You Need to Know Jack

Jack Ma

On September 19th, the most popular man on Wall Street–  and perhaps the entire financial world– was Jack Ma, founder of Alibaba.  Shares of the Chinese internet juggernaut were being sold for the first time on the New York Stock Exchange, and Ma was there to celebrate.  Of course, reporters from all the financial media wanted to get his take on the day, and during an interview on CNBC, he said something remarkable.  Ma told the network his wish for the future:  “We hope in the next 15 years the world changed because of us.”

Whoa.  That’s a pretty impressive dream for an e-commerce company.  After all, Alibaba isn’t going to cure cancer or stop global warming.  But Ma’s comment doesn’t seem unreasonable.  Few if anyone thought that when they began, Microsoft, Google or Facebook would “change the world.”  And yet in a few years they did.

More importantly, Ma’s proclamation shows us how Alibaba is presenting itself to the world.  Ma is thinking big, and he’s not afraid to say so.  That gets people’s attention.  The kind of attention you want.

So how can Jack Ma and Alibaba help you in your efforts at getting noticed in the media?  Certainly not many people can offer something that will “change the world.”  HOWEVER, what you do offer is something unique–  a product, a story, an experience, a position– that’s yours alone.  Nobody else has exactly what you have.   And taking advantage of that is what you need to create a winning media presentation.  How?  First, you have to focus in on that uniqueness, nail it down, know exactly what it is.  Then, present it in a clear, concise way.   For example, if you are an author of mystery novels, ask yourself why your stories and characters are unlike all others in the genre.  After that, come up with interesting ways to deliver that information so your audience–  whether it’s a media member or consumers–  will take notice.

The very best guests/interviews are with people who stand out from all the others.    Jack Ma understands that.

So make sure you know Jack!


The Captain and the Captivated Audience

MLB: All Star GameYankees captain and sure-fire Hall of Famer, Derek Jeter, played his final All Star Game at Target Field in Minneapolis on Tuesday.   As you might expect, a series of opportunities for fans to pay tribute to Jeter were incorporated in the pre-game ceremonies and during the game itself.   And they were great.  I’d say even the casual and non-baseball fan had to appreciate the significance of the moment each time Jeter–  one of the classiest players in baseball history–  got his due.

What was also impressive was how brilliantly Fox handled the broadcast.  The folks at the network knew they had something special here, and they made sure to bring us the Jeter accolades in every way possible to take advantage of that.  It was smart, good TV.  You couldn’t change the channel.

Your media strategy should be the same.  You want to be the person that nobody wants to “change the channel” on (Or in today’s internet-driven coverage, click off).    The Fox/Jeter coverage is a great example of how to do that.

The All Star Game is full of compelling stories, all of which would have been interesting.  But Fox understood the overriding power of the Jeter story and stuck with it, probably to the chagrin of those who don’t like Jeter (Note how one fan was picked up by the microphones chanting “Over-Rated” in Jeter’s first at bat) and those who would have liked to hear more about Mike Trout or Yasiel Puig or the many other stars there.   Good stories, all, but not THE story that made this game “must see TV.”

To truly “get noticed” in the media, you need a compelling story.  But more than that, it’s important to stick to that story, even though you may have many other good things to talk about.  One of the easiest ways to have a reporter, booker or producer lose interest is when an interviewee goes “off the rails” and loses focus.  Remember, the news people are using you because of something specific you bring to the table.  You want your “take” on the topic to be so unique that nobody else can offer it.  That makes what you say valuable.  That’s what captivates an audience and makes you “must see TV.”

So when you have your media opportunity, make the most of your strongest asset and don’t waiver.  Fox understood that strategy and created an excellent broadcast.  Derek Jeter understood it, too, and that’s how he became one of the all-time greats in baseball.   If you do the same, you have a good chance to be a media “all-star” as well.


Firing Up Your Media Presence

Jeff Bezos’s newly-unveiled smartphone–Fire–has a truly unique feature.  Called Firefly, it can “read” a picture of an object and find it for you—then try to sell it to you (Through, of course).

It’s probably too early to tell if Firefly will have a dramatic impact on the smartphone/retail space, but for those focusing on “getting noticed” in the media, one thing is clear.

You want to be Firefly.

What I mean by that is you want instant recognition.  There’s almost nothing better for getting media exposure than to be automatically associated with something.  It’s very powerful when your name, image or voice is immediately tied to a certain topic.

