Friday, September 26, 2008

Toxic showers & media buzz words

They may not respond to every pitch, but take heart publicists, apparently The New York Times is paying attention to our press release headers. In a story that ran earlier this summer (hey, it's been a busy summer), titled NeedPress? Repeat: 'Green,' 'Sex,' 'Cancer,' 'Secret,' 'Fat', Joanne Kaufman explores the power of buzz words in press release headlines.

The backdrop of the article is a case study on the "toxic shower curtain" story. You remember that one, right?

To the horror of soccer moms around the country, various media outlets, including U.S. News & World Report, New York Daily News, and The Los Angeles Times, reported that the thin plastic sheet dangling from shower rods around the country was actually a curtain of death.

From Kaufman's story:

"There was a news conference, this release said, at New York University Medical Center. It was led by a doctor representing an obscure if official-sounding group that few people have heard of, the Center for Health, Environment and Justice. There were revelations about how shower curtains that are 'routinely sold at multiple retail outlets' and can 'release as many as 108 volatile chemicals into the

Thus, the Toxic Shower Curtain Story was born."

Kaufman's question--"How do stories of this ilk get such bounce from major news organizations?" She continues:

"Those who make their living composing news releases say there is an art to this easily dismissed craft. Strategic word selection can catapult an announcement about a study, a product or a "breakthrough" onto the evening news instead of to its usual destination — the spam folder or circular file.

"P.R. people want to invest time in things that are going to get picked up, so they try to put something to the 'who cares?' and 'so what?' test," said Kate Robins, a longtime public relations consultant. "If you say something is first, most, fastest, tallest — that's likely to get attention. If you can use words like 'money,' 'fat,' 'cancer' or 'sex,' you're likely to get some ink in the general
audience media."

I'm a big proponent of the 'so what' test, but publicists that are email pitching know that words like 'money' and 'sex' are more likely to land you in the spam filter than anything else.

So, what buzz words do work for publicists? Like everything else in PR, it depends on who you're targeting. It can be argued that, these days, "economy" should be next to each category below and indeed that's the topic that is dominating coverage from just about every angle right now. That said, buzz words are always relevant, even if issues like the economy/hurricane ike/presidential election temporarily dominate
the headlines. If anything, buzz words are what HELP authors stand out above all the "economy" chatter.

Here are some buzz words--besides the economy--that are turning heads:

National media: politics, green-living/eco-friendly, foreclosure, gas prices(ie: "at the pump"), Obama, McCain, Palin

Pop culture media: mommy bloggers, facebook, any current celebrity: Madonna, Miley Cyrus, etc.

Business media: entreprenuers, four-day work week, desk rage, foreclosure

Literary media: Twilight series, Stephanie Meyer, vampires

(Side note--we're eagerly looking for credentialed economists with
good books. If you have one, send me a note. We're also looking to work with Stephanie Meyer.)

On the flipside, what doesn't work?

Kaufman correctly points out that the best publicists are often former journalists because they know what "grates on the Fourth Estate." She mentions that Tom Gable, who runs a PR firm in San Diego and was once the business editor of The San Diego Union Tribune, "has compiled a list of words that will do a news release no good whatsoever, like "solutions," "leading edge," "cutting edge," "state of the art," "mission critical," and "turnkey."

So, let's review what we've learned:

The worst headline imaginable would read something like this: "Cutting edge company offers state of the art turnkey solutions for mission critical tasks" According to the article, this is something Mr. Gable would say is "empty, unsubstantiated and had no news value."

The best headline? "World's fastest, tallest cancer survivor is the first to trash toxic shower curtain en route to slimmer waistline." I'm off to pitch that one before the weekend.

Publicists: We'd love to hear what buzz words you're noticing lately. Chime in with comments, and add to our list!

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Friday, September 19, 2008

Prepping Authors for Talk Shows: Part 3 - Networking

Hi everyone! Welcome to Part 3 of a week-long series we're doing this week on prepping authors for nationally syndicated talk shows. Today we're talking about networking - and specifically, networking with the people who put together those talk shows.

