Lights, Camera, Action!

1. Lay the Groundwork

Just as every business needs a carefully constructed business and marketing plan to ensure success, every entrepreneur who wants to break into TV needs a media strategy. It's not enough to have a great product or service, or a lively personality for pitching it well. You also have to do your homework before you ever attempt to sell yourself to a talk show or news program producer (the person who's most likely to book on-air talent).

The first step in the process is to determine your niche. Typically, producers are interested in people who can solve a problem or help people do something better. They love motivational stories and those with emotional appeal. They also look for people whose products and services relate to current trends. For example, anything you can do or offer right now that ties into the low-carb diet craze might be perceived as newsworthy by a TV producer.

Next, watch the show you're dying to appear on so you can become familiar with the host's style and the program's content and pace. And watch it a lot, either by tuning in every day or by setting your TiVo or VCR to catch the program for a couple of weeks. Then, review every segment carefully to pick up on common themes and styles.

You'll also want to check out the show's Web site for insider information. For instance, if you click on the "Be a Guest" link on The Oprah Winfrey Show Web site, you'll find dozens of show subjects the producers are currently pursuing. It's always easier to fit into a category producers are already working on than to pitch your own idea, so take advantage of any helpful hints they provide on their Web site as a way to zero in on their needs.

To position yourself as an expert in your field and attract the attention of producers, be sure to emphasize your own expertise and background as well. "We only use experts with credibility," says Chantal von Alvensleben, editorial producer of Your Money on CNNfn. "We hear from a lot of people who say, 'I opened a business two years ago, so now I'm an expert.' But if you want to talk about financial planning issues on CNNfn, you need to be an experienced financial planner, advisor or personal finance writer with many years of experience. Degrees aren't as important as experience. And if there's no story, there's no reason to have you on the show, so a good pitch is essential."

Finally, in addition to concocting a good pitch, you might also consider advertising your expertise and availability in a publication like the Radio-TV Interview Report, which is a trade magazine published three times per month for an audience of 4,000 TV and radio show producers. For a nominal fee, you can place an ad with your biography, credentials and photograph in the magazine, immediately bringing you to the attention of producers on the hunt for experts.

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This article was originally published in the September 2004 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Lights, Camera, Action!.

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