Photo: Flickr: Gage Skidmore: Creative Commons License
So, let me preface this by saying that this is not a political statement – at all. And I realize that given the firestorm of controversy around the election this may be a risky piece to write but I think that, above all else, it’s a great lesson in media and one that I felt compelled to share with my readers. I mean let’s face it, regardless of how you vote, wouldn’t it be cool to own even half of the news cycles that Donald Trump does? Imagine what that could do for book sales, right?
So this little lesson in media, how to manage it, how to get more of it, and how to turn every media story into something you can use to promote your book. Whether you like Trump or you hate him, I think we can all agree on one thing: the man knows how to drive media attention.
Most authors – well, let’s say many authors, are pretty timid when it comes to media. Both in pitching themselves as well as pushing their topic to match a story. Some authors will in fact tell me “I’m not really an expert” which I always find odd since they did write a book on a particular topic. The world will view you as an expert, so why not own it?
Years ago, I had lunch with Trump’s literary agent at the time who told me that’s one guy you never want to underestimate. He’s very clear on his message and how to get it out there. You should be, too.
Understand the media monster
There’s something Donald Trump really does understand and it’s how the media works. Media draws media – in fact if you really want to keep the media wheels turning, start small. By small I mean tiny blogs, regional publications, local radio. Why? Because everyone has to start somewhere – and people like Trump who know how to play the media game know that.
The lifecycle of media
The media cycle isn’t what it used to be, in fact it’s excruciatingly short. Knowing this, you’ll want to make sure that you honor the speed with which most media people will need to turn around a story. Get them what they need, when they need it. Don’t keep them waiting. If you keep them waiting, I can almost guarantee you they will move on.
This also goes for being interviewed. I don’t care if it’s your kid’s soccer game or your daughter’s Bat Mitzvah, if you get the call to be interviewed, make the time. Why? Because here’s another lesson: media draws media and media talks to media. Don’t thumb your nose at media opportunities – ever.
Be excruciatingly clear and on message
If you listen to any of the debates, you often find that most politicians have long, rambling statements that feel a bit all over the place. If you’re like me, you zone out. Regardless if you agree or not with Trump, if you listen to what he says, it’s kind of the same thing over and over and again. You may love it, you may hate it – but the message is crystal clear and also packed with sound bites, which the media loves.
One of the biggest challenges that author’s face is being on point and on message. When I look through pitches authors send me for editing I often see long, rambling statements. Here’s the crux of it: if you can’t summarize it in two sentences, it’s probably too long. Most media people get between 40 and 100 pitches a day. There was a rumor that Oprah’s people used to get 1,000 new email pitches a day. You can imagine that none of them want to sift thought long, endless emails.
One paragraph should be your limit. Sign off with: If I can send you more information, or a copy of my book, please let me know. That’s it. That’s all you need to do. If the media likes it, they’ll reach out, I promise.
Know the difference between an advertisement and a pitch
The media is only interested in what you can do for their viewers – that’s the bottom line. They know that you’re pushing your book – but they won’t support you pushing an advertorial about your book. I’ll discuss about specific pitching in the points to follow, just know that your pitch should never be about the book. Remember you’re the expert here, make it about that, not the book.
Know how to email
This is pretty crucial, because we all get too much email these days, don’t you think? So if you’re emailing your pitch, know that the most important part of your email may not be the body of the message, but the subject line. Considering that most of us read the majority of our emails on our phone, or other mobile device, the small screens don’t allow for a lot of room to view your email window.
If I see a subject line that isn’t specific like: Pitch for interview. Or is too long to fit on a screen (like those people who believe putting entire sentences into an email subject line is a great idea), I’m generally going to move on.
Anchor to everything
One of the things that Trump is good at is anchoring to every relevant news story out there, which is key. Because despite what you may think, the media really does need a steady stream of experts to talk about relevant issues. And you don’t have to be the same as the other guy, in fact, don’t be a copycat. Media people hate that. Add your own spin to the topic, your view – however “out there” that you may think it is. Test the waters with it and see what comes back.
