Journo intel: David Blackmore, news producer at This Morning on pitching in the coronavirus era
Coronavirus is, understandably, all that anybody is talking about, but what does that mean for pitching PR stories? For answers, we reached out – digitally, from a safe distance – to TV journalist and presenter
How has the coronavirus affected your work?
Almost everyone is working from home, and programs are operating with skeleton crews. We’re leaning heavily on Skype calls and Facetime because we simply can’t get a camera to everyone who appears on the show. I haven’t been out on a job since covering the Tenerife hotel coronavirus lockdown in late February.
However, the news won’t focus on coronavirus forever: we will eventually reach a saturation point as we get on top of the virus. Across TV coverage, we’re already seeing more creative angles as producers look for new ways to cover the virus without revisiting existing reports.
Are you still accepting pitches, and what are you looking for from them?
We certainly are still accepting pitches. We already have an excellent consumer champion, but we’re open to any stories that may currently be under the radar or drowned out by Covid-19 news. I look through the morning papers for inspiration, and where normally I’d see 30 stories we could cover, these days I’m only seeing four or five. While most of society has slowed, news hasn’t stopped happening, so please pitch any stories that you think aren’t getting the coverage they deserve.
With the focus on such a heavy topic, we’re also looking for anything that might offer viewers some light relief. We love a next-level human interest story or story about generosity. There is definitely a desire for other uplifting stories, but there are considerably fewer slots available than usual – but if you have a good one, push it hard and with confidence!
Any advice for PR people pitching stories these days?
Now is the time to be really reactive. Push your story and shout from the rooftops: “This is the leading person who can talk about this subject, and here is what they have got to say!” TV and radio have tonnes of pitches to choose from, and you’re more likely to get on a presenter’s good side by telling them exactly what they are going to hear from the people that you’re pushing if they appear on the show.
Just as in less chaotic times, it’s crucial that you have an understanding of the different shows that you’re pitching to. Watch the show, find out what they like, and then work out where your client fits in. Pitches for This Morning, for instance, must be the sort of stories that people are going to be talking about in their homes or gardens – picture parents having a G&T and a chat. And as always, your emails must stand out – particularly the subject line!
On the show, there’s the strap in the bottom of the screen. In my ideal world, emails would come through in that format with really sharp subject lines, an introduction summing up the story and the press release at the bottom.
What’s a good time of day to pitch? Is there a day of the week you prefer?
For us, there’s no bad time of day. We normally have our forward planning meeting on a Wednesday – I strongly recommend finding out when the planning meetings occur for the shows you’re pitching to. Thursday and Friday are ideal days to pitch for us, since they give us time to plan for the following week.
For social affairs issues, do you prefer a CEO or a worker on the front lines?
For This Morning we prefer people on the front lines, but Good Morning Britain like leaders who can paint a broader picture. It really depends what programme you’re pitching, watch them and find out what they specialise in.
Do you like to hear about brands and how they are helping the cause?
Yes, 100%. I’m always happy to hear about brands, and it’s a great feel-good story if they’re stepping up to help. I recommend forwarding links with your pitches, since it’s easy to miss out on a story and it helps if we can match the spokesperson with the link. If possible, your pitch should include links of your spokesperson talking to other news outlets. We don’t need lots of information, just three or four short, snappy lines that express the story in a way that will grab the viewer’s attention.
A significant PR initiative that caught my eye, although not a brand, was the clap for the NHS. Brands need to be aware of what’s popular on social media, since a lot of TV shows are just as reactive to twitter as they are to the papers. If you can demonstrate that your story is going viral and trending on social, it’s more likely to get picked up.
Are there any areas people should avoid pitching?
Consider think of the impact your story will have, particularly at a time like this. People are anxious and looking for something with a positive spin. I was pitched a story the other day that I think can work in the future. It’s a service that allows people to outline what they want from their funeral. The PR person teased the idea of quirky people with funeral plans, but they needed the one hook to make the producer go ‘wow’ – and the idea of a Star Wars-themed funeral did the trick. Coronavirus won’t be around forever, and some stories can be parked.
If your client is being pushy, take a step back. It’s your responsibility to explain that it’s not a good time for a certain story and explain why. If their pitch does make it to me, I’m not afraid to bring them back down to earth!