As Democrats raise the stakes to impeach President Trump, constitutional attorneys are in a prime position to get booked on national TV. Now’s the time to dust off your CV because networks aren’t just reporting today’s news, they’re simultaneously preparing their future coverage. A story this size and magnitude means they’re looking to widen their circle of experts. They want new dynamic voices and opinions. If this sounds exciting, but daunting, here’s my advice as an industry insider to navigate the competitive landscape and get that seat at the table:
1. The Best Way to be Seen is to be Heard: Social Media isn’t just your friend, it’s your Best Friend. Every television producer I know, from the Executive suite on down, scours the Internet looking for new voices and perspectives. If you regularly watch cable news, you’ll see the same faces over and over again, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for you. Producers want content that’s fresh and compelling. Social Media is a tool that can get you attention, but here’s the catch: Be smart. Tweet, engage, post, but don’t be too clever, cute or funny. Proudly showcase your expertise on topics that are in the news. That’s what will get you noticed.
2. The adage is true: All Politics is Local. The best way to start getting your voice out there is to publish Op-eds in your local paper. That may seem like small potatoes, but it’s a great way to get your foot in the door. Here’s why: Local radio stations, like the big cable news outlets, are always looking for new guests. You’ll be in a better position to build a following at the grassroots level, which can lead to more prestigious opportunities. Think of it this way: a local Op-ed may get you booked on a local radio or television show, which over time, can lead to a network appearance. But in order to get to the national stage, you must have clips. Network producers are less likely to book you on their shows without first seeing you elsewhere.
3. Use the tools in your arsenal: Look to where you already have an inside track to maximize your chances of getting published; and don’t underestimate the power of being quoted in the trade press. Reach out to any legal websites you frequent, talk to their editors, offer your insights to journalists you know, and be open to participating in lesser-known legal podcasts. It’s important to think outside the box, especially as you’re building your repertoire. Remember, social media can help raise your presence from these smaller outlets, which can eventually catch the attention of a network producer.
4. Get to know the different network shows and anchors. If you want to be a part of the conversation, it’s important to get a seat at the right When you watch the cable networks, who do you like? Who do you disagree with? Who would you want to talk to at a cocktail party? Take the time to figure this out. The more focused you are getting booked with a specific host, the stronger the pitch to the show’s producer. Remember, producers’ emails are flooded with guest ideas. You’re one of 20 on any given day so it’s critical you clearly and succinctly explain why you’re the best person for that day’s news segment.
5. Be available. This isn’t dating. You’re looking to get on national TV and one of the surest ways to make that happen is to respond quickly to producers’ interview requests, even if it’s at an ungodly hour. It’s a 24/7 news cycle with a lot of opportunity but only if you seize it.
6. Opposites Attract: If you’re a right-leaning constitutional attorney, look to left-leaning media outlets; and if you lean left, go right. Cable outlets love hosting good debates, especially on political issues, so focus on shows where your unique point of view is valued, and you can flex your muscles and be heard.
7. Prepare: You may be a brilliant writer or litigator, but being a pundit on national TV is completely different. Time is of the essence and knowing how to speak clearly and in strong sound bites is its own skill. Watch all the networks and hear how their guests talk, and more importantly, how they argue. This isn’t the courtroom. Today’s popular cable news shows are panel discussions with 2-to-4-people, so pay attention how the guests interact with each other, how long their answers are, and how they handle themselves debating hotly-contested issues. It’s important to strike a balance between being curt, and bloviating when talking in this setting. The goal is to hit it out of the park on your first appearance so you get called back for a second time. Also, don’t be afraid to practice in front of the mirror or record yourself and get feedback on your performance from other media professionals and friends you trust.
8. First impressions are everything: TV is a visual medium. If you’re a man, it’s important have a jacket/shirt/tie that are neat and clean and in colors that flatter you. Your best bet is a dark colored jacket with a solid colored shirt and tie. A white color shirt doesn’t play well under the hot TV lights, and stay away from shirts and ties with patterns. The same rules of dressing apply to women. It’s important to stay away from long dangling earrings and accessories that draw attention away from what you’re saying. If you have long hair, keep a simple style so it doesn’t overpower your presence on screen.
9. Want to get behind the velvet rope? TV is no different than that hard to get into club or restaurant: It’s who you know. Invest in an accredited PR representative who’s well established and has a lot of industry contacts. The PR professional can pitch you to the right booking producers at all of the networks and help you land that TV appearance.