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Monday, October 4, 2010

Building a Platform.

There's a word floating around the publishing and recording industries of late--platform. What industry execs want to know before they sign a new artist or author is do they have a platform? Do they have a built-in audience? What most would-be artists and authors miss is the subtle but obvious question really being asked by the big companies -- can you sell your own CD or book without us? Think about the ludicrousness of that for a moment. Because if the answer is yes, then why do you need them?

Books and music will never be the same again thanks to iTunes and Kindles. Technology has over-taken both industries to the point that once-needed go-betweens (i.e. publishers, record labels) are scrambling to figure out their place in this new world of downloads and instantly-accessible libraries. William Young thought he needed a publisher and sent his manuscript, THE SHACK, to several of them. They all turned him away. Undaunted, he self-published his book anyway. At nearly four million copies sold, I'm fairly certain Mr. Young is glad he doesn't have a publisher.

Which brings us back to platform. Can you create your own? You betcha. What are your strengths? If you're a singer, can you also speak? If you're a writer, have you started a blog regarding your book's subject? Think outside the scope of the talents you have and explore ways you can create opportunities to touch people with your message. In our social network universe, the consumer is more accessible than ever and a platform is even more attainable. With a little ingenuity, some guidance from a quality public relations professional and some blood, sweat and tears, you can have a best-seller on Amazon and discover the benefits of owning 100% of your work and reaping 100% of the profit.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

What Not to Do

As a publicist, bad interviews can make me cringe. This one made me head for the corner in a fetal position. I am reluctant to even comment on this video because, well, even a non-PR pro can list the things wrong with this one. But let's play along anyway and use the opportunity to draw out some good pointers. Here are some standard, common-sense television interview tips:

NO-NO: Don't read while the host is speaking to you.
YES-YES: Be prepared.

NO-NO: Don't pitch a talent you clearly don't have if you've been invited to the show to talk about running for the office of mayor.
YES-YES: Stay on subject.

NO-NO: Don't insult the host after she has given you ample time to showcase your non-talent.
YES-YES: Be courteous.

NO-NO: Don't be pushy about a return invite ON camera. If you want to be a jerk, do it off camera.
YES-YES: Be grateful for the opportunity on and off camera.

NO-NO: Don't EVER use a hand held tape recorder to play background music tracks.
YES-YES: Be professional.

Any questions?

Friday, July 23, 2010

Be the Golden Arches

I have worked with high-profile clientele for most of my 20+ year career. The biggest mistake I see clients make when trying to promote themselves is they get too wrapped up in their current "project" (book, cd, etc.) to keep the whole picture in focus.

I don't know about you, but by the time my child was 3 years old, he could pick out a McDonald's along the street. And not because I ever took him there. I rarely did. But he had seen those Golden Arches many times before Barney, after The Magic School Bus, during TaleSpin -- those Golden Arches surrounded everything he saw on TV. He really had no idea WHY he wanted to go to McDonald's, he just knew he should. McDonald's sees the big picture.

But you say, "I'm an artist not a fast food restaurant." Right. But you ARE the Golden Arches. Your new CD, your new song, your new book -- they are your chicken nuggets, Big Mac, large fries.

If you only think about your career in terms of your latest work, then your career will be short. Artists, authors and speakers need to think about making a "brand" name for themselves. Yes, you want to have a menu of tasty items (cds, books, songs). But ultimately, your name -- your reputation -- your artistry should mean something. Listeners will hear your music once or twice, but fans will sign up for your Facebook and Twitter accouns. Readers might like your latest book, but fans will stand in line for your book signing. A really, really hungry person might stumble into a McDonald's one day because its convenient, but 3-year-old whines and cries until he steps inside those Golden Arches. Now, that's a fan for life. Develop that kind of a following, and you'll enjoy a long and prosperous career.

Friday, April 2, 2010

You're Only as Good as Your "Onlys"

I may not amount to much, but at least I am unique.
- Jean-Jacques Rousseau

You are unique, and if that is not fulfilled then something has been lost.
- Martha Graham


Call it my motto. But usually one of the first things I ask a potential client is "What are your ONLYs?" After they stammer for a second, I explain: "What makes you unique to everyone else like you who is doing the same exact thing as you? Answer that question, and our PR campaign begins." Some people know the answer immediately. Others do not. Part of a publicist's job is to find those "ONLYs."

In the theme park world, their ticket sales are based on having the fastest, the tallest, or the longest ride. Notice the -est. Your "only" might be an 'est.

I recently did a short campaign for an insurance group and asked them that question. They immediately answered it, yet they had never TOLD anyone about it. Most companies, artists, ministries have some "onlys" they can talk about. And if by chance they don't have any, they can always create some.

Christians who have gifts to share sometimes feel at odds with what they deem as bragging or "tooting their own horn." But if you have an effective ministry, if your product or service fills a need, if you have something to contribute to the betterment of society, is it really the Christian thing to do to keep it a secret?

14 "You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.-- Matthew 5

Whether you are a singer, author or corporation, if you live by Christian principles, you should be more than willing to tell others about the gifts bestowed on you by God. Discover your ONLYs and embrace them as part of your identity. God gave them to you for one simple reason -- to share them. Now, go hire a publicist -- and tell everybody.

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Thursday, January 14, 2010

When to Get a Saddle

"If one person calls you a donkey, ignore them. If two people call you a donkey, look behind you for hoof prints. If three people call you a donkey, buy a saddle."

If you are not concerned about your reputation, then you have already sealed your fate. And this rule doesn't just apply to public figures or people who make their living as artists or authors. Anyone in ANY field should be concerned about their reputation. And it should be the number one concern every publicist has for their clientele.

