My first-appearance in The New York Times freaked me out…
In November 2001, I launched a yoga studio in the heart of New York City’s Hell’s Kitchen. It was a strange, moody time in the city, just 6-weeks after the collapse of the twin-towers. But, for yoga studios, or pretty much anyone else in the healing profession, the demand was huge.
This led to an odd scenario…
In January 2002, we were featured on the front-page of the Sunday New York Times Jobs section in a giant article. My picture, in color, was front and center, above the fold. And, because it was the premier of the jobs section, an image of that front page was turned into ads and plastered on buses all over the city.
It was my dream PR placement, save one nagging element.
The article featured new businesses that had, with no effort to exploit the events of 9-11, ended up getting an economic bump, while pretty much every other business in Manhattan was crumbling. And we fit the bill perfectly.
I had trouble, at first, with the notion that we might be profiting on the back of suffering.
But, then I quickly realized, the reason we were succeeding was because we were providing a service, a setting and a solution that was desperately needed. We were succeeding because we were helping with the healing. And, as a show of gratitude and commitment to my community, I even opened the doors of the studio for free to all aid-workers and family members, who’d been staged on the pier just a few blocks away.
That experience taught me a huge lesson about PR…
You can say the exact same thing that a journalist says about you. But, when you say it, you’re just puffing and selling.
When the media says it…it’s gospel!
So, with a new business afoot and not a lot of cash on-hand, I decided I needed to tap the media as my prime form of marketing. Problem was, I had no connections, little money and a small, local business with only local appeal.
And, everyone I knew told me I’d need crazy connections to big journalists, producers or writers to get into national media again. They pretty much chalked up my initial run at the New York Times as dumb-luck.
But, I don’t really believe in luck, dumb or not!
My feature in The New York Times taught me something about getting covered in mainstream, national media. Anyone can do it, you just need to make national-level news!
Reporters, editors and journalists are constantly hungry for great stories to share, but, much to heir chagrin, much of what they’re pitched on a daily basis is either not big enough, not relevant enough or simply not real news. When they stumble upon or ferret out real news, it’s like a blessing. It’s makes their job so much easier.
It’s the same, by the way, with the emerging gatekeepers of social media. The top-diggers, stumblers, blogzoomers and so-on. They are on a relentless quest to deliver killer content to their followings and build their reputations as media-mavens. So, when you serve it up, packaged, well-crafted and ready to go…it’s like a gift!
The question for back in 2002, though, was…
How do you make national news?
From my experience getting into local media, I knew I needed a hook. But, this time, I needed one with national appeal. Something that could not only take my business to the next level, but be genuine news on a national level. And, then it happened.
It was like idea-manna from heaven!
I needed to tie some aspect of my business to news about a pervasive national desire. But, instead of waiting for something to come along, I decided to create it.
I knew, from my days in the fitness business and, heck, just from being alive in the United States, that, at any given time, tens-of-millions of people wanted to lose weight. I knew I could tie yoga to weight loss, it would not only be a slam dunk for my studio, but would be news on a national level.
And, that would not only be great for business, but, on a deeper, more meaningful level, it would introduce yoga to so may people who, but for this hook, would never have tried it.
So, I spent a bunch of time researching, looking for studies. I found books, articles and even videos that claimed yoga helped you lose weight. But, what was glaringly absent was actual research that proved the issue.
I’d found my opening. I needed to run the first-ever study on yoga and weight loss.
So, I approached the head of the human performance lab at Adelphi University. He giggled at first, but then told me to come in to run a pilot study to see if it was even worth running a full-study, expecting that to be the end of it.
I dropped by, got wired up and, 20-minutes later, turned to face the dropped jaws of all who were in attendance. Wow! The only question was how quickly I could get together participants for a full study. Part one accomplished, I’d set the wheels in motion to…
Create an event that was deserving of national-level media attention.
Now, it was time for part two. I didn’t have the money to hire any PR firms or publicists, the people with connections to editors and producers. Nor did I have any connections, myself. I needed to figure out how to…
Get the attention of top media.
I wanted this to run in fitness, not yoga magazines, since their reach was far wider.
So, I read the mastheads of the top 5 fitness magazines, got the names of the right editors and hand-delivered letters to them that
- Revealed that we were secretly conducing the first-ever university study to measure how many calories yoga burned and
- We wanted to offer an exclusive to the right editor.
