“Tell Us About Your Latest Project” – Don’t Waste Your Time or Theirs


Over the past year or so, I’ve mentioned in repeated blogs how doing a little homework before pitching media outlets can greatly improve your clients chances of getting on the air. In going back and re-reading many of these diatribes, I realized I never really explored nor explained exactly what I mean by “doing your homework” or how to go about accomplishing said same (a nasty life-long habit that irritates both my mother and my wife). So I thought today would be as good as any to drop the sarcasm and actually give you some beneficial information. (What a concept.)

I’m a big believer that nothing illustrates a point better than a good story, so here goes: A few years ago, I was contacted by a group of law enforcement officers in North Carolina who were trying to raise support and awareness for the Police Unity Tour, a project I’ve been involved with for many years (an annual two-hundred and fifty mile bicycle ride to honor law enforcement members killed in the line of duty). Since I am a designated “media source” for the PUT, they came to me looking for suggestions on how to best  promote some fund raising activities in the area with the media.

After doing some quick research, I forwarded them a list of some of the more popular TV and radio programs in the area and gave them a quick tutorial on how to pitch these programs. Given that these were law enforcement officers who engage in investigation on a daily basis, I assumed they would have done some more in depth check-up before they decided which program they would pitch. Silly me.

On the surface, the radio program they chose made sense, a top-rated local in-your-face rock jock with a very dedicated audience. Had they done a little more homework they would have discovered that this particular jock regularly trashed law enforcement and hated cyclists so much, he actually put out a challenge to his audience (primarily males 10-24) to run cyclists off the road whenever possible. When this jock got hold of their press release, he couldn’t resist the opportunity to tee off on these people.

Needless to say, the interview did NOT go well.

Had they taken the time to dig a little deeper, they would have found a local TV reporter who not only came from a law enforcement family, but she had recently spearheaded a local MS100 bike ride. Granted she was from the number three-rated TV station but she also had ties to a popular adult contemporary radio station (primarily females 30-54) and she had a weekly public affairs program that highlighted local charitable events in the area.

I guess the simple walk away from this is what may be the best in town may not be the best for you. (I like that, almost makes me sound like an intellectual.) Let me let you in on a little secret, a majority of the time the people interviewing you or your client are either: a) clueless as to why you are there or b) could not possibly care less about what you have to say. Nine times out of ten, they are interviewing you because someone in promotions, sales, management or a producer told them this was a good idea, booked and prepped the interview then just shoved the information in their face that morning.

There is nothing more obvious or painful to me than listening to or watching an interview conducted by someone with the passion of a dead carp (my apologies if I offended any carp, living or dead). They usually start off with a half-assed introduction followed by a riveting piece of journalism like “Tell us about your latest project.”

[FYI: I’ve been guilty of this many times over three decades of doing interviews. I usually joke with people that you know when an interview isn’t going well if I ask “So, do you have any pets?” Keep that in mind if we ever chat on the air.]

The worst part of finding yourself in this situation is you know it’s doing nobody any good. There are two ways you can handle this: suffer through, live and learn or avoid the situation at all costs.

I suggest the latter.

Essentially this boils down to one thought: find out which media types are passionate about what subjects and target your pitch to those specific people’s passion. Interviews where the interviewer is engaged in the topic create very compelling conversation. That’s what we’re after kids. Find their hot button and push it.

Fortunately, media types are easy to do research on (this primarily because we are all to some degree pathetic egomaniacs who desperately want everyone to love us and are willing to go to some length to demonstrate that point). Unless they’ve been under a rock, in a coma or living in part of Missouri, every media dork out there should be plugged in to at least FaceBook. Start there. Give a media dork a forum and a keyboard and in ten minutes you’ll know everything about them (a variation of a very funny but politically incorrect joke my dad used to tell).

Being a fan of “The Rule of Five’s” here are “Five Ways to Accomplish Your Homework Assignment”

  • Know What You Want before you Start. A no-brainer. If you want your client to be on the number one show regardless of outcome, pick your target and go after them.
  • Website. Please, need I say more? Every media outlet is now just a pimp for their own website. Look not only into the station or program site, but see if specific personalities have a personal site as well. Click like mother until you find their Personal Bios. We LOVE to talk about ourselves. More and more, the only place we get to actually tout ourselves and our accomplishments is on our personal bio pages. Also, check their ‘best of’ podcasts. This is what they consider their best work. This gives you great insight on their frame of mind.
  • Listen. It can be painful I know but if you listen to any program for any period of time, you’ll get an idea of who is passionate about what. Make notes and file them away for when you need them. Understand what role each person plays on the program and how that role can benefit you (a subject for a completely different blog I’ll save for another time).
  • Follow and Friend. Whatever social media they’re on, read up. This too can be painful because you will realize all too quickly that a majority of what we media geeks Tweet is pointless and stupid BUT once again, gives you insight to how we think.
  • Ask Around. We are a relatively small and tight knit group. If you have a pitch and are trying to find a match, chances are pretty good one of us can give you the 4-1-1 on the others.


If you really feel strongly about taking your pitch to a specific person or outlet, don’t be afraid to tilt the box (remember when that phrase was cool and edgy?) and tweak your presentation to fit that situation. [If you need help on how to do this, talk to Lizz Harmon (lizz@harmontampa.com) she’s a pro at this.]

The best part about all of these homework habits is that you really don’t even have to leave your desk to accomplish them.

So, there you go. Once again I have exceeded my 1,000 word limit by a substantial number but then again, I have always prided myself on being an over-achiever. Good luck with your assignments, call me if you need any help. Class dismissed.

Be Brilliant.


Skip Mahaffey in an award-winning broadcaster, Media Coach/Consultant and Author of Adventures With My Father: Childhood Recollections of Divorce, Dysfunction and the Summer of Love. Skip is available for consultation: skip@skipshow.com

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