I was very fortunate to interview an 18 year veteran producer of the TODAY Show. Tammi shares her tips on how to build relationships with producers and give them what they need to put you or your clients on television. Watch the interview here or read the transcript below:
Christina: Hey Everybody. Welcome to this week’s edition of “Get Seen Be Heard.” We are in for a really, really special treat. We have with us, my friend, Tammi Leader Fuller, who has been in the television industry for 35 years. I’m going to let her share her resume with you. She been with the Today Show and all kinds of other shows. We’re going to find out how to get on television. Welcome Tammi.
Tammi: Hi, how are you? It’s nice to see you.
Christina: It’s so good to have you here. Tell everybody about you. Give us your resume because it’s so impressive.
Tammi: I’m actually not in the television business anymore. I left TV 2 years ago. I run empowerment camps for women, now. It’s called Campowerment and I have taken all of the experts that I have pulled together in all my years of TV, the smartest women I know and brought them together to help women get happy again.
In 1980, I graduated college and I was in Miami. It was during the real time “Miami Vice” days. I started at a local ABC station there as an intern and a research assistant, literally chasing Colombian drug lords and dealing with corrupt cops who were stealing cocaine and money from dead people that they were going to cover up as a homicide. I really cut my teeth with some brilliant people. If I had one wish in my life, it would be that I could go back and do that, now, with the knowledge I have. Because I didn’t know anything. My job was to carry red, Marlboro cigarettes and a brush and a water for my people … for my team.
I spent a lot of years in investigating producing. I did a lot of local corruption stuff. There’s corruption everywhere and it was in the old days when you could really go out and fight for the people. It’s a whole different ballgame now, as you know. I spent 20 something years in local news. A little less, actually.
And then I went and worked at the Today Show, out of our Miami Bureau. I covered Central America, when people cared about places like Nicaragua and Iran Contra and Panama and all that. I was on a plane every week to every place that you probably haven’t heard of in 30 years. From Tegucigalpa, Honduras to Panama to chasing the Sandinistas in Nicaragua to hanging out with rebels, mostly. A lot of stuff went on during the Reagan Administration, when Central America was a big, big place.
I covered news for a long time and then I left in 1992 to go work at the Today Show. Katie Couric and I worked together in Miami, for years. She brought me in and I started doing a lot of stuff with her. I covered everything from health and wellness to family. I was a mom at the time and a lot of people weren’t. I did 7 series on infertility, when nobody knew or understood what infertility was about. I did a lot of medical stuff. Crime and punishment and then went to America’s Most Wanted that was started by one of my photographer guys I had worked with years before. I did that for a few years.
Probably, the most profound thing I ever did in my whole life was a story there that actually was cited yesterday, when they discovered Adam Walsh’s killer yesterday. They identified him. I happened to be in Orlando, doing a story for the Today Show and saw a local news story and called America’s Most Wanted. I said we should do this story. It was a man that was missing from a Walmart parking lot. Did the story Friday, put the story on the air, Saturday. They caught the guy Sunday, and he’s on death row. Of all the stuff I’ve done, that’s probably my most profound.
In 2005, I wrote a book with 5 other women. I had a freelance business going for a long time, mostly working with the Today Show. In 2009, I left to come start a new show here at Warner Brothers in L.A. that wasn’t exactly what I signed up for. I got Hollywooded a little bit, but worked for Extra TV where I was a senior supervising producer at the entertainment show, Extra.
That’s my long resume. And now I’m a camp director trying to help people get happy again using the connections that I had made in all my years in television.
Karen: That is a happening resume.
Tammi: I kind of bounced all over. Essentially, I’ve covered news forever and now news has turned. In the 7 o’clock hour of the Today Show, we never ever, ever, ever would put a Justin Beaver story in. It was all about news. It was with Bryant Gumbel and Katie. It was all about live, live, live news stuff. And now news is a whole different ballgame. The business really changed in 2001, right after 911 when news budgets started to get cut.
In the old days, we as TV producers were never allowed to take handout videos. Stuff that was sent to us by publicists or by people who were marketing for a certain company. In 2001, budgets changed and news budgets really got slashed. So there was a whole different take. All of a sudden we were allowed to start taking handout video, as they call it.
I started a production company that we call a B-roll company for that very reason. I was hired by resort, mostly in the travel industry, resorts and spas and places to go that were looking to create video resumes. Videos started to really get big 15 years ago. It was before people had websites. I would go. I would create. I would work with these PR directors, mostly from the hotels. I would say, okay, what do you have here? What can we create visually that you’re going to continue to do? We would shoot it and they would distribute it. It was like a video brochure. At that point, nobody was taking handout video anymore of people on a cruise ship clinking wine glasses. They were literally … You had to create action and excitement.