When I was a TV producer, one of our “go to” retail guests was Kristin Bentz, who calls herself and her company “Talented Blonde.”  Kristin has used her catchy nickname as a way of connecting herself to the topic.  Every time I see Kristin or hear “Talented Blonde” I just naturally think “retail expert.”  She is Firefly.  The same for travel specialist Tom Parsons of  Tom always appears on TV wearing a Hawaiian shirt, as if his bags are already packed and as soon as the segment is over, he’s jumping on a plane to enjoy the sunny tropics.  It’s a created persona that is memorable and subliminally tugs at the desire inside all of us to go where he’s going!  Tom is Firefly.

You can be Firefly, too.  How?  First, you need to know what makes you special in the eyes of the media.  The “jack of all trades, master of none” is almost always a non-starter for reporters, bookers and producers.   Zero in on what makes you stand out.  Then play that up.  Act as if there is NOBODY on the planet that knows more about your topic than you.  I don’t mean be arrogant or put on airs, but be confident and believable.

Second, create something memorable about you that will stick with the audience.  Economist Peter Morici always sports a flashy bowtie….Auto expert Lauren Fix is “The Car Coach”…Euro Pacific Capital’s Peter Schiff never misses a chance to tout the virtues of gold.  You get the idea.  What is it about you that you can parlay into a high recognition factor?  Find that and use it.

Finally, unless you are dealing with life and death topics, have fun!  Everybody respects people who know how to laugh and not take themselves too seriously.  Being “real” is a great way to stand out from the crowd.

So, how are you Firefly?  Find that and you’ll surely be a media success.

Becoming a Media Idol

Fox's "American Idol" XIII Finale - Show

The 13th edition of American Idol just wrapped up with North Carolina rocker Caleb Johnson winning the crown.  One thing was clear to those of us who have followed the hit program for years–  this season was a lot better than last.  The 2013 version of the show was almost painful to watch.  The animosity between first-time judges Nicki Minaj and Mariah Carey was so blatantly on display that it was distracting. Veteran judge Randy Jackson spent much of the season playing referee for them, while the other judge, newcomer Keith Urban, just tried to ignore it all and stay focused on the show.  To call the situation uncomfortable would be an understatement, and the ratings were hurt.

So the producers acted.

Minaj and Carey got the boot, replaced by Harry Connick, Jr. and former judge Jennifer Lopez.   When the new season kicked off, it was obvious the atmosphere among the stars was SIGNIFICANTLY better.  Gone was the sniping, replaced by good-natured kidding and, especially with Connick, some outstanding musical critiques of the contestants.  The final show even featured the three judges and Jackson (now with more of a mentor/observer role) jamming together onstage, something that would have been unheard of the season before.   2014 was just more fun to watch.

There’s a very good lesson here for you and your effort at “getting noticed” in the media.  Sometimes the best laid plans–  like pairing two divas in a music show–  just don’t work.   You may have what you think is a surefire media plan that falls flat or just gets left out of the mix.  If that happens, it’s REALLY important to shift gears and find one that does work.

The best (and most watchable) guests I’ve dealt with as a TV producer are nimble on their feet.  They don’t just stick to their “thing” no matter what.  They watch what’s going on and adjust their performance to that (and let’s face it, you are performing when you make a media appearance).  They see the reactions of interviewers and other guests and react accordingly.  Being a “one-trick pony” may get you an initial shot with an anchor or reporter, but unless you can bring more than that to the party, you won’t likely be very impressive…or invited back.

Now, that’s not to say you should try to be something you are not, but unless you can see how your specialty fits in the bigger picture, your value as a source is limited.   You won’t be able to react to a shift in the conversation.

I have often cited the phrase by the great UCLA basketball coach, John Wooden:  “Failure to prepare is preparation for failure.”  To succeed in the media you need to be prepared–  not just for what you will be talking about but where the discussion might lead…and be ready to change direction if needed.

That ability can make you a rock star in the media world.


Icing Your Media Success

Let it go, let it go

And I’ll rise like the break of dawn.   

–from “Frozen”


I was at a clinic recently to get some routine blood work done, and while I was in the waiting room a young girl, maybe 5 or 6 years old, went in for her tests.  Suddenly, a sound burst out of the room—“Let it go, let it go…”  Apparently in an effort to distract the girl from the pain of the needle, the phlebotomist asked her to sing her favorite song.  Not surprisingly, she belted out “Let it go,” the mega-hit by Idina Menzel from the massively-popular movie, “Frozen.”  Later, my wife, who also heard the youngster’s musical rendition, asked me, “Is there ANY little kid who doesn’t know that song?”

No kidding.

“Frozen” is becoming one of the most popular movies of all time.  It’s already the biggest-grossing animated film ever.  The Walt Disney Company, which owns it, just announced profits soared 27% in the quarter, thanks to “Frozen.”  The movie has already brought in three-quarters of a BILLION dollars, and Disney says it’s only just beginning to see the benefits of the brand.