As most of you know, our author Wendy Kays taped a segment this week on Dr. Phil in relation to her new book, Game Widow. Now after the first initial phone call a publicity firm receives about a talk show opportunity, many things can go wrong: the show can get canceled, the author can flub up a pre-interview, the producers can change their mind, etc. This is why its key for authors to exhibit some networking moxie after that first phone call comes in. Because while a publicist can handle the booking and soundbyte prep, it's really up to the author to make those relationships with a national talk show team awesome.

Here, I want to cover three networking tips - or rather, commandments - for authors when dealing with national talk shows. Why "commandments?" Because out of all the posts in this series, this one deals with how you treat people. And that, friends, is always the most crucial skill (professional or otherwise), non? So with that - let's talk about the pre-interview, the talk show worker crew, and why you should always carry a copy of your book.

1. How to do a pre-interview...The right way

We've blogged before about the art of the pre-interview, and the basic skills hold true: Know your material, practice, have an idea of what angle the show wants you to take, etc. All very key. In addition to those principles, I'd like to add on a few more thoughts:

-Ask them some questions. Just like a first date - no one likes a potential suitor who only talks about themselves. You absolutely want to answer the producer's questions of course, in a way that fully demonstrates your expertise, but turn it into a dialog, too. During their first phone call, Wendy Kays and one of Dr. Phil's producers spoke for two hours! A large chunk of that was talking shop for the show, but in the process, the two bonded and really got to know each other. The result? Wendy was not only much more relaxed about the show, but had a buddy there waiting for her to calm her nerves.

-Make yourself readily available. Example: "Producer, if you need me for anything while putting together this segment, feel free to call my cell." For harried producers who are juggling a million things at once, those words position you as a team-player and a resource.

-Be prompt. If a producer asks you to fax something, hang up the phone and go do it right then. Ditto for emailing information. This one should be obvious and most of you probably don't need to be told, but that kind of professional consideration distinguishes you as a guest who can be relied upon.

2. There are no "little people"

When it comes to national talk shows, authors sometimes think that the only person they need to impress is the host. "Oprah would love me if she just knew me!" I don't blame you authors for this line of thinking at all - after all, from our TV sets, we never get to see the people in the background who actually create these shows.

However, Oprah, Ellen, The View ladies (or in this case, Dr. Phil) are not the ones who will ultimately be shaping your segment. The hard-working camera crew, on the other hand, will be. One of the first things Wendy talked about after her Dr. Phil experience was the great time she had with the producers, the camera guys, etc. I can't stress enough how important it is to exhibit this kind of grace with everyone on the show's crew, from dolly grip to segment editor. (Not only because this is good karma and a basic principle of social decency anyway, but because these people have the power to make you look more or less insane based on the way your words are spliced).

3. Bring copies of your book!

You never know who you could run into - and it helps get the word-of-mouth buzz going. Here's a sweet dispatch from Wendy during her LA trip for the segment shoot:

"I pulled my stuff together and was down in the lobby a half hour before I was told I'd be picked up by the car to go to the studio. Enough time to meet up again with the driver I'd had the day before who drove me from the airport to the hotel (and to whom I gave a copy of my book). He was there to pick up a different guest, but ran over to say hi and tell me he'd had trouble putting my book down when he started reading it the night before because it was so good. Yay!"

And what do you bet that driver told someone else about Game Widow? That bit of kindness Wendy showed, handing out a copy of her book for free, turned a previously casual acquaintance into an overnight fan.

I'm sure there are many more networking tips we could add in as well, and authors and publicists, feel free to chime in with others if you have experience in the national talk show arena (or even if you don't).

Check back in during the first week of October, when we'll have live-blogging during commercial breaks of Wendy's Dr. Phil appearance to talk about segment follow-up.

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Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Prepping Authors for Talk Shows: Part 2 - Soundbyte Prep

Welcome to Part 2 of a week-long series we're doing this week on prepping authors for nationally syndicated talk shows. This series was inspired by Wendy Kays, author of Game Widow, who is taping a segment this week with The Dr. Phil Show.

Today we're talking about soundbyte development for national talk shows: Why they're important for authors, when to start developing them, and how to choose what the author is going to say.

Soundbytes: Why can't I just go off-the-cuff?