The very first one I did was for a hotel in Jamaica who was really excited because they just opened a water theme park with a lazy river. Which, as we all know, does not make news. I went down there and they said, “What can we do here? What can we do to get some attention to our beautiful water theme park in Montego Bay?” So, I went down there and knocked on doors and used my investigative skills and found the Jamaican Bobsled Team from the Calgary Olympics in 1996. Found them. Brought them in. Put their sled on the back of our taxi. Hauled it from Kingston, Jamaica to Montego Bay, and set up. They came with their medals and we did an Olympic day there. We created … These Olympic gold medalists came up and they were on the water slide. I don’t know if you ever saw the movie, “Cool Runnings” that was made after their story.
They got up at the top of the slides, and they took these rafts and put the kids on it. They went, “One, Two, Three,” and sort of sent them down the way they did the bobsleds. We shot it and brought an Olympic band there and created a complete spectacle that gave them incredible video, raw video, not edited together that they then pushed out. They got what they called 2 million dollars worth of editorial coverage. It was 2 million dollars in comparative ad value. If you would have bought … If Wyndham Hotels was to have bought ad space on these national shows that they got on, it would have been over 2 million dollars.
We started something that created exciting, interesting angles to things and then visually documented them ourselves. And then sent them away, not edited, not with music, not with bells and whistles. But in raw form with a complete outline as to what they could see. And then they could use it and edit it and give them the power and control. That started a really big change in the television industry and now producers will take handout. If it’s legit. If it’s well-shot and if it doesn’t look like handout PR video. Does that make sense?
Christina: It does and that is great to know.
Karen: Christina talks a lot about finding ways to make yourself newsworthy. That’s exactly what you did. You took this Montego Bay Resort who needed an angle, and you found a way to make them newsworthy. I’m sure that it wasn’t for free, but in reality, it was for free. You didn’t hire huge crews. You didn’t edit the video. Today, and I don’t want to over simplify this because I’m sure it was a ton of work. But today, that can almost be done with your iPhone. You want good video, of course, but, I love that you found an angle and found a way to make this newsworthy. That’s exactly what we talk about on this show.
Tammi: That was just the beginning of this “Be Real” business. Even though I worked for the Today Show, they called me a permalancer, a permanent freelancer. Because I had shot it and because they knew that it was shot with a newsperson’s eye, it wasn’t so promotional. I didn’t have signs in the background showing the name of the hotel. I was clear about making it not look so promoted. They won’t use that. I know you want to get your logo in, but if you try to make it look too commercial, it’s never getting used. It has to look like they shot it.
My number 1 tip, for anybody who’s shooting video or trying to get video on, is don’t make it look commercial. Yes, you can slip in a logo. They can be wearing a t-shirt or you can slip in something. But, at the end of the day, the more promoted it looks, the more scrutiny it’s going to get on the other side. The producers have a lot of power and control. Part of the problem, too, especially with TV, is these producers make you feel like you have to chase them down and kiss their ass in order to even take a phone call. They need your content as much as you want your people to get on. There’s a whole game here. An elusive game that the power players play, and it’s not really legit.
As a producer for years, I had a couple of really good, only 2 or 3 really good PR people that I trusted when I was in a bind and when I was stuck. I called and I was doing shows all day and I would call at 10 o’clock at night and say, “I need the mother of a child with eating disorders who is being bullied.” I could call my people and, even though it may not have been their clients, they saved my butt. When they did that repeatedly, when they had something that might not really be newsworthy, I kind of found a way. In a Mother’s Day Gift Guide or something to help promote them and plug their people because it’s a give and take. It’s all about relationships. If you’ve been on a show or you’ve done something with somebody and you have relationship with them. And they don’t think you’re trying to take advantage or really overly plug, they’ll call you and say, “Hey, I’m doing this and do you have a client that could cover that?” That’s how it works.
I got a call today from somebody who was a camper at my camp who called me. She’s a freelance writer and said something fell in my lap last night for Fortune Magazine. I love Campowerment. I had a great time. She was just a customer. She said, and they want us to do luxury camps and do you have anything like that? It turns out that we just signed a deal with Fairmont Hotels so we’re doing Campowerment in a luxury style. I’m going to get in her Fortune Magazine story. Why? Because she’s a friend and she believes in my product because she lived my product for 3 days. It changed her life and she came back and said, “How can I help you grow this?” I said to her, “If a story ever crosses your desk, that has an angle or something, call me.” That’s what happened. I built my trust with her first, and I was the first person she called. Lo and behold, we’re getting in Fortune Magazine.
