Bruce Jenner: 4 Media Lessons in Teasing, Ratings & Public Relations Pitching

bruce jennerBy Gerard Braud –

Pitching a story to the media is hard. Today I’m making a presentation to a group of public relations students at Loyola University in New Orleans. They want to know about secrets to pitching stories to the media. Their instructor wanted me to share my perspective since I have been both a working journalist in print, radio, and television, as well as a working public relations strategist for more than 20 years.

Bruce Jenner’s interview with Diane Sawyer on ABC presents a great perspective on what the media consider news and who the media consider news worthy.

Here are 4 lessons:

Lesson 1: Who you are matters. The more famous the better. The Kardashians and their team are pros at publicity and notoriety. Jenner’s notoriety from reality TV makes him a ratings getter. Did you hear that? A ratings getter. The ratings sweep period is beginning and ABC News knows that the celebrity persona of Jenner will bring in viewers. If you have to pitch a story to the media, you need to pitch it in a way that draws viewers to television, listeners to radio, readers to print, and visitors to the web. If your story helps to grow the media’s audience and advertising revenue, then you are more likely to get coverage. It is easier with celebrity status. If you are not pitching on behalf of a celebrity, then you must demonstrate that your story will attract a large audience for the media outlet.

Lesson 2: The power of the tease. There has been a mystery about whether Jenner is transitioning to become a woman. It is tabloid fodder, but tabloids wrote the book on building a readership centered around celebrities, innuendos, and rumors. Jenner’s story is a perfect match. In Jenner’s case, the mystery makes it easy to tease the interview program, which further drives buzz and ratings. My cynical side says Jenner and his team have carefully crafted the mystery so they can spin off a reality program about Jenner without the Kardashians.

Lesson 3: Timing. The LGBT community has worked aggressively for nearly 20 years to make stories about being gay a front page story in every publication in the world. Their goal has also been to add gay characters to television programs. They LGBT community has mastered media relations. First came stories of gay males, followed by stories of lesbian females. In most cases, the community worked to identify high profile people to tell their story. Again, a gay celebrity has more clout than a non-celebrity. Ellen’s coming out on her sitcom marked a turning point in the movement. I noted to my wife just two years ago that I was expecting a shift in story telling to the transgender topic since the L and G story lines of LGBT were fading. Shortly there after Orange is the New Black became a hit and Lavern Cox made the cover of Time magazine. The T story is the hot story now. The bi-sexual story line will soon follow after the transgender story line has played out.

Lesson 4: Be opportunistic in pitching your local media. If you are in public relations or represent a cause, brand, person or company that has a transgender connection, today is the day that you should be pitching your story to your local media. Local media love to be copy cats. Friday night’s 10 p.m. news on ABC stations will all feature a recap segment about the Bruce Jenner interview. All that is missing for them is a localized version of the story. I can hear the anchor now saying, “And while Bruce Jenner captured America’s attention tonight, we would like to introduce you to a local man who has a similar story to tell.”

Here are some examples of people or organizations who could be pitching a local version of this national story to the media:

  • Local LGBT support groups
  • Local man or woman activist who is transitioning
  • Local therapist
  • Local university expert on the topic
  • Local surgeon who does reassignment surgery
  • Local plastic surgeon who does cosmetic surgery for transitioning individuals
  • Local boutique that might serve transgender customers, with things such as clothing, wigs, make-up, etc.
  • …the list could go on.

Pitching is very much about relevance, ratings and timing. It isn’t easy, but it is fun to observe and learn from when it is done right.



Disturbing Television Media Trend #7: Unconfirmed Reports

Click image to watch video

Click image to watch video

By Gerard Braud

If the story of Chicken Little was told today, there is a strong likelihood that it would quickly be picked-up by, and reported by, the television news media.

It would go like this: Chicken Little would have an acorn fall on her head, she would scream, “The sky is falling.” Minutes later the news media would be reporting that we have unconfirmed reports that they sky is falling.

I can hear it now: “CNN has not yet confirmed that the sky is falling, but reports from the barn yard indicate Chicken Little said, ‘The Sky is falling’.”

I’ve been hearing the phrase, “has not confirmed,” much too often as I scan the dials of television news each morning. CNN’s sister network, HLN, uses this phrase much too often. Research by I.Q. Media found the phrase was used 187 times on HLN Morning Express with Robyn Meade, the program where I first noticed this disturbing trend. I’m a regular morning viewer of the show, but the phrase has turned up too frequently lately on stories about the Korean ferry accident, the Donald Sterling controversy, the Malaysian Airlines 370 story, and reports in the realm of entertainment and social media.

Black Hole Theory CNN MalaysiaWhen I hear the phrase, “We have not confirmed,” what I really hear is, “Our producers are too incompetent and lazy to know how to confirm something before they put it in the teleprompter.” As a former reporter and anchor, I’m embarrassed for the anchors who have to read the story, knowing that many are good journalists who must do what the boss says if they want to keep their job. In my career, I reached the point at which I could not ethically and in good conscious do the dumb things and say the dumb things my bosses wanted me to do.

By comparison, during the Water Gate investigation by the Washington Post, nothing was ever reported until it was confirmed by at least three sources. Let me shout that: THREE SOURCES.

For 20 years I’ve been observing the silly ritual of, “CNN reports that ABC reports that NBC reports the CBS reports that CNN reports the sky is falling.” For 20 years, media has gone from attributing facts and stories from their own sources, to facts reported by a competing network, to only rumors being shared by some source, which is not verified or known to be reliable.

It gets worse because the story containing the unverified and unconfirmed information is recycled in online sources that simply aggregate and repeat the reports. Search most news topics and you can find the identical story with the identical words on thousands of websites.

So how does this affect you if you are in PR and communications, working for a corporation, non-profit organization or government agency?

It is easier than ever before for someone to intentionally or inadvertently destroy the reputation of your employer or client, while simultaneously damaging revenues.

Winston Churchill has been paraphrased as saying a lie can be half way across town before the truth puts on its boots in the morning. In today’s modern digital age, a lie has circled the globe countless times by unreliable sources and then circulated more by so-called reliable media sources, before you even know the lie is out there.

This disturbing trend means you need a skilled staff or vendor who can monitor online content every minute of the day, so you can respond quickly.

And because the online trend will be reported by the mainstream media, more than ever before you must have well trained spokespeople who can respond quickly and a crisis communications plan created on a clear sunny day that fully addresses such crisis scenarios. Failing to prepare and attempting to wing it in the middle of the crisis will make the crisis much worse and further damage reputations and revenues.

To watch “7 Disturbing Media Trends and How You Can Combat Them” On Demand please click here.