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Jun 18, 2004

PR Interview: How to Guest on the Business TV Show Viewed by Half a Million Canadians

SUMMARY: If you are near a CNN office (DC, SF, NYC, etc) you can do an interview for Canada's Report on Business TV show without traveling. In our exclusive interview, the show's Producer & Creator Norm Barnett reveals what he's looking for in a guest. A fun personal angle or insider viewpoint can help.
Norm Barnett, Producer and Creator
Squeeze Play
Report on Business Television
720 King Street West, 10th Floor
Toronto, Ontario
M5V 2T3

-> Reach

561,000 viewers weekly
Broadcast coast to coast throughout Canada and in some places in the US

-> Barnett's background

Barnett has been a coordinating producer of business news for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and a reporter for Dow Jones before creating and producing Squeeze Play. He loves to go mountain biking on the trails in Southern Ontario, and is a big movie buff.

"People in Toronto love cinema, love to hang out with people in the industry," he says. "Last year I got to meet [director] Ridley Scott when he presented the 20th anniversary edition of Alien at the Toronto Film Festival."

-> Current editorial coverage

The interview-based show is a "strange hybrid of business, politics, and public affairs," Barnett says.

Business coverage has practically no restrictions: "You name it, we cover it," he says. "It doesn't have to be a public company, it doesn't have to be anything but interesting, different, and influential."

He tests story pitches by asking: If you're clicking through channels and you catch it, would you say, "Oh, that sounds interesting," and stop to watch?

-> What he looks for in an interview

"I want someone to tell me something interesting," he says. "If it's a story out there already, give me an angle."

For example: say GM buys another company. Instead of talking to GM or the other company -- "We know exactly what someone from GM would say" -- he'd look for someone who might say, "This is actually going to put GM back in debt."

Then, he'd look at the debt angle and take some component out of that.

Barnett offered two other examples, based on an imaginary database management software company:

1. Effect on consumers
"Why would any of our viewers care about database management?" he says. "If he comes on and says that viruses and worms are costing consumers millions of dollars, that's something people will care about. Otherwise, it's too narrow."

2. Interesting past
"You might say, 'I want to put this software management guy on because he was Warren Buffet's roommate in college.' Or was he one of the first 20 people at Microsoft, or did he survive a sky-diving accident that made him become the CEO that he is?"

In other words, the person you pitch should not only be an interesting business man but should also have a story to tell. "If he's been divorced three times and went to Wharton School of Business, who cares?"

The best pitches come in the simplest packages: "If you say, 'This guy just won the world amateur stock-picking contest and he's in Toronto tomorrow and he's a really interesting guy, he drives a bus for a living,' you just hit the ball out of the park for me," says Barnett.

-> Best way to pitch Barnett

Send an email with just a few lines of text on why your subject is an interesting personality. Your subject line can be basic: "Query: story idea."

"My job is to open everything," Barnett says.

You don't need to send:
--press releases

"I see most press releases anyway because I look at press release wires. I don't need to see a bio, because for me it's whether the story will carry into the show, not something in their background that's relevant. Photos take up space on my hard drive," he says.

And viewing videos of possible subjects would take too much time. "I have to trust the PR person," about the subject. "If he comes on and he sucks, that's life, he just doesn't come on again."

But don't tell Barnett that your subject is really strong on TV if he's never been on before, or if he's still slightly uncomfortable with the medium. "You might say, 'He has a lot of information to share, but he hasn't done a lot of TV and is still kind of shy.' I'll make an informed decision based on that."

Because Report on Business TV is an affiliate of CNN, they can film anywhere that CNN films, including bureaus in Washington, NY, San Francisco, LA, and Chicago. So flying to Toronto doesn't need to be part of your decision. "If that was the case, we'd never get anybody on," Barnett says.

If you don't hear back from him, call to follow up. But if he says no, don't keep bugging him on the same subject. Try again with a different pitch.

-> Pet peeves

"I strongly encourage anyone who ever pitches us to go to the Web site and watch five or ten minutes of the show," says Barnett. "You'll get 1000 times more respect. There's nothing worse than someone saying, 'This guy would be great for the show,' and they've never seen it."

Also, Barnett understands that it's rarely the fault of the PR person when an interview subject bails or turns out not to be available -- but try your best to be sure he's ready and willing to go on the air before you pitch.

"You'll have better luck the next time you pitch me if you haven't bailed on me the time before," he says.

-> On becoming a regular commentator

You'd have to be really plugged in and good on TV, but it's not out of the question to become a regular commentator on the show.

"For example, Marty Pichinson, the head of a company called Sherwood Partners, comes on once a month and tells what's going on in Silicon Valley, and our viewers love that," says Barnett.

-> Favorite professional publication

The New York Times business pages, the Financial Times, and the Wall Street Journal, in that order

See Also:

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