When it comes to book publicity, top tier is the holy grail and you must be prepared.
In life we have accepted rules around etiquette and graciousness. For example, when you set a date and time to get together with another person, you are expected to be there and on time. Unless you’ve renegotiated that meeting date and/or time, you will be there. Texting 5 minutes beforehand to say you can’t make it does not let you off the hook, however, no matter what anyone else says. (Unless, of course, blood is involved, but that’s another blog post.)
When you say you’ll complete a project by a certain date, you meet the deadline. Even better if you wrap it up early because that is noticeable. Not many actually finish projects prior to the deadline, so when you do you stand out. However, if something comes up and you have to renegotiate the timeline, then you do so–before the actual deadline–and certainly before you’re actually late!
These are common and accepted norms in our culture.
However, when working with top-tier media, expectations have to be set a little differently. Yes, they by and large want to meet deadlines too, after all, the 5 o’clock news doesn’t start at 5:02, but you’re in a world that operates with different rules.
But before I get into that, let me explain what top-tier, earned media is.
What is top tier media?
These are the media outlets that have a huge audience and a big influence. Many are the legacy media that have survived, thrived, and are as healthy as ever even in the digital age, e.g., NPR, Ellen, Today Show, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, New York Times. You get the idea. Top tier applies to digital outlets as well. Just think of the big name brand media outlets and you’re pretty much on target.
What is earned media?
Now that just about everyone who has a blog, podcast, contributes to online magazines, or has a youtube channel calls themselves media, language distinctions are important. If you publish your own content, you too are part of the media. It’s you speaking to many. The beauty of your own media (or “You Media,” as I like to call it), is you get to say what gets exposure. For example, if you create a video or do a podcast and realize it really isn’t your best work, then the delete button can be your best friend. It never has to see the light of day.
With earned media someone else is involved. You will likely have to jump through some hoops to get it and if you do an interview that you aren’t happy with. Too bad. It’s out of your control and it either airs live, or if it was recorded, it’s still scheduled to air or publish. That is earned media.
With that in mind, back to expectations when working with top tier media.
The interview will happen on such and such a date and time.
There was an 6.9 earthquake in Los Angeles just now.
If big news breaks, you’re done.
What to do?
Be gracious. Yes you may be disappointed, but this is not the time to show it. This is the time to show how media savvy you really are and that you understand that they have a job to do.
Give your thanks and prepare to leave quickly. Mention to the producer that you’ll follow up at a better time to see about rescheduling. Wish them the best covering the story and leave.
. . .
The Wall Street Journal (or similar top tier publication) contacts you saying they are interested in interviewing you for a story. You have some meetings this afternoon, so you’ll respond to the journalist later.
This may be okay in some situations, but I’ve worked with their writers on a number of different stories, and I know time is of the essence. Once when I pitched them a story they said that a similar topic had been covered recently but they’d be interested in revisiting it down the road. So once a month or so I checked in to see. About six months later I got a call saying she wanted to speak with my client within the next five minutes or she was going to move on to the next person. Not much time!
What to do?
Make yourself available to respond immediately to breaking news in your area of expertise. Be reachable or have a publicist who knows the game. Nowadays there is very little reason not to be reachable given all the different means of communication we have at our fingertips. If you’re pitching top tier, they may contact you at any time. It’s easy to forget this when you’ve been waiting for your break for awhile. Be ready. You never know when your big break will come.
. . .
You will have everything you need and all the details lined up for each interview you do.
Not everyone is as organized as you are. And if you’re not very organized, now is the time to get better at it — or have someone doing it for you.
What to do?
Setting up interviews requires a lot of details. When you need six pieces of information that you ask for in an email and the producer only answers one of your questions, it can be frustrating. Learn to be okay with it and continue hunting down the details as much as you can.
. . .
They interviewed me and I’m excited to see the final story.
This is a tough one. Sometimes you may be interviewed for a story and you end up not being included in the final piece. I had a very painful experience with a very large publication (I don’t want to say which one, but it has three words in the title). My client and I provided the idea. The journalist interviewed her, and then the interviewee reached into her extensive network and found several other experts for the writer to interview in order to round out the story. This took a significant amount of time when you consider how busy people’s schedules are. She coordinated all the necessary details, made the introductions and then when the story finally did publish, every interview was included, except the author who did all the work. She was completely left out of the story.
Yowza. That was a bitter pill to swallow.
What to do?
I went back to the writer to discuss this but there wasn’t much to be done at that point. It was over. Truth be told, I can’t say she was even phased by it. To her, she was working on a story, and whatever it took to complete that piece was what was needed to be done.
Could I have gotten mad? I was, actually. I was really ticked off, but I could hardly direct that at the journalist. I expressed disappointment, of course, but it was one of those things that occasionally happens and you just chalk it up to bad luck. My client was absolutely heart broken. That was the hardest part for me.
I do have to say whenever I deal with this particular journalist, I am on high alert. And to be really honest, I don’t see myself going out of my way to help her in a major, time-consuming way again.
As an aside:
In an upcoming blog post, I will give you a list of tips to decrease the chance of something like this happening to you.
Understanding the Rules
Are these examples of proper etiquette between individuals in our culture? No. Not by a long shot. And I’m not sharing these stories to complain about what jerks some journalists are: most of them are very nice and quite professional. No, I’m sharing because I want you to know what you’re walking into. It’s important to understand working with media is a bit of a time warp and he rules are different. Some things happen that are out of everyone’s control (earthquakes fall into this camp) and some things happen because the media person has control and makes an unexpected decision (this falls into the “not fair” camp.).
Do things like this happen every day?
Yes. I have a million stories I could share.
But I also have ten times as many great and successful stories I could share and that’s the good news. Plus, media can be a great ally when you want to share your expertise in a given area.
Getting coverage for your book with top tier earned media not only helps you in the moment, but the logos look fantastic on your website as well as the links to the stories. For this kind of coverage, it helps if you know the proper etiquette. And now you do!
To your success!
P.S. I’m very proud of the success stories we’ve had at McCall Media Group. You can see some of them here.