April 11, 2008

PR Interview: How to Get on ‘The Oprah Winfrey Show’

SUMMARY: Oprah Winfrey is seen as one of the most influential women in the world because of her TV show. Since the show has millions of faithful viewers, getting on the program can mean instant credibility and influence for yourself or your company. Here are six tips from a PR pro who has placed clients on ‘Oprah,’ plus a sample pitch.
Contact Information
Susan Harrow
Harrow Communications
4200 Park Blvd., #333 W
Oakland, CA, 94602-1213

Harrow is a media trainer, marketing strategist and author of ‘Sell Yourself Without Selling Your Soul.’ With more than 17 years of PR experience, Harrow has created campaigns for everyone from CEOs to celebrity chefs to reality TV stars to best-selling authors. They have appeared on ‘Oprah,’ ‘60 Minutes’ and ‘The Today Show.’

Harrow has written for The San Francisco Examiner, Advertising Age, Complete Woman, The San Francisco Business Times, Writer's Digest and more.

The syndicated ‘Oprah Winfrey Show’ attracts between 6 million-7 million viewers daily, with ‘Oprah’s Big Give’ show on ABC on Sunday evenings getting 9 million-11 million viewers, according to Nielsen Media Research. Her typical viewers are women ages 30-60.

How to Pitch
Think you’re ready for the Oprah challenge? Follow these 6 steps:

-> Step #1. Get ‘Oprah ready’

Being “Oprah ready” means you’ve done media before. You’ve been on a television show or you’ve been interviewed by a local reporter. You can prove you have a following -- through people you have helped in some way and/or who regularly read your blog, columns, articles, etc. You have some measurable and quantifiable success that labels you an expert.

For example, one of Harrow’s clients approached by Oprah’s producers proved her success as an expert by highlighting that she was medical editor of a publication with 3.5 million readers.

Switch to products: Oprah has a “favorite things” show. To be “Oprah ready,” your product needs to appeal to Oprah’s audience or to issues that are important to Oprah.

“Right now she’s very much on an environmental kick, so if it’s green and it’s helpful to women … work-at-home moms, then it’s something,” Harrow says.

-> Step #2. Watch the show regularly

Harrow tapes the show each week and reads Oprah’s website regularly to get a sense of her favorite themes and hot topics. Philanthropy, health and environment are key issues for Oprah right now. Keep these in mind because whatever you’re pitching should relate to what’s on Oprah’s mind.

-> Step #3. Create a press kit

Harrow suggests creating an online press kit so producers can access it immediately if they are interested in your pitch.

The kit should include:
0 Your bio (or president/founder’s bio)
0 Topics you can speak about
0 Questions you would want to be asked
0 Pictures of your product and product descriptions
0 Streaming video of you on a TV show or the local news showing that you can speak in 10-20 second sound bites

Place a link to your online press kit or website (with the same info) in the pitch. Also, have samples of your product ready to ship at a moment’s notice. You might get a call Friday afternoon asking you to get your product to the producers by Monday morning.

Tip: Don’t send a hard-copy press kit; the producers usually won’t accept them from people they don’t know, Harrow says. An additional benefit of using these press kit sites is that producers and journalists regularly search them for experts. A few of Harrow’s clients have even gotten cold calls from being on one of these sites.

These press kit sites have samples so you can see what online press kits should contain.

-> Step #4. Write a compelling headline

Oprah’s producers get 15,000 pitches for products every day, Harrow says. Write one that stands out!

One of Harrow’s clients got a call back because of this headline: “Can washing your hands save your life during flu season?” Make it brief, clear and to-the-point.

Tip: Timing is important. Harrow’s client for the “washing your hands” pitch made it when there was a lack of flu shots for the season. (See sample pitch below.)

-> Step #5. Draft your pitch

You have 350-400 words to tell your story and pique the interest of Oprah’s producers.

Then, when you’re ready, go to:

You’ll have to fill out your contact information and write the pitch. This is your best shot to get a call back. “You don’t have to worry. They really are reading it.”

