Thursday, November 13, 2008

Two Publicists for the Price of One

Today's post is brought to you by Wendy Kays, author of Game Widow. Wendy recently appeared on the Dr. Phil Show to discuss video game addiction. For more information on Wendy or her book, visit

Your publicity campaign is about to start, and you’re feeling a sense of relief. Finally, you’ll be handing all the effort of promoting your book to someone else! Finally, you’ll be on Oprah! Hold on, there, my friend. Before you settle too deeply into your couch of self-content, consider this. What if you could have two publicists for the price of one?

You can maximize your investment in book promotion by being a valuable assistant to your publicist. You don’t need a degree in public relations or marketing to help move your campaign to a higher level. There are five basic things you can do to make the time your publicist spends on your campaign more productive and pleasant for you both.

1. First, gather local press contact information for your publicist. After all, you know your home media best. So make a list of all the newspapers, magazines, and television shows published and broadcast near you, especially ones that cover books or topics in your general category. Then, get online and start visiting the web pages of those media. Look under the “Contact Us” or “To Report Breaking News” links for a phone and/or fax number, or email address your publicist could use. Make note of every contact method you find. If there are editor or reporter names, make a note of both the name, title, and personal contact information of the people most likely to be interested in you or your book. Using a spreadsheet to keep this information neat and easily sorted is best, but what really matters is getting it all down so your publicist doesn’t have to spend hours looking all this up when he/she could be sending out pitches and talking with people who might be interested in your book. Send this list to your publicist, and you’ve just jump-started promotion on a new local author!

2. Next, if you haven’t already done this, create alliances with other people who speak on your topic. Start with the list of celebrity endorsers you approached to praise your book publicly. If your book compliments the work they are doing, you can make an agreement to not only link to each other’s websites, but also to quote, recommend, and mention each other to customers, colleagues, and the press. This doesn’t mean talking about their book or website instead of your own. What this means is using these people as further resources for people who have come to you and are still wanting more. This is how my book, Game Widow, started capturing attention only days after publication. I’m covering a wide and sometimes controversial subject that isn’t well understood, and by working together instead of alone, my allies and I can get more press for our cause: educating and empowering non-gamers in a video game world.

3. Third, create events for your publicist to promote. Book signings are good, but also consider getting online and looking for organizations that would be interested in hearing you speak. Find calls for presenters, and submit your paperwork for groups not based in your local area, and find a contact for local groups to query. Every time you get the chance to appear formally in public as an author, let your publicist know as soon as you do. Make sure you send the name of the event, an address, a contact name and phone number, and relevant details. These details would include whether or not your appearance is to a select audience or the general public, whether it’s a speech only, or if you’ll be taking questions, etc. Even if you’re going to be sitting in a booth at a large fair, let your publicist know in case that information can be parlayed into press space.

4. Fourth, try to do everything your publicist recommends. Create a website, blog, write articles in your area of expertise for newsletters, etc. Don’t think of publicist suggestions as nice ideas, make them priorities on your list of important things to get done right now. If you don’t know how to put up a website or blog, take a class, recruit a friend, or hire someone to help. This may seem like a waste of time and money. But covering all the angles brought me national media attention before my publicity campaign had officially started, and a booking with Dr. Phil three days after publication. Don’t assume this stuff can happen down the road. My website was up, my blogging kept it at the top of the search engine listings, and other experts I linked to also recommended and linked to me. Assume that your publicist knows better than you do, reject advice rarely, and then, only go your own was for solid business reasons. You may know more about your book topic, but even I, with a PR degree, listen to my publicist as the expert before I make any promotional decision.

5. Fifth and finally, put the onus for your success on yourself…not your publicist. As someone once said, when it comes to breakfast, the chicken was involved, but the pig was committed. You’re not just contributing a book to this effort and then walking away, job done. You. Are. The. Product. Be available for questions, get your assignments and e-interviews finished early so you can get to extra credit promo work, and if the media doesn’t flock to your book, think of what more YOU can do. The publicist did everything possible, but may need more to work with. Or simply a little patience as the slow wheels of the media turn toward your offering, hidden among hundreds and thousands of other options. After all, your publicist is not the only one calling Oprah, and books are never breaking news. And some forms of media plan three months or more in advance. Much of the work done now can’t pay off until long after the campaign ends.

No matter how you fare with the media during the life of your book, when you actively contribute to the media campaign process, you put yourself in a better position to keep up the promotion momentum when the campaign comes to an end. You may not be calling or pitching the media now, but you will someday. Helping your publicist in small ways not only builds incredible good will, it also protects you from feeling like an ignoramus three months from now when you learn firsthand how hard it is to push into the news & entertainment cycle…and how good at it your publicist really was. You’ll feel a lot better about yourself, then, if you work hard and treat your publicist with respect now.

--Wendy Kays

EDITOR'S NOTE: To watch a clip of Wendy on The Dr. Phil Show, click here.

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Monday, November 3, 2008

Pitch Now, Pitch Well and Think of the Big Picture

A challenge we PR professionals face regularly is how to pitch feature stories creatively and appropriately during those times when the news cycle seems to be unswervingly locked on one vital point – or two, as we are seeing right now; the economy, and the election.

There is no denying that the election and the economy are of vital importance. In our bullpen, we keep the television fixed on CNN, and swivel our collective necks around faster than Linda Blair did in "The Exorcist" when news breaks. Pitching in the face of the pending presidential election and stock market slippage has undoubtedly stalled some PR professionals, though we all know the current fixation on these topics will undoubtedly wane. And while it simply isn't feasible to wait until these news cycles start to fade to begin pitching, great care must be taken to ensure that attaching one's client to a news story of enormous impact won't result in a barrage of protest resulting in our worst nightmares: negative publicity, damaged media relations, and unhappy clients.

This PRblog entry on making rookie mistakes while pitching during Hurricane Andrew is a excellent cautionary tale. Kevin Dugan, PR professional, in a valiant attempt to serve his client, Iams, contacted the media to see if they were interested in covering Iams' generous donation of food to pets made homeless by Hurricane Andrew. The problem being, writes Dugan, "During disasters, media in the affected areas are busy getting basic relief news to folks while they themselves rebuild like everyone else. You can imagine how I felt after several media understandably read me the riot act and told me they didn't have time for a company to toot its horn, they were busy helping people." Ouch. Lesson learned. Or was it?

The much-respected Bad Pitch blog brought to its countless readers this train wreck of a pitch: a gun accessories manufacturer attempting to bring publicity to his product via the Jennifer Hudson tragedy.

Later in the Chicago Tribune (where the release originally saw the light of day), the PR exec responsible for the above pitch admitted he may have been aiming for a splashy response, and that with such a "controversial" product as a gun rack (his words, not this blogger's), readers needed to be "hit between the eyes." Not the most delicate comparison.

Now we can see that for some in our industry, bad pitching, or at least marrying a pitch to a current news event with no regard for taste, is a common technique. Although it may be tempting for some PR professionals, it's important to think about the way your pitch will be viewed by the media contact receiving it. If it doesn't pass that test, it is probably better left unpitched.