Within hours, the then fitness director of Self Magazine called me. She wanted in. But, there was a problem…
The fitness director of the country’s top women’s fitness magazine wanted to actually participate in the study. She wanted to be a subject.
And, she wanted to be able to write about her experience. I knew that the university had strict rules about this, so, over a period of weeks, we negotiated her participation and she agreed only to release basic information and only after the university gave her the okay. (In fact, much to my surprise and the discontent of a number of participants, the detailed reports were never released to us, as I’d expected).
After much organizing (and cajoling yoga students to join in the experiment), the university conducted the study and the results were pretty eye-opening. That alone would’ve made for a great story and nice image-building for the studio.
But, the story doesn’t end there…
A few months before writing about the study, the fitness director called me to let me know she’d be including a small blurb in the fitness page. But, she was concerned about something.
The magazine had a giant national readership and very few of its readers would be able to actually get to the New York studio to try our style of yoga. She lamented about the fact that we didn’t have a video that she could recommend. Which is where it was time to take a giant leap o faith.
She wanted a video, I gave her one…even though none existed!
I told her that her call was quite fortuitous, because we were actually in post-production on a new video that would offer an adapted, more moderate variation of the sequence done on the study. She asked the name and I told her it was called Vinyasa Heat Live! She asked the price and I said it was $19.95. She asked where people could buy it and I told her it would be available at our website.
I hung up the phone, turned to my partner and said, “I don’t know how to tell you this, but we need to film, edit, produce and package a video in 8-weeks.”
It was a wild adventure, but with the help of friends, students and a friendly record label who let us license music for 100% back-end, we were able to get he first run delivered literally the day the magazine hit the street.
At first, orders dribbled in. But, within days, we were overwhelmed.
We sold out the entire first run in the blink of an eye and produced a number of additional runs before riding out demand. That one video launched our multimedia division, which has grown to 5 videos and dvds, with more on the way later this year. And, to this day, people still e-mail and call asking us to convert the original videos to dvd.
Since then, I’ve been able to parlay my understanding of how to get featured in the news into a dozens of appearances in many other magazines, newspapers, radio and television shows, both nationally and internationally. And, I’ve been increasingly tapped to show other small business owners how to do the same or do it for them.
But, I am the first to tell them…
If you want to be in the news, contacts and money might help, but nothing beats a genuine killer story with a great hook that goes beyond self-serving jibberish and actually is real news.
Whether it’ getting your book, blog or business into the print, online, television or radio media, it always comes down to the same thing…
- Make real news,
- Let the gatekeepers know (or online, everyone in the community), then,
If possible convert exposure to revenue.
Here are a few common way to make news with your business, books or blogs
- Create a unique event or discovery with mass appeal
- Piggyback a national news story with a related story
- Be provocative – attack or contradict a high-profile figure or story
- Be astonishingly innovative – innovate on a level that changes lives
- Joint-venture or associate with something/one already in the news
And, here are a few ways to find out who to send your stories to:
- For magazines: look in the masthead in the front, pick out the editor with the most relevant area, search for their contact info online and/or call to get it. You may also purchase their contact info from services like Cision (used to be Bacon’s).
- For newspapers: read the papers to get familiar with the names of the journalists and editors who cover the areas you want to be featured in. Then, follow above guidelines (except there will not be a masthead, so go online or to the services)
- Radio & TV: Look for the names of the segment producers for segments similar to the one you picture yourself being featured in. They’ll either immediately precede the segment or roll at the end. Then same as above. Also, a good resource, though it’s not cheap, is Steve Harrison’s guide to producers for top TV shows. Harrison also produces the Radio & TV Interview Report, which is widely used to book radio and television guests.
The final step is where publicity converts to marketing and sales. And, that’s where you you need to get super-creative with how you package yourself and create specialized offers for particular audiences.
If there’s an interest, in a future post, I’ll go into the specifics of crafting press materials and pitching influencers in a way that helps get you noticed and featured. Let me know in the comments.
As always, I’d love to hear your thought, stories and questions in the comments below.
And, I’d especially love to hear any of your out-of-the-box stories that have landed you in the mainstream, online or social media….
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