“There is no such thing as bad publicity except your own obituary.”- Brendan Behan
I’ve been thinking a lot about my profession recently. I’ve always felt like an impostor. I was never a publicity or marketing major. As a journalism major I wasn’t taught how to push a story, I was taught how to recognize one, how to write one. My whole life I’ve been fascinated by writing, authors and publishing. I think that’s how I found myself interning at a publishing house. As a publicity intern, I was trained by the best. The way they taught me wasn’t much different than what I had been trained to do already. You found the story, or the hook, within a book or an author’s story and then you connect with journalists/reporters/producers to tell them the story. I loved it! So right before graduation when I was offered a full time job as Children’s publicist, I was on cloud nine!
But then I met what I like to call, piranha publicists. I’d go on publicity trips, to meetings with other publicists, interview publicity firms and talk to other publicists and it seemed like there were so many piranhas. They would be fashionably dressed with every hair in place and they’d float around the room introducing themselves and exchanging cards so fast it would make your head spin. This is not my strength. Quite frankly, rooms full of people I don’t know scare me. It’s like a blind date, awkward. I’d watch from the corner as these publicists would work the room fighting over a front page story. No wonder us flacks seem to have such a bad rep with journos. Is this what I would have to do to be a publicist? I didn’t know if I could hack it.
As I settled into my job, made more trips to meet the journalists, reporters and producers I realized that even though I would never work a room or fight for a journalist’s attention at a party, I did have a sweet spot: one on one connections. I love journalists. I love their sharp wit, their passion, their curiousity and their way of exposing the heart of a story to the reader. Some of my very best friends are journalists. I’ve learned from them. They ask questions. They learn about people. I took that and integrated it in who I was as a publicist. I would ask questions of the media, “How can I help you with what you’re doing?” This simple question has gotten me a long way.
Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock, you know two things as a publicist. First, publicity is changing and second, we have to change how and where we go for publicity. You can’t just throw a press release out there on the wires and see if it will stick. Publicity is personal, it’s specialized. Here’s what I’ve learned so far…
1. Spread the story– Jon Dale hit the nail on the head with this post. PR is about spreading the story. The great thing is that there are more people you can potentially spread it to but you need to be selective. Really think about who its appropriate for. More than ever, publicists are now connecting and engaging not only with media but directly with the consumer. Figure out what’s the hook, what’s the story and then tell it…not only to traditional media but the consumer.
2. PR isn’t public relations, it’s personal relationships– I went to a media mixer last week where there was a panel of the creme de la creme of Nashville media were on a panel. They answered questions like how they choose a story, how they like to be pitched and how to get that coveted ink. The main point…treat them like people. Ask how they’re doing, don’t just spout off your pitch. Sounds like common sense but how often do we as publicists just shoot an email to our contacts to see how they are, how their kids are, what they’re writing about? Trust me, this not only goes a long way but you’ll meet some fabulous people. Whether it’s the Lifestyle editor at the New York Times or a mommy blogger, take the time to get to know them.
3. Work the room– This is what I need to work at. I work with some fabulous publicists. I learn so much from them everyday. I got to go to a conference with our Director of Communications, Lindsey and it was fascinating to me that for both of us, playing the get to know you games was like pulling teeth. We just didn’t like it. But I’d watch Lindsey push herself to do it- and she was great at it! The fascinating thing was, Lindsey didn’t hit and run these people. She was genuinely interested and I’d bet she now talks to them on a consistent basis. You don’t have to meet everyone in a room but pick a couple new people to meet and go for it. Get out of the corner.
I guess I could learn a thing or two from these piranhas. I could wear a dress or even a blouse one or two days I guess. And hey, maybe I’ll curl my hair and see what happens!
What do you think? What are some tips you would give to publicists?