Showcase Your Students on Television

Hello Matt! Good morning, Katie!” With studio lights blazing, cameras focused and your top students standing at the ready, wouldn’t you love to be saying those words? If you made it onto NBC’s “Today Show,” you could. When you step into Studio 1-A, or perhaps outside on the plaza, you answer a few questions from hosts Matt Lauer and Katie Couric. Then comes the real show: You stop talking, the music starts playing and your well-prepared students start dancing.

Reality check: Landing a spot on the “Today Show” or any other national program is difficult. But finding ways to promote your students—and therefore your business—through local television programming is much easier. The benefits are immeasurable: Even if a TV appearance doesn’t result in an immediate enrollment increase, it gives your school credibility, which may be even more valuable. “There’s an old saying in advertising that people need to see something six times before they realize it’s a good thing,” says Rhode Island Ballet Arts Academy Artistic Director Nancy McAuliffe, whose students have been featured on local television. “People don’t necessarily call because they saw us on television, but they remember the name.”

Here’s the truth: Television producers are always on the lookout for good story ideas, but they turn down many more than they accept. Use these guidelines to craft a story pitch (a summary of your idea) and maximize the chance of having your studio and students seen on screen.

1. Identify your motives. Why do you want to be on television? Are you seeking exposure for your students? For yourself? For your studio? Are you trying to promote a specific recital or event? Any mix of reasons is fine, but make sure that you have a specific goal in mind.

2. Make a list of local programs that might be a good fit for your purpose. A special fundraising recital, for example, might be best promoted on a magazine-style show. A superstar student who’s on the verge of a large-scale breakthrough might make a nice human-interest story on the evening news. A local cable program that produces stories about the community might be interested in doing a feature on your studio.

Opportunities vary by community. Most television stations have a reporter who specializes in quirky features—someone who might be willing to come take dance lessons from you and do a story on the experience. Many weather forecasts also include a quick visit with a group from the community, which can be a good way to promote a recital. Television stations often have “Star of the Week” programs for which you might be able to nominate a student.

3. Look at what’s making news. When there’s a buzz, make your studio part of it. If you teach a certain dance or style that becomes hot, that’s a ready-made story for television. This past summer, ballroom dancing was quickly made cool by ABC’s Dancing with the Stars. Many studios that specialize in ballroom became the subject of news stories as a result of the genre’s newfound popularity.

You can capitalize on popular movies, too. Dan Radler, a Massachusetts-based dancer who has held several ballroom titles with partner Suzanne Hamby, performed the salsa at the premiere of the movie Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights. An opportunity like that would be tough to duplicate—the couple has had massive media exposure during more than two decades of professional dancing. After the premiere, however, they did something any studio can do. “We held ‘Dirty Dancing’ classes, which were hugely popular,” Radler says. Offering classes on what he calls “the latest hot dance” should be good for business in itself—and invite television cameras.

4. Highlight your students. Look for amazing, unusual or heartwarming accomplishments among your students, such as a talented young choreographer who has developed a unique style, or perhaps a dancer who has overcome a disability. If your students (and their parents) are willing to share their stories, reporters are often happy to relay them.

5. Pitch precisely. This is key. News directors, producers and reporters typically get dozens of pitches each day. You need to make yours stand out by being timely and interesting. Other things to consider:

-Local TV stations are competitive, so don’t pitch the same story to more than one at a time. If one station learns that another is doing the same story, chances are good that both will cancel and never consider your pitches again.
-TV stations are ratings-driven, so look for an opportunity to tie in with a popular dance show (preferably one that airs on the same station).
-Avoid pitches that duplicate a story that the station has recently done. Even if your studio can offer a better story, the TV folks are unlikely to be interested. They want something different, not more of the same.

6. Prepare your students. For many dancers, cameras can be unnerving. During RIBAA’s most recent TV stint, McAuliffe recalls that “the cameras were down on the floor, trying to film the dancers’ feet. The kids were trying to do a combination across the floor. [The camera crew] was making them very nervous.”

This is a good opportunity to teach your dancers to deal with pressure. But for the sake of the TV crew, which will have limited time to shoot footage, prep your students on the simple things: dance as you normally would, don’t look into the camera unless you’re asked to do so, and watch out for equipment. Ask the crew to point out their positions. Explain to them the spatial progression of the dance to make sure they capture the highlights, while students know where to watch out for cables.

7. Speak slowly, but answer promptly. Unless you’re a politician or celebrity, you may not have the special set of skills required for being interviewed on camera. Unlike interviews for newspapers or magazines, in which writers generally want detailed answers that add depth to their stories, TV producers want sound bites. Thus, your answers needn’t be long or detailed. Speak slowly (particularly if you’re nervous, since many people under stress tend to talk fast) and give succinct answers. “Hone in on a couple things, two or three sentences per question,” says Susan Bennett, a media coach based in the Washington, DC area. “You don’t want [to give] a yes or no answer, but you don’t want to be rambling on, either.”

8. Stay open to opportunities. While even well-crafted pitches may be turned down, they can still pay off. If a reporter is working on a dance-related story in the future, you could get a call.

9. Use your network. Hard as you might work to tailor a story idea for a specific show, nothing is more effective than knowing the reporters and executives at a station. As you get to know them, stay connected in occasional, nonintrusive ways: a handwritten thank-you note if they include you in a story, a quick e-mail if you particularly enjoyed a story you saw on TV or a greeting card during the holiday season.

Of course, if you have a personal link, use it. The mother of one of McAuliffe’s former students was a local newscaster. “She made a connection for me to have a little blurb about the school,” McAuliffe says. Whatever your way of getting your story on the news, the experience will be beneficial for you and your students. DT


Tim O’Shei, a former teacher, is the author of 25 nonfiction books.

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