Christina: I have 2 versions of that, too. That’s how I got on Dr. Oz. I had met a producer though LinkedIn, and she realized I was very connected in the entrepreneurial space. They check you out. The Dr. Oz Show checks out your Facebook and makes sure you’re a legit person. A couple times, she was like, “Christina, you seem really connected, I need …” Same kind of thing. I need somebody who has parents who have dementia, whatever and boom. I knew exactly who it was and I booked all these people for her. Then something came up for me, and you’re exactly right. She called me and said, “Hey, do you want to be on the show? Can you be here on Tuesday?”
My local Fox, I think I’ve booked 10 shows for her. When she got offered a syndicated special all about an entrepreneur taking an idea from napkin to marketplace, a 30 minute television show, she used me through the whole thing.
Tammi: Do you see what happened? And you went to her. Not like, I’m not going to do that for you. That’s not my client. If you had been a typical PR person, it never would have happened. But because you gained her trust and you pulled though for her, in 5 minutes you stopped what you were doing. That’s the key. If you ever get a call from somebody who you ever worked with who says, “Hey, I’m desperate.” Or an email from somebody who says, “This is what I’m looking for.” Even if you’re on the phone trying to help them, do not wait. It’s all about first come first serve. Write them back and say, “On it right now. Putting my day aside to help you find this.” Let them know you’re working for them.
TV producers, especially today, don’t have the support that we had. I had tiers of people under me who could do research. When I started, we didn’t have the Internet. We couldn’t just Google, “parents of kids with Autism.” You can’t do that. We had to really go find it and get on a real phone. If we were out shooting, they couldn’t call us. It was a whole interesting way of collecting. Today is a whole different ballgame. There are so many more choices. When I started, we had 3 channels. We didn’t even have Fox. You only had 3 options. They had a 22-minute news show at 6 pm every night, and that was it. Whoever is seeking info on that particular thing that you’re good at, I believe that’s what you should own. That space. Once you own it, it’s yours.
Christina: Okay, guys, we’re having technical issues. We lost Karen. Tammi’s time is really valuable. I’m just going to ask her a couple of questions. She’s just given us some amazing ideas about being newsworthy which I talk about all the time.
Tammi, you said that everything’s changed. The television industry has changed so much. You talked about sending raw footage. How do you recommend building this relationship with a producer? Getting started, getting your feet wet. We talked about locals, so let’s talk about that briefly. Then, once you’ve gotten locally your feet wet, how do you go national?
Tammi: It’s really all about relationships. It’s very hard to get in. It’s all about who you know. You need to show up to events. You need to network. You need to go and be in places where they gather, basically. Even if it’s red carpet kinds of things. You can go and hover and hang out and meet people and snoop and be of assistance to them. At the end of the day, producers are just a bunch of overworked, non-supported people who have deadlines to make and who need assistance. We as producers make stuff up every day from a blank piece of paper.
If you can build personal relationships with some of these people … If you’re a PR person, there are Facebook groups. There are networking events. There’s one called Media Czars. Do you know what that is?
Christina: I don’t.
Tammi: There’s a Facebook group that’s a closed group. It’s a group for publicists who like other publicists. A lot of publicists don’t like each other. They are very backbiting. I would recommend networking with other people who do what you do. When they have an opportunity that crosses their desk, and it doesn’t work for them, they’ll fill it with you. They’ll call you and say, “Hey, got anybody for this?” That’s really the most important thing.
Hi, Karen, you’re back.
Christina: Karen, we’re just wrapping up. We’re recording and we just asked Tammi a couple of questions because she’s got to go. She’s giving some final tips on how you get connected to producers.
Tammi: I think the first start is it’s easier to connect with other publicists and PR people who you’ve met and seen when you’re out on the scene and doing things. I would start there because that’s where they’re the ones that have the relationships with the producers. If they can save the day for those producers then they already have their cell phone numbers. They’ll get an email or call that says, “Hey, I’m looking for this, this, and this.” The way to really build a relationship with a producer is to save their butts when it has nothing to do with you or your client. If you can do that, like you did, Christina, with Dr. Oz, they’ll hold it in the back of your head. It really is a tit for tat business.