When we bring authors down to our Austin offices for media training, most are grateful to have some professional assistance developing soundbytes: Short, sometimes quippy phrases that get across a book's message quickly. For example: When asked about her interior design philosophy, our author Debbie Wiener of Slob Proof! Real-Life Design Solutions likes to say, "Real-life design isn't art - it's smart!" That's a soundbyte.

However, some authors (understandably) resist the soundbyte a little, not wanting to sound canned or cliche. I totally get that - as a publicist, I don't want any of my authors to sound like broken records either. But here is why soundbytes are absolutely crucial for national talk shows:

Your words will be edited.

Talk shows have a lot of ground to cover, usually with multiple guests. They also have many advertisers who paid in advance for airtime. This is why it's key to have several neat chunks of facts and messaging points in your pocket: You won't have all the time in the world to explain your meaning. Believe it or not, you actually exert more control over your message if you give the segment editor what they want - short phrases - and if your message is particularly intriguing, it may also appear in promo spots for the segment.

This isn't to say that you have to be a robot who speaks only in 5-to-10 word statements, mind you. But having several go-to phrases at the ready never hurts - in fact, it usually guarantees you'll be understood more easily by the viewing audience.

So, when do I start working on these "soundbytes?"

The sooner the better! Let me illustrate with a story.

The week after we booked Wendy on Dr. Phil, she flew into Austin for media training. That morning, we asked her the questions we always ask our authors to help them start developing soundbytes: Can you tell us about your book? Why did you decide to write this book? Who do you think will enjoy this book? Etc. She was doing an excellent job, busily scribbling down notes every time we said, "THAT'S a good soundbyte!" (Such as: "Game Widow is designed to bridge the gap between those who game and those who don't.")

About an hour after lunch, guess who called? Dr. Phil's producer. She was already booked on the program, he just needed a little more information about her could she tell him about it? Fortunately, she had just prepared some soundbytes!

So as you can see, those powerful little phrases that help busy people quickly understand your book don't just come in handy on-camera - but off, too. Moral of the story? It's never too early to start developing soundbytes - you never know who could be calling.

Wait - my book is huge! How do I pick and choose what to say in my soundbytes?

First - you want to assume that anyone asking you about your book knows little to nothing about it. Why? Because the grand majority of people watching national talk shows are being introduced to you and your book for the first time. Second - you want to, again, make the segment editor's life easier. And what that person needs is a few clips of you describing your book succinctly. So here are some ways to mentally get the soundbytes rolling:

-Always be prepared to answer the question, "Tell us about your book." Your response should be 2 brief sentences, max. If the host wants you to explain further, he/she will ask.

-Know how to credential yourself. "I researched game addiction for four years, interviewing mental health professionals, game widows, gamers - even sneaking into a few professional gaming conferences!" is perfection.

-Even if you think it's obvious, identify clearly who will benefit from your book. Parents? Kids? Males? Females? Those with a specific problem or condition? With a national talk show, you want to reach out to viewers at home with your book and expertise, but avoid using blanket statements like, "anyone will enjoy this book!" That may be the case, but you're much likely to make an impression in a viewer's mind if you name his or her demographic specifically.

This is the process we've used here at Phenix & Phenix to help our authors prepare soundbytes for national television spots. Hopefully they assist many of you out there, too! Wendy tapes her in-studio segment with Dr. Phil today, so when it airs during October, we'll get to see how she did (fabulously, I have no doubt).

Tomorrow's post: National talk shows and networking. How to make friends with the people who will be shaping your segment!

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Monday, September 15, 2008

Prepping Authors for Talk Shows: Part 1 - Booking

This is the first of a series I'll be doing this week on prepping authors for nationally syndicated talk shows. One of our authors, Wendy Kays, author of Game Widow will be taping a segment this week on the Dr. Phil Show, and I thought I'd walk everyone through the process of booking, soundbyte prep, networking, and segment follow-up.

Booking a national talk show

Since so many authors rightly dream of being on shows like Oprah and Dr. Phil, the latter reaching 6.4 million viewers daily, it's important to clarify how these bookings come about. Many authors assume these shows are pitched just like other national TV spots, with their publicist calling or emailing the producer with a segment idea. In most cases, this actually couldn't be further from the truth. Since anyone can email or phone in a story idea to these programs if they have a producers' contact info, these producers are getting bombarded with completely original, wholly inspired, absolutely exclusive pitches every day - so pitching alone, you see, is not what seals the deal. A helpful step yes, but authors, don't get mad at your publicist if their pitches to Oprah go unanswered - this is the most difficult booking to get, period. Even for celebrities. Even for politicians.