A reputation goes before you and follows you. It is what people judge you on even if they have never met you. It is difficult to keep shiny; like fine silver, it can tarnish if careful cleaning is not applied -- often.

In the course of representing other people for 22 years, I stumbled upon a surprising fact several years ago. My reputation is as important as theirs. If the media hates me, guess what? I'm no good to any client. So I began to do my diligent best to treat the media even better than I treated clients. I realized I couldn't (and shouldn't) have clients without cultivating my relationships with media outlets first.

So what does that involve? To me, serving the media means several things. First, know who they are and what they do. One of my best friends became my friend because she laughed out loud at the pitch I made to her magazine. Instead of taking offense, I laughed with her. (To this day, I still kid with her that it really was a good pitch for her magazine; she just didn't personally like the artist.) But it taught me a good lesson. Know the audience each media services, and then pitch things that matter to that audience. It annoys the media to get a pitch from a publicist who doesn't know (or care) what they do. I've learned to do my homework.

There have been many times when I have helped the media secure interviews or product from people or companies that I did not represent. Why would I do that? It all goes back to service, something especially important to me because I work with predominantly Christian media for Christian clients. Servanthood is a requirement of my faith, and I apply it to my job.

So how do you fix a tarnished reputation? That's the question that an army of public relations consultants are asking each other right now in a crowded room on Tiger Woods' behalf. It is a complicated process, and it doesn't always have the best outcome. Better to preserve your reputation in the first place.

Billy Graham once said that he made sure he was never seen in public alone with a woman. If he needed to have lunch with a business associate who was a woman, he brought a man with him. Why go to the trouble? Because he wanted to avoid even the appearance of impropriety. Reverend Graham is over 90 years old now. And he never had to buy a saddle.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Can you Fake being Genuine?

A lot of jokes are being made about President Obama's seeming dependency on a teleprompter. His teleprompter even has its own "blog," if you can believe it. Humor has a way of revealing an underlying truth, and the President should take note of it.  The "insincere" or "disingenuous" label is something that tends to stick to a person's public persona.  And it is not easy to shake once it forms. He should start learning alternate ways to give a speech.

I have to admit there are just some things that Publicists cannot do. We can help clients learn to communicate effectively by focusing on a central message by simplifying talking points. We can teach clients some effective interview techniques based on the medium. And we can help clients keep their message consistent and understandable. But, as far as I know, no one has yet invented an over-the-counter prescription that can infuse genuineness.

How important is it? There's a case to be made in public relations that being genuine is everything -- and yet-- it is hopelessly rare. Let's be honest. We live in an American Idol culture where "perceived" importance often overrides genuineness. No one ever looks at a celebrity or politician after an interview or speech and asks, "But was he/she being genuine?" Looking at some of the "idols" we have put on pedestals in the public arena, maybe we should start asking that more often.

When I mention a "genuine" person, who springs to your mind? Maybe its a relative or friend or perhaps a well-known person. Genuineness is a quality we all instantly recognize. It is a character trait that we appreciate on an emotional level. When we sense someone who is genuine, we make a connection with our hearts, not with our heads.

For a Christian artist, genuineness is the difference between a long, renowned career or very short one. Musicians and singers from other genres can get away (to some extent) with making music and creating a public "image" that they believe will sell their songs. They can often act like idiots in interviews, do outrageous antics at public appearances and still retain fans. Thankfully, Christian artists don't have that ability. Because of the inherent seriousness of writing and singing songs based on scripture or doctrinal beliefs, Christian artists must exhibit a genuineness in their on and off-stage behavior. Perfection is not required (and shouldn't be expected), but sincerity is a non-negotiable. Phonies will not last long in Christian entertainment.

If you are a Christian artist contemplating a national ministry, learn to trust your instincts. You may get lots of advice from "industry" folks meaning well, but ultimately, you are the one that will stand on the stage in front of the audience. Find your own comfort zone where you and God connect.  He is much better than a teleprompter.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Will Whitney Make a Comeback? A Study in Imaging

I'll be upfront and honest. I'm rooting for Whitney Houston to make a comeback. Whitney has always had a talent that few would argue was God-given. She grew up singing in church, and her mom is well-known for her gospel roots. Her first radio single, "I Look to You," resembles a contemporary Christian song. So from a personal standpoint, I hope she succeeds.

But from a PR standpoint, what will transpire over the next few months will be a good study in imaging. Whitney was, for many years, America's darling. Music fans loved everything she did. She had top hits left and right and even gave us one of the most stirring performances of the National Anthem we had ever heard. We all watched as this stunning woman with so much talent, fame, and fortune, married someone that we all could see would be bad news. Past behavior dictated future behavior for Bobby Brown. And as I have heard Metro Ministries' leader Bill Wilson say many times, "People change...but not much."

Drugs, violence, odd spiritual quests, horrible personal appearances followed. Whitney quickly got a reputation for being a Diva to the 2nd power and invitations for her to perform on tv shows and events became fewer and fewer. America's darling was falling apart, and although we wanted to do a giant intervention, we were helpless to do anything. The music began to suffer. And we, as consumers, moved on to other singers while her life came unraveled.

So how does someone recapture a tarnished public image? Much of the work of rebuilding her persona is, of course, squarely on Whitney's own shoulders. The most extraordinary of publicists can only do so much. Ultimately, Whitney will be the one answering questions during interviews and interacting with fans. But I do hope her PR people are giving her good counsel and helping her understand that even before the camera turns on, she will be scrutinized by those around her. If she becomes a Runaway Diva, it will be reported. If she gets upset over a question or is simply late for an interview, it will be talked about. She needs to realize the microscope will be on full power.

Ultimately, she needs to come across as sincere, humble and grateful for another chance. The good news is Americans are typically a forgiving bunch, and we love survivors. Here's hoping Whitney becomes one.