The pitch usually goes like this: “Hi. I’m a producer with [insert celebrity name]. We are producing a show on [insert your client’s market] and we came across your company and it seems like you could be a good fit for our program. It airs on CNBC and Bloomberg. Call me back as soon as possible as our deadline is approaching.”
Clients are usually thrilled to receive these calls, often from producers associated with stars like James Earl Jones, Terry Bradshaw, William Shatner and Kathy Ireland.
All of these calls have three things in common: 1) They all front a celebrity of some kind; 2) they are all pay-to-play opportunities, posing as real journalism; and 3) they all emanate from Florida – towns like Boca Raton or West Palm Beach, Florida.
There is no actual editorial decision-making here. CNBC and Bloomberg are not airing these programs because the celebrity is a serious investigative journalist or because the topic is newsworthy. The only gating factor used by these so-called producers is how much money your client has, and how easy it is to separate them from it. Apparently, the starting price is around $25,000.
Our research shows that most of these programs do in fact run on cable networks – but in the middle of the night, on weekends when no one is watching, and often in only a few local markets.
One production company was sued in 2006 for using the actor Michael Douglas’s name – an outfit based in Boca Raton. Two of our clients recently received an identical pitch from a company with the same address connected with Kathy Ireland – a company cited in this RipOff Report from 2014. Nowhere on the website that has been propped up to promote Ireland’s show is there any mention of money trading hands. An astute reader will only see that the logos of Fox Business News and Bloomberg International are accompanied by the words, “As sponsored programming.”
Why wouldn’t these companies just come right out and say that their primary value to their clients is the production of a slick, news-type video that you can use on your corporate web site, or at company meetings? Instead, their pitch centers on the promise of exposure on national news networks.
It’s true that no one is forcing clients to pay for these programs. But the reality is that these calls are a waste of time and resources. A client gets excited by the prospect of being on a national news program, and wastes their internal marketing or external PR agency resources investigating it – only to be surprised to learn this is actually a very expensive video production pitch.
I’d like to see more pitches like the one a client received recently from a production company in Burbank Calif. It outlined the program and listed the networks on which it would air – and then proceeded to itemize the pricing! Now that is classy and comes across as a much more reputable company with which to do business.
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RH Strategic is a Seattle and D.C.-based communications firm providing strategic public relations for innovators in the technology, public sector, and healthcare markets.