11 Steps to Become a Media Superstar
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Here's some of the science to the art of getting attention from the press.

One of the best ways to promote your business or yourself is building successful relationships with the media. Knowing things like how to write effectively or the strength of particular media strategies is important.

But those issues are tactical compared to some fundamentals. People who want attention from the media need to understand that you don't get it just because you ask. Journalists have a checklist of things they need from sources. Cover them thoroughly and chances are that over time you'll get time in the spotlight. Miss them, and you'll be sitting at the phone for a long time without it ringing.

1. Understand how journalists work

This is the most important. You sell your products to customers because you understand what they want. Sell yourself to journalists the same way--that is, understand them. I don't mean memorize the list of what reporters say they want, but understand why they want them. There are concerns about personal careers, the need to interest audiences, time pressures, distrust of all things PR, competitive considerations, and egos. Then understand the specifics of particular journalists, such as what they cover, how they take pitches, and the types of stories they write. Also, make sure that any PR agency you hire has people working who have actually been in the media and not just majored in communications. There seem to be relative few at agencies who really grasp how a news organization works. If you see them using lots of breathless introductions and exclamation points, find someone else or pay less and bring on an intern from high school, as that's how it comes across.

2. Be available and responsive

If you want to be a media star, you need to be available to the media. I've often seen people offer to be sources, either directly or through a PR agency, and then fail to respond or otherwise make it difficult to have a conversation. Responding after a deadline has passed is silly, as the ship has already sailed. If you suddenly can't help, then let the reporter know immediately. I've written off companies and entire agencies that left me stuck at the last minute with no reasonable explanation.

3. Have a story

I've often had people say they could comment on a given topic without a sign indication of what might make them qualified or interesting. Present your background and expertise and offer some insights that aren't the same as what everyone else says. Stand out as an individual, otherwise you're just part of the crowd and no one will pay attention to you. Also, keep focused. Offering to provide your sage insight into every topic you can remotely connect to yourself is a quick path to the junk filter.

4. Bring some controversy

Too many people want to avoid controversy because they think more people will like them. Actually, the opposite is true. I'm not suggesting you go punch your local mayor in the nose or make inflammatory statements just to get attention. In a major city, a reporter could hear a steady stream of something like that. Be yourself and offer honest opinions that aren't the mass produced variety.

5. Don't make it about you

The single biggest mistake I've seen would-be stars make many years is to concentrate on what they want from the media. If your focus is self-promotion, buy a billboard. If you want attention from reporters, then remember they have their own needs. You hired someone you think is wonderful as Chief Recycling Officer? Unless it was someone with major name recognition for his or her specific audience, the reporter won't care. You've got a way that readers can make significant money from recycling? Now you'll get some interest.

6. Offer help without strings

If you want to be anyone's go-to for some topic, you need to build a relationship. That means doing things that don't directly benefit you, as is true in any real connection. Drop an idea, point out an interesting article, or, after you get to know someone a bit, ask about the kids. Be human, only not so often that it seems like stalking.

7. Drop the spin

Too many people try to manipulate themselves into coverage. I remember one company that claimed to be in the Fortune 500. It was in one of my areas of special attention and I had never heard of it, so of course I checked the official list. When I challenged them, they said they were a Fortune 500-like company. Please, it's too easy these days to check what someone says, and you never know when you'll run across a reporter who checks claims. Offer something of substance.

8. Be natural

Be authentic in how you present yourself. Many people try hard to create a press persona, and any seasoned reporter will eventually smell the aroma of fakery. It's like talking to a salesperson wearing a forced smile: The experience is off-putting.

9. Keep it short

Time is precious and work is insistent. If you need to send a pitch, make it a single paragraph. You can always send over something more if requested, but people who take half a page to actually make their point will never get the chance.

10. Have materials ready

Speaking of sending more material, have it at hand. You need real press releases (think writing a news story that would interest the reporter's audience), background on you and your company, possibly white papers, definitely photos or b-roll video if a reasonable expectation.

11. Get media training

If you don't know what b-roll is, learn now. Get some formal media training. Television, radio, print, and online are all different beasts with varying needs. Television needs focused short statements and images. Commercial radio news and public radio can be significantly different beyond the microphone. Offering "sound bites" to a writer for print or online can be silly, because they have naturally longer forms. Learn how to make a point and intelligently answer a question.

Luckily for you, there are so many people who are terrible at working with the media that standing out is relatively easy. Put in the work and time, develop your relationships, and you'll be amazed at how much attention you can get.

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