Pitching monetized TV, pushing past ‘no,’ and being in the right place at the right time — constantly.

You may remember Helen Raptis as KATU’s “Roving Red-Head,” for the ABC station’s hallmark morning show in Portland, AM Northwest. The show has seen a lot of changes over the years and so has Helen. This episode of PR ChalkTalk gets into AM Northwest’s transition to partially-monetized segments and Helen’s trip up the newsroom ladder while experiencing some personal set-backs along the way.

Helen’s story didn’t start in front of the camera. While she’s been hosting AM Northwest for 15 years, her first job was as a receptionist for KING 5 in Seattle. There she worked her way up to promo-writing. Various newsroom positions took her to Montana, then Eugene and eventually Portland, where she ultimately landed at KATU — making it big as the morning show’s “Roving Red-Head,” field reporter and finally snagging the show’s hosting role.

The Pitch Opportunity:

AM Northwest airs weekdays 9 – 10 a.m. on Portland’s ABC affiliate, KATU. Hosting the entire show doesn’t leave Helen with a lot of time to read your pitches. Instead she suggests sending pitches to all three of the show’s producers: Leslie Martin, Tammy Hernandez and Steve Denari in the same email chain.

Pay-to-Play Roadblock:

Typical PR’s who don’t like to spend money will wonder why this episode even matters if the show is “pay-to-play,” — a term that means everything, not just the commercials, on the show has been purchased. Actually, it’s a misconception that everything on AM Northwest is “monetized.” While some of it is, a good portion of it is not.

Here’s how we can work around the monetization:

  • Authors can promote their books — whether they are self-help, cookbooks or otherwise — for free on the show.
  • Experts can offer valuable information — as long as their business isn’t mentioned — for free on the show. This is still a solid opportunity for those in industries like professional services, where the people who are actually doing the work are just as important, if not more important, than the company under which they place their names. Services like real estate, financial, accounting and legal come to mind.
  • Charities or nonprofits can typically get on-air at no cost. If you aren’t representing a 501(c)3 directly, but you have a charitable connection, you might still be able to get your business on as long as you highlight the charity in your pitch and resulting interview. Since each interview typically runs for about five minutes, a charitable piece can pair nicely with a business interview as five whole minutes can feel like an eternity for any business to fill.
  • Every Friday, nonprofits get a free shout-out if they bring a group of supporters to serve as the show’s on-air audience.
  • Still not sure? Helen mentioned that you could always talk to a producer to see how they can work around the monetized segment issue. 

Personal Interests: 

You might have an easier time if you can speak to the crew’s personal interests. If Helen hears the following topics, she knows exactly which producer picked the segment:

  • Autism
  • Kids and discipline
  • Single and dating

Helen is really into murder mystery shows and investigation discovery herself. She also has an affinity for animals and as a breast cancer survivor, Helen helps get the word out for cancer education and fundraising. 

Helen Raptis & Amy Rosenberg at Albertina Kerr

Amy & Helen met for lunch at Albertina’s Kitchen to support the local nonprofit.

PR Pet Peeves:

Helen is really straight forward about what does not work when you’re trying to get the attention of a busy newsroom. Tips include:

  • Refrain from long and convoluted pitches. Make pitches short and simple with a “who, what, where, when, why,” format.
  • TV needs to “see,” your story. For instance, if you’re pitching a music group, beyond listening to them sing, producers would want to watch them perform online first to determine if they’ll bring them on.
  • Know your show and the reporter or host before you pitch them a story.

Who’s Watching?

Since this show runs from 9-10 a.m., in the past we might have saved our energy pitching this for clients that could really benefit from being in front of an audience at this hour. But today with everything being shared digitally, that might not be the case. “The show used to draw either all retired people or women. But it varies now,” Helen explains. “When I’m out and about I get stopped by a lot of different people. I’m constantly surprised at who’s watching the show.”

Don’t forget that all online links, especially videos featuring you or your client from reputable news stations, give your website powerful link juice. So the true SEO’s wouldn’t really care who is watching! 

Pushing Past “No,”:

Speaking of the wiggle-room surrounding the word “no,” in business, when Helen learned that the Vice President of KING TV started in the mail room, she realized “anything is possible.” But it’s not like one day Helen went to sleep as a receptionist and then woke up as a TV show host. The trek required grit and persistence. Apparently Helen has never gotten a job she hadn’t applied for twice.

“I just kept thinking of what I wanted. I was there and wore them down,” she jokes. She never believed she couldn’t do something just because her bosses put someone else in the position. Helen suggests that just being in the newsroom, or wherever it is that you want your job to be, is really key.

“Show them what you’ve got,” she encourages, pointing to internships as a great way to do this. “They want to see what you can do and how well you get along with others.”

However, the fact that she hosts the show solo is a job she never would have asked for, and frankly would rather not have. That’s because it’s the result of her former co-host’s (Dave Anderson) tragic death from pancreatic cancer. Helen gets a bit choked up recalling the community support that poured in during that trying time.

So You Think You Wanna Report?

Helen considers her job today as a dream with “normal,” hours and days. But it wasn’t always like that. She reminisces about a time she literally hitched a ride from a big-rig trucker into work and how her boss once drove from Beaverton to Vancouver to get her into the station so she could report the weather. “The station won’t let you off the hook!”

She points to internships again — noting that they can help those who think they want to be on-air because the work isn’t as glamourous as some may believe. “Your day is not your own, you rarely get a vacation day and you’re working the most in the worst weather.”

If getting a couple snowflakes on your nose can eventually lead you into the kind of position that Helen is so clearly passionate about, being a slave to the news might be worth it in the end. Intellectual and emotional stimulation, paired with the adrenaline rush from reporting news, might require hitching a ride or two.

About the guest: Helen Raptis

Helen Raptis is the Emmy award-winning host of AM Northwest. It’s her dream job, interviewing news-makers and celebrities and having lots of laughs along the way. She joined KATU in May of 1998 as AM Northwest’s ‘Roving Red-Head,’ where she reported on the “fun and quirky” side of Portland. Helen also anchored KATU’s early morning newscast for three years.

Connect and follow Helen on social media:

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Amy Rosenberg
Founder and President at Veracity
Writer. Podcaster. Press Friend. Hand Holder.