Question: Can an SMT interview segment ever be too commercial?
Answer: You betcha!
First rule of thumb when creating an interview segment is embracing the fact that you have three audiences to please (as if your mother wasn’t enough):
Yes, ultimately the client is the most important – because, well because, they pay the bills. But, you must not discount the importance of the producer at the station who will book your content or the savvy of the consumer watching, reading or listening to the segment.
Viewers and especially news directors don’t want to tune into their local news program and see a commercial. For a feature segment to work across the board, it has to be news you can use. This does not mean that a consumer feature story has to breaking news – but, it does have to be a well-rounded interview where the only solution to the problem is not limited to just your product or service.
Ignoring the first rule of thumb will start to magnify our challenges: think about our 2nd audience – the producer, aka The Gatekeeper – the interview will never be booked, much less make air for our 3rd audience to see and react to. So, if the end client is expecting a subtly veiled commercial, that’s fine – as long as we don’t anticipate anyone else seeing or benefitting from the segment.
And, believe me when I tell you that the viewer is savvy – many times, I have logged onto stations’ sites and seen them rip apart the station and the segment because they thought the interview was insulting their intelligence, usually because it’s too commercial.
No Bait and Switch
This brings us to the “bait and switch”. If I had a nickel every time our publicists call a station and are told that the news director has recently handed down an edict not allowing any outside produced (sponsored) content because they had just been burned by a segment that was overtly commercial… Well – I would likely have about 50 cents a month. But that is 50 cents too much considering that there are only a certain number of stations, at any given time, that are open to conducting SMTs. Every nickel means that someone’s segment has just blown an opportunity for us.
One of the worst sins of this business is offering one interview and then providing a segment that barely resembles what was pitched. Don’t mislead the press – they will not be happy. Don’t offer them an interview with Angelina Jolie discussing her cancer decisions and substitute Dr. Angela Johnson talking about your new drug therapy. Don’t tell them you have the secret to weight loss and then reveal during the segment that the “secret” is for the viewer to use your product. Bottom line: don’t tell them you have the solution to a problem and only offer them one solution – your client’s product. Be graceful, be honest and be helpful – they agreed to talk to your expert for a reason: they are expecting news their viewers can use, info that will make them look good – as in, a credible news source.
Um, Yeah We Have Um Breaking News
No, they really don’t (sometimes they really do – but not for the purposes of the point I am trying to make here) – the news director just looked in on the satellite to peak at the interview that is coming to them next, and vomited a little in her mouth at what a horrible infomercial she just observed. What now? She tells her producer to get rid of your live interview. Yes, this does happen. And, what if they taped your segment – likely that interview will not make the light of day.
The Rule of Three
Stations get it – they really do. We are offering them some light-hearted fare with (hopefully) an engaging spokesperson who will offer some tips and news their viewers can use. In return for providing them with a segment that is interesting, fun and fills their rundown they are fine with 3 “mentions” so long as they fit naturally into the interview:
- One mention of the product by name
- One visual of the product
- The call-to-action – usually your website
More than this can be a turnoff to the producer and the viewer. They did not tune in to only hear about your product – they tuned in to get information.
So What Now?
When crafting the pitch think of yourself as the viewer – what would keep you engaged to watch for 3-4 minutes? You’re smart, you know what you like – develop the interview with you in mind – the segment you might tune in to.
For example, if we are offering tips on how to avoid the common cold/flu this Fall – include at least 4-5 non-competing tips to round out the interview for your well-informed viewer. So, for instance, if your client makes hand sanitizer the obvious tips are to wash and/or sanitize your hands and avoid contact with those sickies that seem to crop up every autumn – but you should also discuss how diet, exercise, sleep, keeping surfaces clean, teaching kids to sneeze the “right” way, etc. will keep you healthier during cold and flu season.
And, rely on your expert spokesperson to come up with something that cannot necessarily be found on an Internet search. We can all very easily come up with tips for any topic with a quick online search – but this does not necessarily make for an interesting interview or an interview that the spokesperson can speak to intelligently. The spokesperson is the expert – use them for their expertise or unique perspective.
Think like a consumer, a news director, a producer…not a salesman. The more interesting the “story” – the longer the stations will be engaged and the better chance your client’s message gets to the consumer.