How Publicists, Authors, and the Media Can Optimize Their Working Relationships
by Maria Gould
David Cole welcomed program attendees and introduced the presenters. He acknowledged that this was the first joint meeting between NCBPMA and ASJA. A show of hands for ASJA attendees revealed the crowd to be approximately half-and-half.
The program presenters were Mark Silverman, Isabella Michon, and Steven Van Yoder.
Mark Silverman produces the top-rated Ronn Owens Program airing weekdays on KGO810 in San Francisco. Over the years he has produced every program on the station. In addition to his duties at KGO, Mark is the timeshare columnist for the Examiner, and a frequent guest on radio programs around the country.
Isabella Michon is a former TV and radio producer with more than 25 years of publicity and promotion experience. Isabella’s bookings include USA Today, NBC Nightly News, CBS This Morning, The Associated Press, NPR, CNN, The Tom Snyder Show, and the front page of The Wall Street Journal.
Steven Van Yoder is a freelance journalist and author of Get Slightly Famous: Become a Celebrity in Your Field and Attract More Business with Less Effort. Yoder’s work has appeared in more than 200 publications, including The Washington Post, Financial Executive, Costco Connection, Industry Week, and Brand Marketing.
Each presenter was given a few minutes to discuss their experiences working with authors and publicists.
Mark Silverman opened his presentation by quoting the question he is most frequently asked: “What’s the best way to pitch a program like mine?” He said the answer is that it doesn’t matter how the pitch is submitted, as long as it’s a good pitch. Offering advice to authors and publicists, Silverman stressed the importance of targeting the right show—he recommended becoming as familiar as possible with the unique nature of the show and the particular tastes of the show’s producers, in order to discover what would be a good fit. His show, for example, has specific preferences that publicists should be aware of, such as the types of guests that are typically featured. He admitted that he often doesn’t give publicists a lot of guidance or answers. But he sometimes reveals helpful information, such as the fact that he doesn’t usually do stories about romance or business.
Silverman mentioned people also ask him if they need a publicist. He said it is not always necessary, but he does prefer to work with publicists. The advantage to using publicists is that they know how to pitch books and build credibility and trust because they work with so many books (authors, on the other hand, have more limited experience). Publicists, he said, have a better chance at being heard. Silverman also encouraged publicists and non-publicists alike to take advantage of any personal contacts in order to increase the chance of being noticed. He said the mere act of contacting anyone at his station (even if he/she is assistant to the maintenance director), while it won’t guarantee getting on the show, will at least get more attention. Silverman concluded his presentation by reminding people to be familiar with his show. At the very least, he urged people to know the show’s timing. For instance, since his happens between 9 a.m. and noon, it is not a good idea to call him at 11 a.m., unless, he joked, you’re pitching Sarah Palin’s book. Silverman reminded everyone to use good judgment when making pitches in order to prove easy to work with.
In addition to being a publicist, Michon also worked as a TV producer. She opened her presentation with the statement that the most important thing about being a good publicist and getting a pitch heard is to make oneself helpful to potential contacts. For instance, she advised people to ask “is this a good time to talk?” when they begin a phone call, and she encouraged people to have a short pitch prepared—no longer than a thirty-second soundbite. She reminded everyone to state their names, phone numbers, pitch, and phone number again. All these details, she said, will increase your chances of getting a call-back.
Michon noted that due to increased layoffs in the current economic climate, people are doing extra work to compensate for staffing gaps, so publicists can help make people’s jobs easier. She emphasized the importance of knowing how much to push and how much to pull back—don’t be a pest, she cautioned, but do be determined. Be creative with a pitch, even if it seems at first like it’s not a good fit. Build mutual relationships—try to know as much as you can about the show, at least such basics as when the show airs. Do your work right, and you’ll be on the “green list.” If not, you’ll get on the “black list.”
Steven Van Yoder
Steven Van Yoder opened his presentation by explaining that he was in the unique position of having worn three different hats in the last ten years: freelance business journalist, publicist, and author. His book Get Slightly Famous is aimed at business-business enterprises and building platforms for careers. Stating that the focus of his talk would be on print media, Van Yoder shared insights from his different experiences.
Van Yoder explained that as a freelance journalist, he learned how to improve his career by becoming well-versed in specific subject matter. While consulting with and reviewing the dossiers of experts in different industries, he discovered that approximately 50% of the people he encountered were authors. He began leveraging this knowledge to develop long-term relationships with editors and get in the rolodexes of media professionals, fashioning himself a reliable source to turn to. He noted that by making himself visible as a publicist or author—a partner—in the newsmaking process, he helped editors do their jobs. This is especially important in economic downturns, as people are trying to do more with less.
As an author, Van Yoder has learned how to develop a platform for his work. His book didn’t become a worldwide brand by accident, he explained. He stressed the usefulness of online publicity in building a platform for an author, book, or career. The benefits of online publicity are that it is affordable, unlimited, permanent, and makes it easy to reach targeted audiences. He told the audience earlier that day, he Googled himself, and realized every hit was the direct or indirect result of work he did early on in his career to make sure his book became ubiquitous. For example, he created small (1,000 word) articles that could be easily syndicated to websites targeted at specific audiences. He called these “small sections of branded content:” easy to read, easy to act on, all with links to his website and biographical information. He submitted this content to hundreds of websites, and every month from then on, sent another article. The content was freely available as long as sites gave him credit. He believes that because he “seeded” the Internet with content that would stay live for so long, his book sales have held steady, his Amazon ranking has remained constant, and media opportunities have come to him because he’s “virtually findable.” This is increasingly important now, he explained, because it is more common for editors to use the Internet to research writers and their work.
