Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Free PR Advice

by Hannah Roveto

In my other life, not the one where I make PB&Js and play taxi, but my other-other life, I am a national public relations consultant. You probably have shopped at my clients' stores, bought their stuff, seen them on TV or read about them in national magazines or local newspapers.

When PR types sit with a new or potential client, we ask them to explain in their own words what makes them unique or what makes their product better than anyone else's, and of course, what kind of media attention they expect us to deliver. What's fascinating is the number of successful clients who cannot articulate a precise vision of who they are in the marketplace and what kind of response is realistic.

"We're going to make shopping fun." (Mmm. How precisely? Are customers really in need of spa grocery stores?) "We meet the needs of real people." (That's not an answer until you can define real people, what their needs are and again, why they want massages on aisle six.)

"Our paradigm is such that we optimize the experience and deliver results." (Hunh?) "We want you to get us on the front page of the New York Times." (Not with a paradigm nobody understands, you won't.)

Aspirational statements do not sell a story. Producers and editors hear hundreds of pitches a day, people like me calling and emailing them begging for time and attention. Their antennae are finely tuned to select subjects that are clearly defined, offer something truly fresh or a twist on expectations, and that will be presented quickly, efficiently and in an entertaining fashion. Here's the trick: Nobody wants to know why my clients are great. Lots of people sell stuff. What the media want to know is why their audience is going to care enough to perhaps take action.

Before you go anywhere in the public eye -- and for writers that can be as early as looking for an agent, never mind hitting the bookshelves -- you need to know clearly who you are and where you want to go, and be able to explain quickly why your audience -- agents, editors, readers -- should care.

Consider yourself not from within, but from without: What makes you and your story interesting, a little different, enough to pique curiosity (without making them roll their eyes)? What will they connect to emotionally and/or what is the twist? Last, make sure you can explain all this in a sentence or two, in such a way to draw a nod of interest from a total stranger.

Sound bytes. One sentence, two sentences. Lisa Scottoline tells writers to draft their own New York Times bestseller list blurb. Do it for your story and for yourself, too. That way when you meet an agent, a book editor, a television news producer, you'll be ready. Plus, you'll impress the heck out of the marketing team as a bonus!


Therese said...

Excellent advice, Hannah. Timely, too, as I begin to form ideas and plans for my book 2 publicity. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

I guess the book is part of the whole package, which includes the author. I'm at that stage now, determining an author sound byte, and what I'm finding is that knowing yourself enough to contain in a blurb is a solid, and necessary, springboard for so much else!

Lynne Griffin and Amy MacKinnon said...

This process is ongoing, without doubt. Maybe a first book has a strong theme building on, oh say, baseball, but you know the second one is going to be about something completely different. The pitch for the author needs to be completely different than the pitch for the book, and the pitch for the author will certainly evolve and get richer over time!


Anonymous said...

I really agree with this, even though I haven't come up with that winning blurb yet.

Larramie said...

Loved this fascinating yet sensible advice which could be used for almost anything, Hannah. I'll remember: "Consider yourself not from within, but from without."

DeAnna Cameron said...

If only it were easy to come up with these simple statements :-)

Creative A said...

Really, really good post. The whole example with your client made it click for me how an agent or editor might feel...I'll keep that in mind when I craft my pitch.

Great post! :)

Lisa said...

Brilliant post! It does apply to everything and it's never more apparent to me than in my own company where those of us in sales are so often baffled by what our marketing colleagues come up with. It's there every time I see a commercial for a drug on TV and I have no idea what it even is! The biggest challenge for any sales person (and that's what an author is, like it or not) is to try to perceive what you're saying through the customer's eyes. I think it's also true that at least half the time, I can read the back cover of a book and still not have any idea what the book is about...hmmm. Was it Proust or some other writer who said something to the effect that I'd have written you a short note, but I didn't have time so I wrote a long letter. Excellent, excellent post.

Lynne Griffin and Amy MacKinnon said...

Thanks need to go to Jaanne for a question she asked that got me thinking about platform and all that. I have to admit, I do this all the time for other people, but when it's myself, it's suddenly such a difficult task. Perhaps because I haven't a clue how I'm really seen, whether I'm reaching too far. Which is why there are good friends, or in my case, The Writers Group, to give it to me straight as I create my own sound bytes! (Only ask people you really really trust with your dreams!!!)


Lynne Griffin and Amy MacKinnon said...

And always proof comments before posting. Joanne not Jaane! Thank you again!