And then there’s that song.

“Let it go” won an Oscar and made Billboard’s top 10.  But what might be more important is my wife’s observation– it seems to be the “go to” song for millions of children today.

Now, I’m pretty sure “Frozen” would have been a popular movie without “Let it go,” but the song has helped catapult it from merely successful…into filmmaking history.

And that’s an important lesson for you in your efforts at “getting noticed” in the media.

Lots of people have great ideas that are worthy of media attention.  But those that stand out with a unique “hook” are the ones that have the best shot at making it big.   Media people call that having a “take”–  something that makes you stand out from all the rest.

So what is your “take”?  What is your “Let it go”–  the unique song that turns you into a blockbuster performer?

Know that and you are well on your way to “rise like the break of dawn” in the media world.

Great Recession Gives Way to Not-So-Great Recovery

The latest employment data shows that the U.S. is recovering, but still has a long way to go to

Job seekers attend Job Fair- DC

The March employment report shows America’s private sector workforce has finally reached levels not seen since before the financial meltdown in 2008.

The Labor Department says 192,000 private sector jobs were created last month, pushing the total number in those jobs beyond the mark set in January 2008.

“We’ve had 49-consecutive months of private sector job growth to the tune of almost nine million jobs,” Labor Secretary Tom Perez told Al Jazeera’s Ali Velshi. “And when you look at the job mix, over 90 percent of the jobs are full-time jobs, which is better than previous recoveries.”

However, the news isn’t all that good.

Government jobs still haven’t recovered. They remained flat in March.  Average hourly wages declined, and the number of part-time workers increased 225,000.

“The jobs report this morning really nails down the view that this economy is not really accelerating nor is it really decelerating,” said Steven Ricchiuto, Chief Economist at Mizuho Securities. “We’re stuck in this glide path of an economy that’s either at or slightly below trend and there’s no evidence at all that we’re moving away from that.”

Secretary Perez agrees a lot still needs to be done to get the economy and job creation on  stronger footing.

“We’ve got to pick up the pace,” he said. “And the data point that clearly gives me the most concern is the continuing challenges confronting the long-term unemployed.”

Ricchiuto agrees.

“There are a lot of long-term unemployed,” he said. “Remember, this business cycle has been going on for quite some time and it’s been very, very disappointing.”

Still, today’s report showed more encouraging signs that the job recovery is making slow and steady progress, and that the weakness seen in previous reports was a result of the bad winter weather.  One indication of that– construction jobs jumped by 19,000.

“A labor market impacted by winter is now recovering at a gradual pace,” said Michael Dolega, Senior Economist at TD Economics. “The recovering housing market has also continued to add construction jobs, with the spring thaw likely to manifest in more sustained gains in homebuilding.”

Other positives in the report: the labor force participation rate — the percentage of those working or actively looking for work — rose to 63.2 percent, from 63 percent. That suggests more people feel good enough about their prospects to try to get back into the workforce. And hours worked were higher.

Dolega sees one other good sign: today’s data will likely keep the Federal Reserve from raising interest rates anytime soon.

“Wage growth remains subdued and will remain a concern for both the sustainability of the consumer-led recovery and inflation,” he noted. “The Fed should have ample room to keep policy accommodative well into 2015, with the first rate hike unlikely to take place until the second half of that year.”


Forging Your Media Image

When former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher died today, almost every headline noted she was called the “Iron Lady,” a moniker received from her adversaries in the Soviet Union because of her toughness in dealing with them.  Most women probably would have been insulted by such a nickname, but instead Thatcher embraced it, using it to enhance her reputation as a powerful leader.  Thatcher knew the “Iron Lady” persona was a great tool for getting her message out.  She capitalized on Marshall McLuhan’s famous observation “the medium is the message”–  any decision by an “Iron Lady” would have to be rock solid, right?

Thatcher showed that an easy-to-grasp identifier can do wonders towards helping you succeed in the media.  I noticed a similar example at this year’s “South by Southwest” tech gathering in Austin.   I watched a TV segment with Brit Morin of Brit + Co. who calls herself the “Martha Stewart of Silicon Valley.”  But what was fascinating was the newsperson interviewing her and the lower-third identifying her on the screen also called her that.  I was with my wife and asked, “Who SAYS she’s the Martha Stewart of Silicon Valley?  She does!!”  And if you do a Google search, you’ll find that showing up as well.   So everyone is buying into the persona Brit has created for herself.  Plus, she has not only come up with a memorable title, she is piggy-backing on another famous person who has her own well-known persona– making this a doubly-brilliant move!  You can’t do any better than that.

