How To Build A Personal Brand, Day Three: Let's Get You Some Press!

Don't read what they say about you. Count the column inches. Cuba Gooding Jr. told me that once. SHOW ME THE MONEY!

Mar 15, 2013 at 11:00am | Leave a comment

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Here I am watching myself on "20/20." I just watch it on a loop. All day. Every day. DON'T JUDGE.

Before I get into How to Work the Press, let me say how awesome all of you have been following this branding series truly are. How awesome? Well, the commenters yesterday came up with the idea to support each other on Twitter by using the hashtag #xofollow so we can all follow each other back. I love this!

So let's talk about getting press, which I've seen lead to everything from reality show offers to movie options to job offers. We've gone from 1 to 10 talking about Twitter, Tumblr and mission statements. Now that you have your brand, let's get you in the media spotlight. Oh, and while what I wrote below has some great nuggets, for sure, I also highly recommend you buy Paula Froelich's book "It!" An essential press primer.

Additionally, prepare yourselves for a shift in focus. Are you sitting down? Well, as much as I do love the glorious EatCheapBastard as my fictitious sample brand, today I'd like to use actual examples. Don't worry, I'm sure I will revive that fine brand in the future yet again, as it serves as such an elegant, subtle, DARE I SAY BRILLIANT brand example. But just for today...

Here goes with some real-life stuff that has worked. And on with the listicle!
 
11. Don't ever forget that the media is a never satiated, constantly hungering beast that always, always every single freaking day needs new content. Its mantra? "Feed me."

When I was hired by the New York Post in 2005, I was completely terrified that I wouldn't have enough story ideas to pitch. I hadn't worked at a newspaper in several years, and I was beyond terrified that succeeding in the media was this elusive, magical thing. Like love or something. But then -- I had a moment of clarity.
 
I turned on the TV, and there it was: On the "Today" show. This woman smiling and talking represented everything about the chum that is required to feed the media beast. All cute and adorable and perky and enjoying her shining potentially lucrative moment in the sun, with millions of eyes tuned into her.

Think about what this required on the author's part. She had to understand that when she started, doing a blog that perhaps only her friends read, it could end up with her being viewed on the biggest morning television show possible. She knew that this wasn't out of her reach. Think big, and you'll be big. Why couldn't that be you on the "Today" show next?

The media always has to be fed. Never forget that.

12. Position yourself with one eye-catching, potentially cognitive dissonant, potentially controversial, potentially outrageous, always elegantly simple, absolutely captivating idea as your brand's main focus.

I pitched thousands of ideas during my time at The Post. What many people never understood when they pitched me (and same goes here at xoJane) is that there is not only me to get past, there are several other editors that have to sign off on an idea. What's great about XO is that we are amenable to shades of gray and reality. A lot of press is not. No hero or villain or controversial stance or the biggest, best or worst? Next.

If this mother who was trying to revitalize her sex life wrote a blog that was called "Revitalizing Your Sex Life In Motherhood" I don't think that would have done as well as "Confessions of a Naughty Mommy." What makes the difference? Here's what. The first one an editor who as a reporter you pitched this story to would probably say, "So what makes this new? This is a problem every married couple has. What else do you have?" The second packaging of it, however, an editor might say, "You found a woman with a NEW BLOG who's willing to talk intimately, explosively and provocatively about all the NEW and potentially CONTROVERSIAL things she's doing as a mom in her sex life? I like it. Let's profile her."

It's the one-game theory of Upright Citizens Brigade's comedy. Have one. Simple. Game. Incorporating several subtle ideas makes an indie film. But one simple game -- one simple thesis, one simple premise, one simple lens -- is a blockbuster movie. I love indie movies, but I actually think that coming up with a clear attention-grabbing premise can sometimes be even more difficult and challenging than less bold choices. It requires commitment to a choice. Which leads me to...

13. Make sure your brand is actually committing to a choice.

That lady on the "Today" show talking about her new book, "Confessions of a Naughty Mommy," how'd she get there?
 
All because she knew how to package. And catch the eye of the media.
 
Let's break it down: "Confessions" (Secrets!) "Naughty." (Sex!) "Mommy." (Domestic!) Do you see how much better that is than if she had called it, say, something riffing on her first name (which don't get me wrong, CAN WORK JUST FINE) like, "Heidi Spices Up the Bedroom"? One is "this is just my story." The other is, "OHHHH, her story is MY story! She is telling the universal story! Heidi is all of us!"

With the tighter brand packaging, she is committed to the choice of focusing on the unique challenges of a mom trying to maintain eroticism in her love life with her husband -- and doing so in a you-shouldn't-be-reading-this confessional style. She is speaking media, essentially.

Every day, newspaper editors sit in a big "budget" pitch meeting twice a day to decide what's in the paper the next day. At the Post it's at 11 a.m. and then again at 2:30 p.m. There, they toss out the stories that they have written up to present for the day, which a senior editor will then approve or tear to shreds.

