As a health professional who made the transition to television reporter, I was asked to host a “Fitness in Media” seminar at the 2011 IDEA World Fitness Convention™ in Los Angeles. I taught fitness pros how to procure a television spot on either a news report or an entertainment show. I then asked participants to submit a one-line pitch using what they’d learned.
“How about a television story on just how many calories you burn while doing household chores?” suggested Christine Lusita, a trainer from Los Angeles.
My thoughts on her idea? Simple. Visual. Smart. Useful. Tease-able. All attributes for a winning TV pitch. In a matter of months, Lusita’s household calorie-burning story was featured not only on the local news but also on national programs—Inside Edition and the Today show.
While Lusita’s pitch was succesful, many others are not. As a reporter for KABC-TV in Los Angeles, I see a lot of fitness pros failing to get on television, despite having a good story to tell.
If you want to gain visibility through TV and enhance your career, you need the know-how to capture the media’s attention. Discover some great ways to get going, starting with a well-crafted press release.
Press Release Pointers
For a successful press release geared toward news producers:
- Explain what you will tell and show in the news segment. Paint an inviting picture for the news producer.
- Use an attention-getting title. Examples include “The best six-pack moves without doing a single crunch,” “Cheap and cheerful fitness tools under $25” and “Award-winning cardio moves you can do in your living room.”
- Keep your message short, tight and direct. Producers are busy and have short attention spans. Say who you are in a concise sentence or two, listing your accreditation and where you work. Your release should be no more than one page.
- Write wordy paragraphs about your past.
- Pitch topics that have been used to death, such as the bikini-ready body or the New Year’s workout. These are not innovative unless you’ve got a brand-new hook. Economical workouts are an exception; as the economy is suffering, these are always a good sell.
- Entice producers by saying you are a “celebrity” trainer. If you train stars, that could lend credibility, but unless the celebs will be appearing with you, it probably won’t work.
Wondering whether to pitch via hard copy, email or phone? Email is best. If your pitch goes to the wrong person, the recipient can usually forward it to the proper one.
Snail mail often finds itself in the wrong hands and ends up in the trash, so never go that route. You may call instead if you want to, but then don’t send an email as well. If you call and get voice mail, leave only your name, your number and the pitch. Practice your phone pitch first and don’t embellish it. It should be as short as a press release. If you stumble and fumble on the phone, it will suggest that you won’t be good speaking on television either.
Make sure that the grammar and spelling in your pitch are perfect. Know the name or at least the position of the person to whom you are directing your pitch.
Be persistent in reaching out, but also be sensible. If, after three or four approaches, you don’t get a response, leave that media outlet alone and try another.
Honing Your Pitch
If you’ve been on TV recently in your local market, be honest about that, but know that it isn’t a selling point. Some stations may be reluctant to feature you if a competitor just did. Why? They would feel like sloppy seconds. If you’ve been on a national show, it’s okay to reference that, but don’t gloat.
Here are examples of how some fitness pros nailed their pitches:
- Christine Lusita, “The Housecleaning Workout”:
Mopping floors, cleaning windows and vacuuming make for being clean and lean.
- Amy Dixon of Santa Monica, California, “Awesome Abs—Crunch-Free”:
Vertical exercises with a stability ball, plank work and balance challenge.
- Tracey Mallett, creator of The Booty Barre in South Pasadena, California, “Belly Up to the Barre!”:
Barre workouts should be more than standing ballet moves. The Booty Barre program uses an interval approach easily demonstrated.
- Petra Kolber of New Hope, Pennsylvania, “The Beauty of a Beat!”:
The power of music makes people work harder and smarter.
This pitch accompanied the release of Kolber’s app “Tempo Magic Pro.” She cited peer-reviewed studies to show the importance of moving to tunes we enjoy; she also explained how her inexpensive app could make exercise easier.
Notice that in the last two pitches, the fitness pros promote an idea that creates revenue for themselves, yet they don’t pitch products outright. News segments are designed to inform the viewer, not to be ads. However, entertainment shows like Extra or ET typically offer more leeway in terms of promotion.
Don’t go overboard on your pitch, as in this example: Celebrity trainer Lorraine P can show you how to get a rocking bikini body. A seasoned dog trainer, she can show you how to get your pets in shape, too. She also helps Cher with yoga and is the perfect person to get you ready for the Oscars!
Why Charity Events Don’t Work
Every market varies, but taping a fitness segment for charity can be challenging. That’s because features are usually taped on weekdays. On weekends, when charity events are typically held, most local news stations have limited crews, who are meant to cover breaking news. If an event is at night, it’s the same story: News crews are reserved for breaking news events.
Tie-ins to holidays or theme months (like National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month) can likewise be tricky. On the one hand, it seems that every month has a holiday or theme—and this can work against you. On the other hand, producers are often looking for something to promote or tease viewers with, like Valentine’s Day or New Year’s. If you pursue this option, make sure you have a really great tie-in, like these:
A good tie-in for food. National Fig Month. Pitch: Five ways to fire up figs for fabulous flavor.
A good tie-in for fitness. National ACES Day. Pitch: At noon on Thursday four grade schools come together for a football field of fitness and fun for the national ACES (All Children Exercise Simultaneously) event. This pitch tells the producer what the segment will show and cover.
When to pitch. A good rule of thumb is to pitch 2–3 weeks prior to your event. For big events like New Year’s, however, don’t wait until Christmas. Be ready to tell the reporter where and when he can film and if you’re bringing a model or someone to demonstrate or perform if you aren’t.
You’ve Got the Spot: Now What?
Being fit or good-looking is not enough for a winning TV appearance! Producers love facts. So find some and know them well. Make sure they come from credible institutions or agencies, and be able to cite your studies.
For example, if your pitch was “Seven things women must do to fight fat over 40,” a fact you could use on air is “A 6-week UC Davis study of 300 women found that eating three cups of vegetables and three pieces of fruit daily resulted in a smaller waist size for 98% of participants.”
However, if you can’t find the number of studies you want, gather enough anecdotal evidence to be considered the “expert.” Then say, for example, “I have been in personal training for 10 years, and I find that people are more apt to keep their training appointment if it’s in the early morning.”
Your On-Camera Interview
Consider what you will wear during the interview. Fitted exercise clothes in solid colors usually work well. Know that the microphone may need to be hidden and you will need enough clothing on to hide it. Bring a warm-up jacket in case the producer wants a more conservative look.
Don’t wear a black or white top, as neither one is camera-friendly. If you are doing a demo, choose a hairstyle that won’t get in the way. Never wear a hat or sunglasses.
You will probably be nervous before an interview. Practice with another person so you can learn to speak on your topic in a number of different ways. (However, do not memorize information word for word as you will sound too rehearsed.) Do have one-line statistics that you can easily rely on, such as, “Studies show that the average American gains only a pound at Christmas, but we tend not to lose that pound, which is why weight creeps up over time.”
When you are being interviewed, answer a question by restating it and then giving the answer. Example:
Interviewer: “So what is the best way to get a flat stomach?”
You: “The best way to get a flat stomach is to engage not only abdominal muscles but what you’ve most likely heard about—the core—which is abdominals plus back, actually everything but your head, arms and legs.” (Then tell the interviewer why it is important to use the core.)
Getting on TV can be challenging, so be patient. It took Lusita a while to appear on a show, and that’s true of most fitness pros. You may want your segment to air quickly, but you don’t control the line-up. Station producers work within a time frame that suits their needs.