Now, you don’t need to be known by anything nearly as original or clever as Thatcher or Morin, but to really stand out in the media you DO need to be memorable in some way…and that means having a strong position on whatever your message is.  Think about those who are big media successes–  there is nothing wishy-washy about them…you know exactly what they stand for.  And that’s how you want to be perceived, too.

Margaret Thatcher once said, “Standing in the middle of the road is very dangerous.  You get knocked down by traffic from both sides.  So, take a tip from the “Iron Lady” and make sure whatever message you are trying to deliver is clear, unambiguous and memorable.  You will get noticed.

Riding the Media Pony

I’m a proud graduate of Southern Methodist University in Dallas.  As a “Mustang” supporter, I was recently invited to a New York-area alumni gathering at Lincoln Center in Manhattan.  At the event, school President R. Gerald Turner spoke at length about this month’s opening of former U.S. President George W. Bush’s library on campus.  Dr. Turner talked about why it was important for SMU to jump at the opportunity to have such a prized facility, despite protests by some faculty members about President Bush’s politics.  A long-time Texan, Dr. Turner used a Lone Star idiom to explain his thinking:  “The only bus you can ride is the one that comes by.”

What a fantastic phrase to remember for anyone looking for media exposure!

Media decision-makers–  reporters, guest bookers, producers–  are always under deadline pressure.  The thing that makes them most happy is to know they have the person they need for a story “locked up” and ready to go.  The thing that makes them most ANGRY is when the person they need isn’t reachable…or isn’t ready…or isn’t on time.

If you want to succeed in the media, you need to be the person who is reachable, ready and on time when media members reach out to you.  That’s the bus showing up for you– and it’s the only one you can get on.  If you don’t, you will miss out on a chance to get your message noticed.  What’s worse, if you make those decision-makers angry, you might end up being scratched from their list of possible commentators for any future stories.  There won’t be any more buses coming your way.

Actor/producer Woody Allen once said, “Eighty percent of success is just showing up.”  Keep that in mind as part of your media strategy.  It’s the ride that will get you where you want to go.

A Media Lesson of Biblical Proportions

Americans love keeping score.

We pay attention to all kinds of rankings:  richest people, top colleges, best restaurants, highest weekend box office sales…the list goes on and on.

One that struck me recently was a headline for the History Channel’s super-popular miniseries on the Bible.  It proclaimed:  “The Bible tops American Idol in Nielsen ratings.”

That really stands out.   Idol has been one of the most popular shows in television history.  To hear that The Bible surpassed it really catches your attention.  And it’s a good reminder of what you can do to improve your chances of “getting noticed” by the media.

Like fingerprints and snowflakes, your message is unique.  No matter what you are trying to convey, it’s really important to tap into that uniqueness and show why what you have to say stands out.  A great way to do that is to find a way to “rank” your message against others.

For example, Sprint is competing with bigger wireless companies by claiming it has the nation’s “fastest 4G network”…Ford brags its F-150 is the “best-selling pickup”…CBS promotes itself as the “most-watched television network.”  Notice the use of superlatives.   In all those cases, the companies found something that makes their product stand out in the rankings.  And you can, too.

So think about how your message can claim a top ranking…and promote it that way.  Then you will have a very good shot at “spreading the word” successfully in the media.

Mad About Your Message

It’s March Madness time.  And even people who don’t have a clue about sports know that means the NCAA basketball tournament is getting underway.  It should also be a reminder of how you can do better at “getting noticed” in the media.

March Madness is one of the most popular sporting events in the country.  That didn’t happen by accident.  One of the big reasons for its success is that the schools and breathless sports reporters created a whole series of catchy, memorable phrases to describe the tournament.  Along with March Madness, the lexicon includes the Big Dance, Selection Sunday, Bracketology, Sweet 16, Elite 8, Final 4, and more.  All point to something about the games and create a kind of special lingo players, coaches, fans and the media all use and understand.

The lesson here is that like the NCAA, a great way for you to score points in the media is by having your own catchy phrase that will help people remember your message.  It can’t be forced or corny, but something simple and seemingly unrehearsed (of course it will be rehearsed) that captures what you are trying to say.   Think about the great corporate slogans–  “Just do it,” “We bring good things to life,” “The king of beers”– they are both memorable and say something about the company and/or its products that paints the firm in a positive light.  That’s exactly what you are looking to do for yourself.

So, what word or phrase helps explain what you want to convey?  If you don’t already know, take some time to consider what it is that makes your message stand out from the crowd.  Then create a quick and simple way of expressing it.

By having a strong “slogan” of your own, you will really help yourself excel in another “Big Dance”–  the competition for good media coverage.