Here are a few proven brands and ideas and (if being lobbed to an editor) "pitches" that would mostly likely succeed because of the clean it-only-takes-a-minute-to-understand-it-and-LIKE-it-and-it's-NEW! commitment to a choice within the brand. It's all about dishing up zeitgeist and trend creation.

Yes, a lot of is false and lazy "brunch reporting" (stories derived by asking your friends at brunch what the latest trend is) but hey that's what a lot of light features journalism has always historically been. And that's fine. We need a little dessert to go with the meat and potatoes. Every one does.

So that's often what these stories are: Very, very well-told slice of life anecdotes compiled thematically together to get the watercooler discussion jumping. (Just picture the sentence in the media story around these "trends" that includes some statistic and says ever so solemnly: "More and more people are doing...(revenge, societal satire, wide-spread anti-bullying awareness, etc)."

Brands that would and have succeeded in this gladiator-style environment of ideas. Well, there's: My Ex-Wife's Wedding Dress. Stuff White People Like. Letters For Noah. Shit Girls Say. Awkward Family Photos. Postcards From Yo Momma. Change or Die. Mortified. The Rejection Show. Humble Brag. Wine Library TV. Mediaite. Eating in Translation. Bad Playdate. Catster. Dogster.

14. As you are scheming and pitching, please never ever forget how the media sausage is made.

Let's go back to Confessions of a Naughty Mommy. Blog. Turned book deal. Turned guest on the highest rated morning show on TV. I still use this example all the time to tell anyone who despairs, "I'm not interesting." "I'm too old." "I blew my chance." "My time has passed." "The media only likes celebrities."
 
No, they don't.
 
The media likes Manufactured Trend and Zeitgeist and Feelgood and Thinkpiece with a splash of Manufactured Outrage. Every day. They have three hours of show to fill. Or an entire newspaper. Or an entire blog. Or an entire radio show or podcast.
 
And if you are savvy and know how to make a reporter's or a TV booker's job more interesting, oh my God will they love you and scoop you up in an instant. But you have to realize that the media beast is always sniffing and looking for new "good stories." So don't suddenly get an attitude and think you're super special (not saying that to be a dick, saying that because a little bit of attention does weird things to people, myself included).
 
Oh –- and if you at all appear to be like a media whore –- someone who likes press and is always trying to angle in on every or any story. Well, in the same way that people are turned off by neediness because people think something is wrong with you, well, the media is like that, too.
 
Don't be desperate.
 
Be tantalizing but smart and solid, and when appropriate, messily organic -- like a diamond in the rough being discovered, in what you have to offer. Don't communicate: "This person who pitched me just wants to be famous and clearly would do anything to get on TV or written about." That's a bad thing.
 
Why, one of the last articles I was forced to write for the New York Post (I actually tried to get out of it and was forced to write the "takedown" piece, which then Aaron Sorkin handily used as an entire plotline in "The Newsroom") was essentially ripping one of the "Real Housewives" a new one because she dared to work to be famous. I mean, there were other transgressions and sins. But essentially, that was the main sin she had committed. She tried very hard, she worked every angle, she hustled the shit out of it, and now she's sitting on an empire and a fortune.
 
The shock and the horror! So try, but don't appear as if you are trying too hard. (Unless you are me, then just don't give a shit. That's my brand!) Just act slightly knowing, but still a bit virginal as you hustle.
 
15. Respect the formula of what media actually wants in a story.
 
You must demonstrate value in order to get attention. That's the first rule of all. Because no one in media really cares about you. Or me. You see: When you are dealing with ADD-addled media, to get attention you must speak in a language and formula that cuts through the noise of thousands of pitches and texts and emails and press releases.
 
Essential: Part of the formula is writing a SHORT pitch (written like a casual but respectful goddamned human and not a PR-bot) that has one of the sizzling elements that gives media people a big old media boner. Like how it is OUTRAGEOUS and NEW and will reveal a new TERM or CATCHPHRASE ("cougars," anyone?) that no one has ever REVEALED. Here's a sample.
 
Bad pitch: I'm a comedian, and I'm doing some interesting subtle things here and there and look I'm on this one blog, and also I just did a cool show, and it just seems like it might be an interesting time to write about the various multi-faceted ventures I am undertaking.
 
Good pitch: I'm a comedian, and I probably shouldn't reveal this, but I have sex with my fans. Like, a lot. Did you know that there's actually an insider term that comics use called "chucklefucker," meaning a comedian groupie, and amongst my friends, we are finding more women to sleep with us lately? I realize this sounds a little crass, but I wonder if there could be a story about this new breed of "chucklefuckers" that is sweeping New York?

Yes. That is a story that got written.

And another tip: Press hates anything that seems "old" or "already written about." Don't pitch the New York Times with the sexy qualifier, "We just got covered in the Daily News!" You just killed your shot. Offer people the exclusive first chance to seem like they are breaking and discovering a story.

That's how it's played.

So what do you think. Should I continue this boot camp into next week? Have you had enough already? Do you want to hear some thoughts on monetizing via ebooks, podcasts, adwords and consulting? Maybe give it a breather and continue -- or just keep going? Thanks for reading all of this and, as ever, #xofollow.

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