QUESTION & ANSWER SESSION
Following the presentation, David Cole invited the audience to ask questions.
Can you talk about the role of blogging, in your own blogs and comments on others’ blogs, in promoting ongoing publicity?
Steven Van Yoder noted that blogs are useful because they make it so easy to build a platform and keep publishing new content. Moreover, search engines love blogs because they are frequently updated, something Google frequently looks for. Internal links give one’s blog a “vote of confidence.” He offered the audience the following caveats: keep to a focused theme, and keep it fresh. Isabella Michon mentioned that for authors, blogs are a way to “keep yourself out there.” Many writers who start blogs eventually get book deals because publishers discover them online. This doesn’t happen all the time, but there is a lot of potential. Mark Silverman said he believed that blogs are both helpful and not helpful. While he doesn’t constantly scour the blogosphere, he uses blogs when someone sends him a pitch because they give him something to research in order to get more information and context before deciding to move forward.
How do you make sure to embed your brand into content on other blogs so that it doesn’t get separated from your ownership over it? How do you ensure credit for your work?
Steven Van Yoder claimed that 95% of people will gladly attribute and honor another’s work, so he doesn’t spend too much time worrying about the matter. When he sends his work out, he always includes a photo, where applicable, as well as a brief description and links, in order to make acknowledgments and credits easier. Isabella Michon reminded publicists to add “thank you for making sure to mention ‘this is so-and-so’ ” whenever they send out materials. Mark Silverman added that on the positive side, being quoted or linked in some else’s material can increase credibility. He encouraged the group to use this to their advantage.
What is the fine line between submitting a pitch that is too long versus one that is so brief it doesn’t contain enough information?
Mark Silverman said that for him, the content of an email is not as important as the subject line, which is always the first thing he looks at. When someone sends him emails with his name in the subject line, he is more likely to read the email because it appears that the sender is giving him something of particular interest to him. Isabella Michon agreed with Silverman. She added that she doesn’t always see the value in expensive press kits. Instead, she recommends a minimalist approach, such as a concise one-page tip sheet. Silverman echoed Michon’s comments about press kits. He told the audience about one kit that caught his attention simply because its presentation was so striking: regardless of the content, the kit’s bulleted lists and specific information made a significant impression. On another note, Silverman reminded the audience how to make an effective phone pitch: please don’t say “I’m an author of a book that I think will be great on your program… Call me at…” without leaving any information about the book. Instead, he recommended, it’s best to mention who you are, how to be reached, and what is interesting about the book.
How do you hire a publicist? When should you hire a publicist? Is it better to have a publicist approach people instead of doing it yourself? How many people usually have publicists?
Isabella Michon said that the advantage to working with publicists is that they have helpful contacts and relationships—they are a known entity. However, since authors are often working with limited budgets, hiring a publicist is not always possible. She cautioned that if you decide to do your own publicity, make it as professional as possible. Mark Silverman agreed with Michon, noting that while being a self-published author is indeed a hurdle, it is certainly not a brick wall. He cited Barack Obama as an example of effective marketing: he managed to overcome the challenge of trying to get elected president with such an usual name. In the publishing world, authors can also package themselves professionally. One writer, he said, purchased a separate phone line at her house for her “publicist.” Steven Van Yoder agreed with Michon and Silverman about the importance of packaging and presentation in making the crucial first impression. He reminded authors that after spending so much time writing a book, it is a shame to undermine that effort by giving short shrift to the publicity.
Van Yoder recommended securing high-level help whenever possible, but preparing to do other work yourself. Michon suggested that for those with limited funds, it could be worthwhile to hire a publicist for three months and be up-front about the budget. Get help to put together your package and get started, she suggested, and then continue the momentum yourself. A publicist is no guarantee, but if you don’t hire someone you’ll never know what kind of potential your book could have. Van Yoder recommended setting up a website and online press room in order to make it easy for people to get information and evaluate your credibility: at a glance, anyone can see what the book is about, what people say about the book, and how to contact you.
Do you use syndicated sites for your mini-content, or do you pursue them yourself?
Steven Van Yoder explained that there are a few methods for syndicating content, such as software that can send blasts to article directories. However, this software is spam-oriented; there’s no guarantee you’d want to be on these particular sites’ directories. Since making a good virtual first impression is a priority, it is important to cultivate the types of sites where you want your information to appear. Therefore, he recommends doing it manually. Isabella Michon cautioned about these services, encouraging the audience to spend a little extra money in order to “get it right” and control who’s receiving the information. The “free” services, she said, often have hidden costs.
What inducements do you offer to bring people back to your website?
Steven Van Yoder reminded the audience to always be aware of your objective. His objective, for instance, is to encourage people to return to his site to sign up for mailing list. Therefore, he offers incentives for signing up. These incentives could include a sample first chapter, podcast, interview—anything that adds value to the book’s brand.
This concluded the January program.