Get on National TV Shows in 5 Simple Steps
This is a story of how my client, an ex-Jesuit priest, John Bollard, landed a story on the CBS program 60 Minutes. It was called: Above the Law?
For seven years Bollard studied in the seminary to fulfill his dream of becoming a man of the cloth. During this time he was often sexually harassed by twelve of his superiors within the hallowed halls of priesthood.
After his sexual harassment suit against the Catholic Church was lost, he brought the sordid details of his experiences from behind Jesuit walls to the public eye.
His mission became clear—to help prevent men and women from suffering a similar ordeal.
Since it was one of the first cases of its kind in the late 1990s, and sexual harassment against men was a new angle for the topic at the time, CBS’ 60 Minutes decided to run the story.
How did Bollard get chosen on this prestigious program with a viewership of nearly nine million viewers a week? (20 million at that time).
He did his homework.
First he decided he didn’t want to be on any of the TV news magazine programs that would take a sensational angle. He wanted to be represented in a dignified and fair manner.
Next he wrote letters to the 60 Minutes program producer outlining his experiences in the Jesuit community, backing his claims with concrete examples, witnesses and photographic (pornographic greeting cards) evidence. And he cited the subsequent lawsuit whereby the Catholic Church claimed to be above the law in accordance with Title 7.
He followed up with phone calls and letters (email didn’t exist yet) for months with detailed examples of his compelling case.
Once 60 Minutes agreed to cover his story he contacted me for media coaching. We had a session set up for the Monday as the show was booked to tape the next week. But the producer changed the taping date on Friday so we worked intensely over the weekend to prepare him for the grueling questioning we expected from Mike Wallace.
I asked him all the aggressive, intimate and invasive questions I imagined he might be asked to catch him off guard. Including inappropriate salacious sexual questions so he could get a visceral sense of what it would be like under extreme pressure, hot lights and detailed scrutiny.
Anticipating the media interest on this ground-breaking case, he set up a special phone number for reporters to call him after the show aired. Which was put to good use.
One last thing: Morley Safer replaced Mike Wallace at the last minute so our media training made the interview a breeze. That said, the interview process took eight hours.
When there is that much footage, that can be edited in any type of sequence, including taken out of context, there is much less control of how you are going to be perceived. So we didn’t know if he would be shown in a positive or negative light until the show aired.
We both breathed with relief when the case was presented positively, clearly showing that he was wronged and he was depicted sympathetically.
One thing that influenced being positioned in a positive light is that he told Morley Safer his life plans and boyhood dream were ruined by his experiences, but he was now dedicated to creating a new model of Christian ministry.
He defined his big vision, his new mission in the world, so he could help others whose dreams had been dashed due to unwanted advances—and to change the system that allowed this kind of harassment and behavior.
How is that for a memorable and moving conclusion?
While the case never went to trial it was settled out of court for an undisclosed sum in 2000.
Here are the 4 steps Bollard did right to get on national TV:
- Lined up his facts clearly and strongly in an email when he had a news breaking story you want attention for.
- Made a compelling personal case by charging his story with emotional elements that moved his audience.
- Persisted with emails or phone calls explaining why his idea is timely and relevant to the show’s audience.
- Prepared for a fast-paced, confrontational interview with a media coach.
- Insured what he planned to convey would help people and leave a deep impression.
The 24/7 news cycle makes it mandatory for the media industry to constantly look for compelling stories that move the human heart, situations where a right is wronged, or something new, innovative or helpful to their audience. While you don’t need a David and Goliath case like this one doing all the background work of the journalist or producer is now de rigueur given staff cuts, and the amount of information they need to sift through to find media gold. You can make yourself and indispensable source and shape perception for your business and brand at the same time by doing as much of the work as possible to create an awe inspiring show.by doing as much of the work as possible to create an awe inspiring show.
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