Working with Your Publicist: Targeting Media

I’ve always been interested in the media. Okay, maybe not always, but I think it’s telling that one of my earliest memories is of playing in the living room while someone was watching the evening news, and a news story about the Shah of Iran came on, and I wondered what was so special about that “shawl.” (Kids!) I grew up in a household that subscribed to three newspapers (morning, evening, and one that covered just our small town). On a Friday night, as a teen there was a good chance I watched Nightline as well as Friday Night Videos. So, I guess it’s only natural that I became a publicist (or I could have gone in to journalism). Of course, not everyone analyzes the media like a publicist does. Probably every publicist spends some time explaining to clients (why a certain media outlet or journalist isn’t right for their product/service/book, or why s/he is pursuing another. (My background is in publishing, so I’ll talk in terms of authors.)

Authors are experts in their subject area, and publicists knows what the media wants/needs and how to evaluate their need, so I’ve always viewed the relationship as a partnership. Authors should share which media they think would cover their book, as well as their dream coverage. However, your publicist may have different ideas. I’ve worked on a lot of business books, and occasionally an author of a how-to business book will be surprised I’m not sending his/her book to book review sections at daily newspapers. When I explain that daily newspapers don’t cover those types of books, it clicks.

Oprah probably holds the top spot in dream media (and with good reason). But one should realize that Oprah is a really hard booking, so if that’s the only way you define success, you’re likely to be disappointed. Also, even though friends and family may say your book is “perfect for Oprah,” it might not be quite the fit they think. Here’s an Are You Oprah Worthy? quiz I found a few years ago.

So my advice to authors is to send your publicist a list of specific columnists/reporters/bloggers you’ve noticed cover your subject regularly or recently (your publicist likely already knows them or has them in mind, but no publicist can be all knowing). Share your “hope fors” but also listen to your publicist’s feedback. Understand that a publicist’s success rests on their relationships with the media, and off-target pitches undermine that relationship (which can lead to e-mail addresses being added to spam blockers, avoiding phone calls, unreturned or unlistened to voicemails, or packages that are never opened or given the least priority).

Your publicist wants your ideas. Authors often have really great ideas, can remind a publicist about an overlooked segment of the media, may be familiar with niche media that isn’t on the publicist’s radar, or spur other ideas from the publicist.

If you’ve hired an outside publicist, even if your book isn’t a perfect fit for your dream media, focusing on your background or professional experience might do the trick. But think about your ROI. If the angle is too far removed from the focus of your book, it might not be included. Even if it is, will the mention drive sales in the context of the article/show/blog post? If the answer is no, think about if it’s worth your publicist’s time (and your money) to pursue this when your publicist could be working on other media that’s more directly aligned to your book’s message. It might be worth it to you if it could help bolster your career or business.

Now, for a bit of fun. Thinking about all the newspapers we had delivered when I was a kid got me thinking about the paperboys (and girls) that collected the subscription. Anyone else remember the movie Better Off Dead?

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