Be outrageous, be bold
Some people say that Trump is outrageous, and many have said far worse. But something that is true is that he says what no one else is saying. I read an article some months back, before any of the campaigning truly started and anyone conceived that Trump would stick around. The article was about Trump’s super power, which is that he just doesn’t care. And I would say – to whatever degree you’re comfortable with – adopt this attitude.
Not everyone needs to like you and if you do a lot of media, I can almost guarantee that not everyone will. I’m not suggesting that you be bombastic, but being bold will get you noticed. One of our clients once did this outrageous thing: he got a vintage London cab, called it “The Kindness Cab”, and drove it all around the country doing good deeds. You may call it crazy – but the media called it gold. Media gobbled up this guy in his vintage London cab, driving around the country performing acts of kindness.
“Well I tried but they weren’t interested,” countless authors have told me.
Well, how do you know? Most media won’t tell you that your pitch sucks, they just won’t respond. And even if they like it, they may not respond. They may just file it away for later. So when I say “be relentless” do not confuse that with becoming a stalker. If you’ve pitched a media person, don’t spend the next few days following up every single day. But you should not give up though.
Be relentless in a way that is relentlessly committed to finding new ways to spin your topic. Find new ways to pitch, new pitch angles and even, new people to pitch.
Never say no
We worked with an author once who kept turning their nose up at media citing it wasn’t “big enough.” If ever I were to cite fatal campaign flaws, this would be it. Saying no to media is not just a bad PR move, but it’s bad in general. Always say yes, be ready and be helpful.
A few years ago, an author I spoke with said that one day she got a call from Howard Stern’s Producer. At first she thought: Oh, I couldn’t possibly do this! But then she realized what an opportunity it was, if she could pull off an interview with a guy she knew would be constantly distracting her by asking her if she was wearing underwear. So she got a media coach, spent a couple of hours just prepping for the show, and it was fantastic. She managed to neatly deflect his comments, and sometimes even respond, but still bring it back to her message. After Stern, a whole bunch of other doors opened for her.
Do press releases work?
Well yes and no – and sadly, mostly no. Unless you have something really significant to say, I wouldn’t issue a press release. In fact, if you ever find a PR firm that wants to issue a press release on the mere fact that you’ve written a book, run the other way.
There’s nothing more infuriating to a media person than interviewing someone who isn’t “ready.” If your book isn’t up on Amazon (especially if they are citing your book in the piece), and your website isn’t live or it’s live but not quite working, slow down. Be prepared, then move outwards from there.
Build relationships with the media
One thing about Donald Trump, he knows everyone in the media and everyone knows him. Even if you are not on the level of someone like a Trump, you can still get to know your media – and you should. Here are a few ways to do that:
- LinkedIn: Find them and connect with them on LinkedIn. If they post stuff there, comment on it.
- Twitter: Most journalists are on Twitter – same rules apply, connect with them, comment on their stories or interesting tweets they’ve sent out.
- Connect locally: Most cities have Press Clubs that you can join or, at the very least, attend a few events. If you don’t have a local Press Club, see what events (maybe MeetUps) might be good for you to participate in.
Be a connector
You may not always be the right person for the media, but you may know someone who is. Being a connector could be a fantastic way to stay on a media person’s radar screen and become a vital go-to for future stories. It may not get you into the media right away, but it is a great way to stay top-of-mind when your turn comes around.
Believe it or not, Trump is a connector – anyone in business who is successful needs to be a connector – so start now and start with the media. How do you segue into becoming a connector? Well, let’s say you get a media interview and you don’t have all of the answers, then why not suggest someone else you know? Offer to email introduce them. Yes, it may mean giving part of the interview away, but in the process of being a connector, you’re helping out a busy media person and positioning yourself as the go-to for this topic. If you can’t help them, you can help them find someone who can.
Everything is a yes
If a media person should ever email you back, saying “no thanks” be sure to thank them for their consideration and invite them to consider you the next time they have a story. Always assume that every no is actually a yes in disguise. And when you’ve done an interview, always, always, always send a thank you note. Not an email, we all get enough of that – send a hand-written thank you. Trust me when I say: it’ll go a long, long way.
You don’t have to be running for President of the United States to get your lion’s share of media, but you can take a lesson or two from the one candidate who owns pretty much every news cycle. Like him or hate him, there’s still a lot to be learned from the Trump media machine.