Entertainment writers, producers and reporters– prefer email pitches & exclusives
By George McQuade
West Coast Bureau Chief
TV and radio entertainment producers and reporters huddled in Hollywood recently (8-21-08) to give entertainment publicists inside pitch tips to getting their clients on the air.
“It is possible to get coverage of lesser known actors and movies,” George Pennacchio of KABC Ch. 7 news, LA, told about 75 entertainment pros at a media workshop sponsored by Jack O’Dwyer, the International Cinematographers Guild, and hosted by the Entertainment Publicists Professional Society, LA chapter. EPPS member Sharon Weisz won the door prize raffle of a 2008 O’Dwyer Directory of PR firms.
”I got a handwritten envelope and invitation to a play, and because the publicist had such a passion for the client, I decided to cover the play, and that relationship grew. Later the play became a move and Oscar contender. My Big Fat Greek Wedding was an Academy Award nominated 2002 romantic comedy film,” said Pennacchio. He also said he interviewed Ricky Martin during the Grammy’s and the next day his song was a hit, and Pennacchio had exclusive interview on ABC. Pennacchio prefers email pitches at: George.Pennacchio@abc.com. He works afternoons and evenings, so early afternoon is the best time to pitch him.
“You need to come up with the nugget,” said Bonnie Tiegel, senior supervising producer, Entertainment Tonight and the Insider. “If your story has a connection to Hollywood, it is a fun and interesting story, it will be easy to sell, tease and promote,” she said. “We do a little more edgy story for the Insider and we have stories with a different hook.” Tiegel prefers email pitches at: Bonnie.firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Because of who I work for, I have no local interest,” said Fox. “The Associated Press is worldwide. My pieces are heard with my voice wrapped around the interviews I’ve done, or I will use individual sound bites. All of that goes to Toronto, Syracuse, Vancouver and every where, so a little local interest doesn’t work. What my audience wants is a recognizable name, recognizable celebrities or a tie-into a recognizable movie, TV show, stage plays or something like that were they don’t have to scratch their heads in the 30 seconds in the time telling the story.”
Fox, who works from 2:00 – 10:00 pm, prefers an email pitch first, and even though she works evenings, she’ll make an exception for celebrities in the morning if needed. “I only have 40 seconds and I work with recognizable names in movies or A-list celebrities.” Fox checks her email in the morning at Rfox@ap.org. She also likes exclusive story pitches.
“Less is more, and the phones work well with us. We don’t have to get all our interviews in person,” said Entertainment Reporter Ross Crystal, Crystal Vision Media, who has a 1:30 minute syndicated report that airs on KFWB, Los Angeles. “I actually prefer doing a phone interview, and remember 90 seconds moves like a freight train, but since it is syndicated your story is moving nationally. Ross loves exclusives and prefers email pitches at: email@example.com.
All panelists said they love exclusives. “There are only two kinds,” said Tiele. “The one that his handed to you and the one you get from digging for three months. Exclusives include websites, getting the story first by a 15 minutes or a day. It is very very important to have good relationships with reporters.”
KABC’s George Pennacchio, a three-time Emmy Award winner, also told PR pros, “You need to have a fun story, because boring doesn’t work for us. The question producers ask is how do I tease that? If they don’t know how to promote the story, then they (producers) will have less interest in it. If I get a good tease and pitch for a story, then often I will get the green light,” he said.
“You’re absolutely right, the tease and the promo,” said ET’s Bonnie Tiegel. “American Teen is a good example. Basically a documentary, I don’t know any of the people, but it was easy to promote.” American Teen follows five very different Indiana high school students around during their senior year, catching all the emotional turmoil associated with getting ready to leave high school behind and head off to college and the real world. It debut at the LA Film festival at Universal Pictures, Hollywood.
Pennacchio also warned publicists who bring their celebrity clients up to him when ABC is covering another story live on a red carpet event. “If the publicist could be just one step ahead, then I can tell them I only get a minute and half for this story, and maybe I can interview them later. Just to be put on the spot is a little tough, especially if you do not know who that person is. And that happens on a regular basis,” he said.
It wasn’t the worst, but the most memorable pitch Pennacchio received from an publicist, who said, “Rod Roddy says come on down and get your colonoscopy.” ”It got my attention, and we probably would have aired the story if we had the TV show The Price is Right on our station.”
Robert Ray “Rod” Roddy (deceased), an American radio and television announcer. He was known primarily for his role as the announcer on both CBS game shows, Press Your Luck, and most notably, The Price Is Right, a role he assumed after the death of that show’s previous announcer, Johnny Olson, in 1985.
“I can take nuggets, I don’t need a whole lot of video or audio, because my national syndicated program is only 90 seconds, however sometime I will take a local story and offer it to the news desk at KFWB,” said Crystal. “There are two audiences we are serving. The audience in the car, and the audience of the stations we are serving,” said Crystal. “However there are some stories that the audience wants to know, but the station program directors are not too thrilled with it.”
As for exclusives: “AP gets a lot of exclusives due to the enormity of its distribution,” noted Crystal. “We like to get exclusives. It is part of the challenge and fun of the business.”
“Most of my stories are a day of local charity, and it makes no sense to exclude a station at a charitable event, and if we are told we are not allowed to cover a charity, because it is an exclusive event for another station we will report that we are not allowed entering the event. If exclusive for ET, at least let us have the story for the 11 p.m. news. I don’t want to get a story that aired two days ago on Channel 5 (KTLA),” he said.
Another suggestion from the radio side, publicists should not exclude or select radio reporters last for interviews. If you get on APTV or APR, your story has been exposed to half the planet.
As for exclusives AP’s Rosalie Fox said, “My news director at a radio station had a big picture of a crowded freeway posted on the outside of his office door that read, ‘how many of these people are watching TV or reading the newspaper?’”