Thursday, February 28, 2008

Inside Scoop: How to Stay Off the Media Blacklist

Below is the first in a weekly series of tips from Meg McAllister and Darcie Rowan of McAllister Rowan Communications Group, who collectively have 50 years of experience in the publicity business. Darcie will be a guest speaker at my Book Promotion 101 workshop in New York on March 8. She's also been on one of my publicity panels at the Virginia Festival of the Book.

Rule #1: Try not to piss off the media!*

It’s sad but true, the media can—and will—blacklist a publicist, author or expert if they break some cardinal rules. Maybe there isn’t a “Wanted” poster with your picture on it displayed in someone’s office, but some media people will actually flag your email address, pass along your amateur voice mail messages, or ridicule your email misspellings on their personal blogs.

For example, days after the 9/11 tragedy, a national newspaper decided it had had enough with scheming publicists and experts desperately trying to gain ink from a tragic situation. So it published a list of those ethically challenged people, who were from some of the biggest public relations firms.

Here are some tips on the right way to offer yourself as an expert or a source.

Know who you're pitching to.
Never contact a newspaper, TV, website or radio outlet without first having familiarized yourself with it.

Always read newspapers/columnists online, listen to radio shows (many are also online), and watch national TV shows to get a feel for what they’re covering. Mentioning a particular column, article, or segment—especially if it ties into your pitch—is a great ice breaker and is also important for establishing media credibility. Show you know what you’re talking about by targeting your pitch to select media. When pitching to TV producers, help them to build a show segment, don’t just pitch them a talking head.

Don’t be a stalker.
Leaving constant messages, sending daily emails, or contacting media at inappropriate times will win you no friends. Leaving a message once or twice, or doing a voice mail/email combo on a particular pitch is enough. One national morning show producer commented about the hit list of authors/publicists that she keeps on her desk. These clueless people called WAY too much, which bothered her so much that she would never return their calls or book anything with them!

Learn to take no for an answer.
Tenacity is admirable, and as an author/publicist it is your job to be persuasive, but there’s a fine line between persuasion and argumentativeness. You want the media to see your point of view, but you also need to respect theirs. If a media contact says no, it's okay to ask why (politely), as a tool for learning more about that media. Then move on.

Don’t send emails with attachments.
If you have extra materials that you want the person to see, offer a link, whether to a document, video or picture. Attachments clog servers, and clogged servers make it more difficult to get work done. Making their work harder will make media recipients hate you. (Some companies' servers reject all email with attachments.)

ALWAYS be honest and upfront.
Don’t promise something you can’t deliver, and never present unverified information as fact. It will get you blackballed.

*Note that there is no Rule #2. Remember the saying, "Never pick a fight with someone who buys ink by the barrel."

1 comment:

Mr. Obie Joe said...

I've been on both sides of the equation, and my pet peeve as a journalist were the flacks and their authors who did not return phone calls. Or at least in a timely matter. Those who don't call don't get jack coverage.

As a publicist, the first point in my tutorial to authors is: "When a reporter or reviewer calls, consider it an absolute emergency, and call them back immediately!"

I had one author who had a voicemail from a Today Show producer, and waited 6 days to call back the producer. I guess you all can guess the result.