Other options are phoning and faxing. Harrow says, "Oprah accepts hard copy from publicists ... it's just that if you're an unknown, it's much harder to get your hard copy through".

Sample pitch #1: Pitch an Expert
0 Headline
0 Paragraph one: quote from the expert (person you want to get on the show)
0 Paragraph two: statistics that back up your point
0 Paragraph three: connect it to a national trend going on now
0 Paragraph four: list 4-5 talking points you could elaborate on
0 Paragraph five: bio tailored to the pitch (if you say your expert can help cure the flu, include things they’ve done to prove it)
0 Contact info and links to press kits and websites

Tip: Use the same format for product pitches -- without talking points or bios or quotes -- so try listing things your product can accomplish. And include a bio of the company or the founder and get quotes from the founder about the product.

Sample pitch #2: Pitch a Segment
0 Headline
0 Plan out a show segment
0 Create a panel of guests (Example: for a show about using art to cope with cancer, Harrow suggested a panel of scientists, doctors and an independent female cancer patient who thought she could do it alone.)
0 B-roll (Make suggestions for still pictures and background video footage that would be included in the segment)
0 Include contact info and links to press kits and websites

Tip: This pitch is all about envisioning what you would see on the show, Harrow says. “Most people never do that, so if they can do that, they’re way far ahead of the game.”

-> Step #6. Get media training

If you get a call back from one of Oprah’s producers, consider the conversation an audition. They will be looking for you to be lively and able to explain yourself succinctly and vividly in a 10- to 20-second sound bite.

“It’s not a natural way of speaking,” Harrow says. “It takes a lot of practice. Practice and role play.”

If you don’t already have this skill, find a media trainer who can help you.

Tip: Ask the producer what the angle of the show might be so that you can speak only to that angle, nothing else.

What Not to Do
Whatever you do, don’t sell. Nothing you say or write should be about pushing your products and services. You must relate everything to an issue or audience Oprah cares about.

“[People] want to talk about products and services, but they should not,” Harrow says. “It’s not about selling. It’s only about being of use to the producer of the show. That’s why you need to listen very carefully and find out what they need and speak only to that.”

Creative sample
Here’s a pitch that Harrow says Oprah’s producers liked and called back about, but the speaker didn’t get on the show for other reasons:

Can washing your hands save your life during flu season?

"Yes," says Dr. Vicki Rackner, M.D. "Washing your hands isn’t just something you should do because mother said so; it could be a matter of life and death."

Rackner purports that this simple act can save your life and the lives of your children and parents. In a bad flu season, such as this one may be, 40,000 or more people can die of flu. You don't need to be one of them.

Rackner is no alarmist. She's just practical. If you can get a flu shot, by all means get one. But the shortage of vaccines is an incentive to take your health into your own hands.

"Washing your hands is the tipping point for your health," says Rackner, who believes that it's a necessity to take your health in your own hands. "Just washing is the beginning of taking responsibility for your care. After that you can start to become a real patient advocate for the most important person in your life—you."

She can discuss 4 simple strategies:

* Why washing your hands is more important than anything else you do.
* What to do if your doctor or nurse doesn't wash.
* How to talk to your children about washing.
* The 5 things you must ask your family and employer to do in order stay healthy.

As a board-certified surgeon who has practiced for 10 years, and a clinical instructor at the University of Washington School Of Medicine, Rackner has plenty of experience preventing the flu and other diseases. She's an expert in partnering with her patients to develop healthy, happy lifestyles. She's the president of Medical Bridges, a company that helps people become active participants in their health care. She also serves as the Medical Editor of the HOPE Health Letter, a work site health promotion publication with a monthly distribution of 3.5 million. Rackner has been media coached intensely, quoted in the Wall Street Journal and has been profiled in the AM News (American Medical News).

Audience members will receive an anti-flu kit.

Contact Vicki Rackner at XXXX. Mailto:XXXXXX. Call anytime. Visit http://www.MedicalBridges.com for more information.

Useful links related to this article

Oprah Winfrey’s website:

Presskit 24/7 - houses online press kits:

Susan Harrow’s ultimate guide to getting booked on Oprah:

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