Ok, so how do authors get on those shows? Here are some tips that worked for Wendy Kays.

1. Have a hot topic.
Wendy Kays wrote a book on video game addiction - a huge story right now, especially since games like Second Life, World of Warcraft, and soon Spore are slowly seducing whole legions of gamers out there. Moreover, the title of her book in itself is not only punny and clever, but comes up frequently on Google searches when other game widows are looking for a resource. Never underestimate the power of the buzzword.

2. Start small and work up.

If you follow talk shows like Oprah and Dr. Phil, you'll probably notice that these shows don't often break news stories, but follow popular trends. This is why it is vital for new authors to get a platform established by allowing their publicist to start small (i.e., local) and work their author's name and book up through the media outlet ranks. Our own publicity efforts for Game Widow had just gotten underway when this opportunity arose, and one of those publicity events was with a small college newspaper who wanted to interview Wendy - which she promptly and enthusiastically responded to.

3. Have your website up and running well before the pub date.
Wendy's website was a crucial part of securing this booking. After hearing about the book, a producer from Dr. Phil found Wendy's site, which directed her to Wendy's publicist. She then called our office to invite Wendy to the show.

4. Make your website as informative and credible as possible.

There are two things that Wendy did especially right on her website.

First, she had links to her press materials, which help producers find out more about a prospective guest. These press materials also provided her publicist's contact info, making it easy for the producer to track us down.

Secondly, Wendy had done plenty of work on the front end to secure key endorsements for her book, and listed them on her website. This boosted her credibility, and also connects her to a wider network of experts on this topic whose names will now come up on Google searches for video game addiction. (Remember - TV producers are just like us, putting on their pants one leg at a time, and using Google). So while your publisher or publicist may help you with the endorsement process, it's always a good idea to start contacting prominent authors or experts with a similar field / book genre early on, ideally 3-6 months before your book pubs.

5. Clarify the nature of the interview.
If you're a book publicist, it's important to know just what role your author will be playing in the segment when a talk show producer comes calling. As you can well imagine, getting counseled on Dr. Phil for poor decision-making is not exactly the same thing as offering an expert opinion. Fortunately, Wendy's expert thoughts were just what Dr. Phil's producer wanted, so we were able to quickly establish everything Wendy needed to know to prep for the segment.

Hopefully this clarifies some of the mystery behind those elusive talk show bookings. It's a lot more back-to-basics than you'd think, no?

Stop by tomorrow for the next in our Prepping Author for Talk Shows series: Soundbyte prep.

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Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Media Do's and Don'ts for Authors

Launching a publicity campaign can be an overwhelming process, and it takes time for new authors to learn the ropes. When it comes to dealing with the media, many first-time authors have a laundry-list of etiquette questions: Should I send a thank you note to a host or journalist after an interview? Can I call a reporter to let them know I enjoyed their story about me? How often should I mention my book during an interview? We’ve put together a list of five general do’s and don’ts for authors who are dealing with the media for the first time:

Do: Send a thank you note to a media contact after an interview

Feel free to send a nice card via snail mail or a short email to a publicly available email address letting a journalist or host know you appreciated their time and that you enjoyed the interview. Not only is this a friendly gesture, but it could establish a long-term relationship with that particular media contact. If you leave them with a favorable impression, they might even think of you the next time they need an expert source or a quality guest for their show.

Don’t: Repeatedly call or email media contacts following an interview

It’s one thing to establish a professional relationship with a friendly follow-up note to a media contact, and quite another to pester them with incessant emails or phone calls. Respect the media’s schedule and their privacy, or you could end up burning more bridges than you build.

Do: Refer back to your book during an interview

It’s important to specifically reference your book’s title during an interview—especially if it’s a broadcast interview, or if the interview topic isn’t about the book itself. You may be on a talk show to discuss a breaking news item relating to your book’s topic or your credentials, so it’s up to you to incorporate your book into the discussion when possible.

