Staple Ingredients Television News Stations Need to Consider Coverage
For five years, I was a local television news producer. I would comb through hundreds of story pitches every day from companies, hospitals, and advocacy groups to identify which would make it on television. Although, only about 30 to 40 stories would make it into the broadcast and most received less than 30 seconds of airtime. Deciding which were longer ‘featured’ pieces depended on whether I had access to the staple ingredients necessary to dish out your story to the public in an appetizing way.
Now, amid COVID-19, having these crucial key ingredients is more important than ever. Television news producers and reporters are stretched to the max. TV news staffs are being cut, reporters and photographers often cannot shoot on location, thus video is limited, and there is less time dedicated to non-coronavirus news. However, providing a television station with three staple ingredients increases your chances of mouthwatering media success.
Before any story goes on-air, producers and reporters must first read and digest the information you provide and determine how it impacts their audience. They must also write the story script and plan which visuals can be used to cover every word. The more time consuming the process, the less likely the station will cover your story. So, like any mouthwatering recipe, it is essential to provide context in a fast and easily understood way.
There are three main steps to providing appropriate context to television stations. One-page ‘fact sheets’ offer a brief background of your company’s pipeline and the disease state or medical challenge you target. Fact sheets should include the impact of the disease within the local community, the development timelines you have set to get patients what they need, and sources to support your scientific claims. These assets better help journalists quickly tell an accurate story that resonates for their local or national audiences.
You will also need to offer more than just a company spokesperson. TV journalists thrive not only on the sharing of information, but also providing viewers with emotional and relatable context. For example, not all viewers can relate to the difficulty of living with a rare disease or serious ailment, but most can understand the challenges of a person in pain who is unable to do the things they love. In most cases, television news crews will want to speak with that patient, their doctor or independent disease expert, and the company that is working to help.
Normally, a television news station will first decide to cover your story and will then send a photographer to several locations to gather visuals. These visuals might include interviews with experts inside their offices and video of lab employees working with specialized scientific equipment. However, due to social distancing, news stations are taking extra precautions to protect staff from traveling unnecessarily. This is a unique opportunity for companies to proactively gather and provide visuals that would normally not be accepted for a final story.
TV news reporters need more than just corporate headshots – they want video and images of patients for emotional context as well as video of scientific labs, manufacturing facilities, product images and graphics to demystify complex development programs. You do not need to spend thousands of dollars to have experts come and shoot professional images and video in advance of outreach. In these uncertain times, news stations and viewers will accept short video from a smartphone shot by a lab employee. This type of ‘guerilla style’ video also further provides viewers with a sense of story context— for example, the lab may be sealed off to visitors for safety reasons and this may be the ONLY means of providing the important work your company is doing.
‘Timing is everything’ when it comes to ensuring your news successfully breaks into the never-ending flurry of COVID-19 coverage. This applies to the timing of press release distribution and the availability of interviewees.
Try not to issue a press release on a Friday afternoon. While most news stations are 24/7 most operate on a skeleton staff on weekends. Dozens of producers and reporters normally fill the newsroom during the week but that may shrink to one or two staff members on the weekends. This means they have even less time and fewer resources to devote to your story. In the meantime, days go by and your story becomes less and less timely— hurting the odds of coverage come Monday morning. Conversely, issuing news early during the week allows news stations more time to vet the information and figure out the best way for them to tell your story.
Arguably the most important consideration for any television news story is to make sure interviewees are available when the reporter wants to speak with them. If they are not, then it is the single quickest way of killing your chance of coverage. The easiest way to frustrate a journalist is to provide a great story only to learn the CEO, doctor and/or patient is actually NOT available for an interview as promised. It is vital that when stories are presented to news stations, interviewees are readily available to get on a call or hop in front of their computer camera for an interview. The lack of availability or unwillingness to adjust your schedule to meet news station deadlines can hurt your company’s credibility and deter stations from wanting to work with you in future.
PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER
Working in the life sciences field is not easy and there is much to consider when gathering these elements to offer to a television news station. However, we must work to better understand the challenges facing the television news industry amid this pandemic to ensure our messages not only resonate but can also be easily packaged and produced.
- Providing easily digestible context into the problems facing patients and the hurdles within current standards of care will ensure speed and ease of television coverage.
- Gathering visuals and graphics of the development process make it easy for news stations to simplify complex scientific programs for the average viewer.
- Timing and availability will ensure ease of coverage and help solidify long-lasting positive media relationships.
The true test of any good television news ‘dish’ is ensuring that each of these ingredients is readily available before you even consider stepping into the ‘newsroom kitchen.’ Then, all that is left to do is sit back and enjoy the delicious rewards of a well-told story.
Graphic created by: Autumn Von Plinsky