Lights, Camera, Action!

3. Learn the Media Ropes

While a great pitch and the right expertise can definitely make a producer sit up and notice you, the reality is that your chances of sitting next to the undisputed queen of daytime TV or any of the other big-time TV hosts-"in the good chairs," as Harrow puts it-are fairly low. After all, everyone wants to be on the national shows, but few are called. However, you can improve your odds of being one of those few by putting together a body of broadcast work on local TV first.

"You wouldn't consider trying to get booked on Broadway before you starred in a dozen or more hometown plays, would you?" Harrow asks rhetorically. "So get plenty of practice on your local news and talk shows. This will give you a chance to fine-tune your sound bites so you won't be shocked by the speed of national TV."

Pitch your ideas to the local media the same way you would to national TV. Then, once you get those coveted appearances on tape, you should have duplicates made of the ones that can be sent to the "biggies." You'll also want to put streaming video of your appearances on your Web site (a Web site is a necessity-establish one immediately if you don't already have one) so you can send a link to producers you're querying. This allows them to see exactly how you come across on the small screen.

Doug Flynn, 37, of Flynn Zito Capital Management, a million-dollar Garden City, New York, financial planning firm, has done this to his advantage. The personal finance expert is a frequent CNNfn guest who not only has recent streaming video on his Web site, but also has links to the Web sites of publications that have run articles about him. Building this type of "broadcast portfolio" makes you look more professional and seasoned to producers who want to be sure they can rely on you to be an animated, intelligent and polished guest in front of the cameras.

Incidentally, sometimes a local TV spot can lead to national exposure. Rebecca Steven, 42, owner of The Chocolate Fountain in Wichita, Kansas-a $2 million distributor of stainless steel centerpieces used at weddings for dipping fruit and other goodies-was featured on several local TV stations and in many publications following an appearance last November at the International Hotel/Motel & Restaurant Show in New York City. When USA Today published a small story about the fountain with a photograph on the cover of its "Life" section, a producer at Good Morning America called Steven to come in for an on-air segment. As a result of that segment, one of her fountains was featured on the local network affiliate to coincide with Trista & Ryan's Wedding, which aired last fall.

Says Steven, "Months later, I'm still getting calls from people saying they saw the Good Morning America segment."

4. How to Handle Your "15 Minutes of Fame"

It goes without saying that your whole reason for getting on TV is to promote yourself and your business. But the best guests let the host do the work for them. For example, Harrow says that practicing "egolessness" when on Oprah can reap huge benefits. "If Oprah [Winfrey] loves you and spouts your word as the bible of your've got it made," she says.

Other hosts will do the same if you give them the opportunity. And if by chance the interview starts to go astray, there's a foolproof way to direct it back to your main message. "A simple transition or bridge you can use in any circumstance is 'I don't know about that, but what I do know is....' This one sentence can be a lifesaver," says Harrow.

No matter what you do know, somewhere there's a TV show that might be interested in hearing you talk about it. So set your sights high, and let your imagination go, because with the right packaging, preparation and delivery, you could be the next Dr. Phil.

Make the Cut
"Anyone can get free publicity if they know how to do it," says Steve Harrison, publisher of trade magazine Radio-TV Interview Report and resource directory Bradley's Guide to the Top National TV Talk & Interview Shows. And he should know-he has helped 12,000 people get airtime since 1986. Here are his tips for landing a spot on America's top-rated programs:
  • Today: Pitch ideas that are tied into a current news trend or recent event.
  • The View: Study the hosts' personalities, and pitch ideas that would appeal to a particular host.
  • Live with Regis and Kelly: Pitch your ideas on Monday or Tuesday rather than later in the week, since all show decisions are made at the beginning of the week. "And you've got to be funny," Harrison says.
  • The Tonight show with Jay Leno: You have to do something off-the-wall or wacky to land on this show. Having a celebrity spokesperson for your product or service also helps.
  • Larry King live: "It's difficult to get on this show if you're not a celebrity, unless you're very qualified to discuss something that's in the news," Harrison says.
  • Good Morning America: Do something visual, and use props. For example, the authors of a relationship book who talked on the air about common couples' arguments brought a "Gripe Bag" containing a remote control, a checkbook, car keys and other props.
  • Finally, to get on The Oprah Winfrey Show, the "holy grail" of publicity, Susan Harrow, author of The Ultimate Guide to Getting Booked on Oprah, suggests offering to solve a problem for Oprah Winfrey and her audience. Also, don't pitch ideas during sweeps weeks or summer hiatus (they're too busy concocting ratings-boosting blockbuster shows), and don't suggest topics that involve sex, psychics or diets.

Eileen Figure Sandlin is an award-winning freelance writer and author who writes on a wide range of business topics.

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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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