Lights, Camera, Action!

2. Launch Your TV Career

Your initial pitch, or proposal, can make or break your chances of getting a coveted pre-broadcast audition. The pitch should not only propose a dynamic topic on a timely subject, but also include enough information about you and your idea to pique producers' interest, inducing them to reach for the phone and call you immediately to learn more.

According to Harrow, a well-crafted pitch should summarize your idea or story angle in a few sentences and should suggest two or three different variations on the same theme in case one of them has already been done or doesn't quite meet a producer's needs. She also recommends phrasing the topic dramatically and with a negative slant, as in "How your children's lunches can harm them" (instead of "Healthy eating for kids"). Such a provocative approach is likely to elicit more interest when it crosses a producer's desk.

Other items you should include with your pitch are a list of key messages that outline the specifics you plan to cover and a short bio-no more than a paragraph or two-that outlines your experience and expertise related to the topic you're pitching.

While it's perfectly acceptable to send pitches via snail mail, you may find that an e-mailed pitch will get a faster response. "We don't have lunch; we don't get away from our desks," says von Alvensleben of herself and her producer colleagues at CNNfn. "So e-mail is definitely the preferred way to reach us."

Finally, make sure your pitch letter includes a phone number where you are instantly accessible. "Things happen so fast on national TV that, if you aren't ready and available, they'll move on to the next person," Harrow says.

For this reason, entrepreneurs like Elizabeth Falkner, 38, of Citizen Cake, a San Francisco patisserie/bakery with $2 million in annual sales, put media inquiries above all other daily business-even cookies that are ready to come out of the oven. "I don't let anyone else talk to the media when they call," Falkner says. "If you get a call from a producer or a reporter, it's because they're on deadline and they need an answer or a sound bite from you now. It helps to do some preplanning about what you'll say if they call in response to a pitch so you can react quickly and efficiently."

That's not the only reason preparation pays off. Producers often screen prospective on-air experts by phone. "Someone with a lot of energy and personality just screams to me on the phone," says Avelino Pombo of Edelman Productions, which produces Landscape Smart for HGTV. "If I invite a landscaper to come in with a portfolio after a phone interview, there's a 90 percent chance I'll use that person on the show."

Work It
There's more to being on TV than sitting next to the host and smiling engagingly. You should also:
  • Treat a phone call from a producer as an audition. Susan Harrow, author of The Ultimate Guide to Getting Booked on Oprah, suggests preparing brief, concise talking points and rehearsing them well.
  • Get media coaching before you go on national tv. "Being interviewed by Katie Couric is a lot different than giving a speech or making a sales pitch," says Steve Harrison, publisher of resource directory Bradley's Guide to the Top National TV Talk & Interview Shows.
  • Keep your eyes focused on the host 100 percent of the time. Says Harrow, "Audiences believe you're sincere and knowledgeable if you keep consistent, soft eye contact."
  • Get your tv makeup done before you arrive at the studio. First, ask if professional makeup is available at the studio. If not, go to either a salon or a department store makeup counter to have your makeup done.
  • Keep the ideas coming. Doug Flynn of Flynn Zito Capital Management in Garden City, New York, sends his producer magazine articles related to his area of expertise and suggests how he can discuss them on CNNfn.

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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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