• How to get on TV
Apart from including TV journalists in your press release circulation lists and inviting them to press conferences, there are a number of other actions you can pursue to attract the attention of this exceptionally powerful medium
Five things that TV producers look for
The most important thing to realise is that TV is VISUAL. In many cases, even a story that may not sound particularly interesting could have TV appeal if it LOOKS interesting.
With some exceptions, TV producers are not interested in science/research for its own sake, but rather for the impact it has on human life. Consequently, there are five basic angles that they especially like to cover:
- Politics. Anything related to local, national, or European politics can be a newsworthy story – especially if you mount a challenge to accepted views, or propose new facts and figures that raise questions about existing or proposed policies;
- Social crises/problems tend to receive similar coverage, as they hold public interest. Often, there can be a demand for more information to be made available/accessible in the public domain. Bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), human disease outbreaks, global warming, natural disasters, cybercrime and terrorist threats all fall into this category. Technologies with the potential to tackle such problems are frequently hailed as imminent solutions, even though they may realistically take years to be fully approved;
- Health and education are constantly in the limelight. Medical breakthroughs, genetically modified organisms (GMOs), consumer safety issues and food scares/warnings invariably attract attention, as do efforts to offer increased learning opportunities and plug the skills gaps in national workforces;
- Celebrities always get television time. So getting a known personality to become associated with your research can be of great value, especially if the outcome has a humanitarian dimension; and, finally,
- Novelty. If your research has an exciting new angle to propose, this will raise interest. However, while programmes will cover topics that they know from experience to be winners, original stories relating to esoteric fields often leave assignment editors wondering why they should cover them. In such cases, greater ingenuity may be required in ‘selling’ the concept.
Where do you start?
The number of TV programmes dealing routinely with scientific and technological matters is relatively limited. A logical starting point is therefore to draw on your own viewing experience and that of your project colleagues in assembling a ‘hit list’ of candidates.
Next, you should try to identify and evaluate the presenters/reporters working on these programmes:
- Do they appear to show any interest in/knowledge of your field, or to deal with issues to which you believe you can contribute?
- Do they have a particular viewpoint or cause that may be sympathetic/ antagonistic to your interests?
- Is their style friendly/aggressive?
Having identified one or more suitable targets, take the initiative to obtain contact details for them via the relevant broadcast organisations.
The media is very telephone oriented. However, more and more reporters work via email when establishing ‘first contacts’ or checking out press releases. Send a press release or personalised message (together with visual material on CD, DVD or videotape, if clips with sufficient visual appeal are available), then call to promote your story. Get to the point fast, and keep to it. Make sure your story is good. Recount the human interest or visual part first.
Remember that, while you are talking, the reporter is thinking:
- What's in this for us? Will our viewers be interested?
- Will my boss think this is a good idea?
- How much trouble will it be for us to get this on tape and on the air?
If you can get positive answers on those three points, you have a good chance of successfully enticing TV to cover your story.
- Decide on the key point(s) you want to make – and rehearse them!
- Make sure that you point out the positive aspects – THINK ABOUT:
- Technical excellence – how special is it?
- Does it improve quality of life, or offer other benefits to European citizens?
- How can it enhance the competitiveness of EU industry?
- Is it a good example of European collaboration/networking
- Is your presentation neutral/independent, and therefore likely to be viewed as ‘reliable’?
- Can you present your message in terms that the public will understand?
- Can it be linked to a topic of current public interest or concern?
Keep in mind that many TV stations are short-handed and run to very tight deadlines. If you do not succeed in making contact within a reasonable time, consider approaching a station’s news desk or the head of the appropriate department.
A good approach is to link your project or its findings to a topic with a high public profile – although some creative thinking may be required to establish such a connection… The next step is to pick up the telephone, send an email or think about developing a press release.
TV interview technique
Know (and rehearse!) the story/angle you want to get across, while also aiming to understand what the interviewer is likely to be seeking. Also prepare and discuss questions with the journalist if possible.
When setting up the interview:
- Location – think about where/how you will appear (where will you stand/sit and try to feel comfortable). Try to select a background that is appropriate to your story. Avoid sitting behind a desk unless you wish to be seen as a bureaucrat;
- Get key messages in early. Mention your project/organisation by name. And remember to mention the European Union funding;
- Keep it short and to the point – if it is not a ‘live’ interview, they will edit the tape anyway;
- Show enthusiasm! Remember to smile and speak clearly, especially if you are speaking in a language that is not your own; and
- Body language – look at the reporter, NOT the camera – and ignore the microphone. Do not fold your arms, as this is perceived as creating a barrier between you and your audience.
Do not speak ‘off-the record’, and do not be trapped into making unguarded remarks before the camera has stopped turning or the studio recording light is extinguished. Some reporters use this tactic to obtain quotes that may be used out of context to support a hidden agenda.