks for the feedback, the links and for reading. If you have any other questions, don't hesitate to ask.

No comments: