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."