Don’t ever, ever assume that any producer ever owes you anything. You need to really be respectful of that. If you get mad because they picked somebody over you, even though you have the same product, you’re done. If you say to them, “What happened? Why didn’t you call me?” They’re not ever going to call you again. There’s a power B.S. thing that goes on especially with producers. They have control over something that’s very valuable. It’s called air. Once you can control what goes on air, it gives them a false sense. On the entertainment shows, I ran the weekend stuff. These celebrities who overdose and do really stupid things. They don’t do it on Wednesdays. They only do it on the weekends. I was always in charge … And every Sunday morning, I would get a call that oh, Heath Ledger overdosed, or Paul Walker got into a car crash and he’s dead. I would-
Christina: Then you would need experts to talk about this.
Tammi: I need people who knew him. And I need people who could tell stories about him. I got on the phone and I would call people I knew, you worked with him on this movie, what’s the craziest thing? Most of the time, they don’t want to talk, but they can send you to somebody else. At the end of the day, it’s about figuring out how to get, very quickly, someone who can help give you a great story. If you happen to be on that list that gets those calls or those emails you’re set. And that’s what you need to do when you need a producer. You need to say, “Look, I represent xyz, but I know everybody in this town. I’ve lived here 30 years and if you need anything, call me. If you want to know if this story is true. If there’s a kid who was killed in an explosion in a biology lab in the school, call me. My kids are high schoolers. They know people in every school.”
A lot of these producers are transient and maybe don’t have connections to the community. That’s a really good way is to use your community ties and connections to help them with stories that have nothing to do with your clients. Once you help them, they will remember you. Unless they’re not good people. But most of them really are. Most of them have really long memories. They remember, wow, you’re the one who saved my butt on this, and this and this. I’m on a lot of emails with some reporters who are always looking for sources. I have a girl from the “Chicago Tribune” who sends out 3 times a week, “I’m looking for xyz. They can’t live in Illinois because I guess something with the Tribune. They have to be national. But this is what I’m looking for. I’m looking for someone who has a Vitamin D deficiency that’s in the sun all the time. I’m looking for someone who is working with their husband. I’m looking for …”
Whatever it is. I check it. If there’s somebody I know, I always connect her. When I get her emails, I always read them. Should I ever need her … I’ve saved her 3 or 4 times. I’ve gotten her what she needs and she’s used them. I know when the time is right, when I need something, I’m not going to call her to go write about Campowerment on a normal day. But if I have a story, like my story right now is my mom and my daughter and I … 3 generations of women working to help women get happy. This week I’m pitching that story. I have a friend at the “Daily Mail.” It doesn’t belong on the “Daily Mail,” but he’s my friend. He loves the story, thinks it’s a warm, fuzzy Mother’s Day story. Will I get on? Right now it’s being scrutinized. They’re really looking at it. Is the story a real fit for that? No, but it’s a warm, fuzzy and it could work. It’s all because Shawn wants to help me. He’s my friend and I’ve helped him a lot. That’s kind of the way it works.
As I’ve said, save your pitches for something with a really good angle. When there’s a generic, Mother’s Day is coming. They’re looking at gift guides, that’s an easy, no brainer. Any of these holidays … Find a niche because you’ve got to do the stories anyway. When I was working, I had a friend who was a publicist at Ancestry.com. When the Olympics came last time, we talked about that. He said, “How do I do this?” I said, “Why don’t you go find Ryan Lotke. Go look him up. Go find his people. Go find out where some of these people are from.” It turned out Ryan Lotke’s family grew up in the same block where he was swimming at the Olympics in London. Literally, his ancestors were right there. They would never have known that. We did a whole thing with them about Ryan Lotke’s background. He didn’t even know about it. They approached him. I had somebody at NBC do a thing with him, “Did you know that your family?” And they showed him the family tree. The guy freaked out. He had no idea.
It’s about getting creative and really thinking about things out of the box. And doing the work. The reporters are overworked. If you do the work for them and it’s a shake your head like, “WOW, I didn’t know that.” Chances are, you’ll get on.
Christina: Love that. Thank you so much, Tammi. The information … Amazing. Amazing. People are going to get so much out of it. So thank you for joining us. We’ll see you guys next week.
Tammi: You’re welcome. You and I are going to do something with all of this. We’re going to do this. We’re going to drill this down for people who really, really want to know and learn how to do it. You and I are going to do that, one day. So, stay tuned, guys because it’s a formula thing that really works.
Christina: Thanks, guys.
Tammi: Bye, thank you guys. Have a great day.
To learn more or schedule a strategy call with Christina, go to www.ChatwithChristina.com