Don’t: Shamelessly plug your book during a broadcast interview

While it’s a good thing to mention your book in an interview, only do this when applicable. In other words, it’s okay to refer back to your book when it actually adds something to the subject at hand. However, if you continually mention your book from out of left field, it will come off as blatant self-promotion.

Do: Treat the media with professional consideration

If you have an interview scheduled with a writer or radio show, it’s important to call on time, but also to be flexible if that time changes. Breaking news often dictates the media’s schedule, so you may have to adjust accordingly. Also, if you’re calling for a phone-in radio interview, set aside a quiet space from a landline—no cell phone interviews in rush hour traffic!

Don’t: Respond to negative reviews

Of all the missteps an author can make when interacting with the media, responding to negative reviews is perhaps the most glaring. Online book reviews are often a large part of a new author’s media campaign and, while they are a great tool for building buzz around new titles, they can also be a dangerous forum if you take a negative review personally and respond accordingly. Whether by posting a comment on a blog or writing directly to a book reviewer’s email address, airing your grievances about a negative review only makes you appear unprofessional and burns bridges with other book reviewers who might otherwise feature your book.

Follow these few rules of thumb, and you’re on your way to successful media relationships.

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Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Quick hits: Vampire manuscript hijacked, Sarah Palin and paying for praise

Stephenie Meyer putting Twilight follow up on hold after web leak

Some of us love Stephenie Meyer's Twilight series. Others (apparently only me) have really missed out on the literary phenomenon (hey, let me get through the stack of books on my bedside table and then I'll jump on the Twilight fanwagon). Apparently, Meyer's rabid fans couldn't wait to read the final installment in the series, as someone illegally distributed the unfinished manuscript online. Consequently, Meyer is putting the book on hold to protest this act of piracy. On her website, Meyer states, "The manuscript that was illegally distributed on the Internet was given to trusted individuals for a good purpose. I have no comment beyond that, as I believe that there was no malicious intent with the initial distribution." Now, fans of the series will have to wait an undisclosed amount of time to read the final installment. Way to ruin it for everyone, manuscript hijackers. (Although, now I might have some time to find out what all the buzz is about.)

Getting to know Sarah Palin

When presumptive Republican presidential candidate John McCain chose Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as his running mate last week, many people outside the state of Alaska were somewhat unfamiliar with the politician. So, when you're unfamiliar with a candidate, what better way to learn more about them than by reading their biography!? Kayelene Johnson's April 2008 biography, Sarah: How a Hockey Mom Turned Alaska's Political Establishment on it's Ear, has taken off since Friday when McCain chose Palin as his vice presidential nominee. The book is currently at number 22 on Amazon's list of best sellers.

Monday's edition of GalleyCat has a great look at how Epicenter Press is handling the demand. No doubt publishers large and small are rushing to throw together their own biographies and political studies on Palin while the timing is still good.

Interesting side note: In 2000 we promoted a Continuum book titled Cardinal Ratzinger: The Vatican's Enforcer of the Faith, by John L. Allen Jr. Unfortunately for us, he was not named Pope during the launch. I'm sure Johnson's publicist (surely she has hired one) is having a field day with this book.

The tricky world of literary endorsements

A couple of weeks ago the New York Times Sunday Book Review featured this excellent essay by Rachel Donadio on the delicate and at times dramatic world of book endorsements. The essay was in response to a new company, Blurbings, LLC, that's offering endorsements for purchase. The service is geared toward self-published authors and has garnered both positive and negative attention. Apparently, Blurbings offers several different packages of book blurbs that authors can use. You don't necessarily pay directly for the blurbs (like ordering something from a catalog,) you write a blurb for a book you like and then allow the author to put your blurb on their book cover. The idea is that if your name is attached to the endorsement, it will motivate the reader to check out your work because your blurb was so great.

From a PR standpoint, endorsements can certainly lend a great deal to a publicist's ability to go out and garner quality media. However, when people know that the blurbs were paid for, it gets a little dicey (think Kirkus Discoveries). As an author, your biggest goal should be establishing your credibility. If you're looking for endorsements for the cover of your book, reach out to the credentialed people in your own network. Send them a copy directly with a personal note. It shows you value their opinion and their seal of approval on your work. Don't ever pay someone to write reviews for your book.

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