CNN producer’s reaction to pitches

Tuesday I showed real pitches to an 18-year veteran of CNN and watched her reactions.

In every other setting I’ve interacted with her, she’s gregarious and down-to-earth. The kind of person you feel like you could tell your life story to and she’d be sincerely interested.

But once she went into “pitch review” mode, it was like a switch flipped inside her brain. Her attention span shrunk dramatically and her tolerance for elaboration vanished. You could imagine her sitting in the newsroom trying to read her email, but keeping one eye on the clock and her phone at the same time…

But there was more to her impatience than that – something much more relevant to the quality of product she’s producing for her anchor and her audience (takeaway below).

We looked at 14 total pitches submitted by my Inner Circle members. Here’s one that illustrates what I’m getting at.

She skimmed the three paragraphs out loud and then looked up at me and was like, “I don’t get it.”

I nudged her toward some of the elements that I thought would be interesting to her audience. It was about a class-action lawsuit against a food producer by a nonprofit that believes the company treats animals inhumanely. And she was like, “Oh, viewers love animals!” and dug back into it.

Then she said for the IC member’s benefit: “You should start it out like, ‘The milk you drink comes from abused animals…’”

Now, the original pitch was pretty good. This IC member consistently lands tons of media. But she had written the pitch more like an AP wire story. Which, most of the time, is a pretty good way to do it – after all, we’re trained to write in AP Style, right?

But in real life, Michael Smart isn’t gonna be walking your target journalists through your pitches. You gotta nail it the first time.

Here’s the takeaway: When pitching a super-busy producer for a 24-hour news network, you need to write your pitch in the same language and voice that an anchor would use to tease the story on the air. So not AP Style, but rather, “The milk you’re drinking may be coming from abused cows – more after the break.”

THAT’S how producers like my guest are trained to interpret the world. Not because they’re so busy, but because that’s what they know holds the attention of their audiences.

My Inner Circle members learned lots more from her, about news networks and about media relations in general. There was some especially good stuff about how to position your guest experts so they get picked above the competition.

You can access the recording of this session – and even watch her facial expressions while she reads the pitches. And you can also see similar pitch reviews with journalists from Today, Washington Post, WSJ, USAT, and more.

Those recordings and many more resources are available to members of my Inner Circle group coaching program.

Register here now to be sure you get notified when we open up later in the year. I’ll also be sending out some helpful bonus resources so you can become familiar with the program when the doors open.

This article was originally published on September 12, 2019

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