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.

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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.

A Higher (Media) Power

I have to give the folks at the Vatican credit…they really know how to use the media!

When I first heard that white smoke was pouring out of the Sistine Chapel chimney, I immediately flipped on the broadcast of the breaking news from Rome (I actually checked out TV, radio and online coverage).  Along with billions of others around the globe, I anxiously waited for the announcement of which cardinal had been chosen pope.  And waited.  And waited.   And as all of us waited (and news people struggled to fill the time), we were treated to chanting crowds, beautiful music and exquisite pageantry.  Throughout the more than one-hour wait, the excitement built to a fever pitch.  The Wall Street Journal quoted someone in the square who compared the atmosphere to a U2 concert.  It was a fantastically-positive display for the Roman Catholic Church, orchestrated perfectly by the Vatican.

Now obviously, the choosing of a pope has the weight of a huge historic event and major news story behind it, but still the Vatican got every ounce of good media coverage out of it.   That’s because the curiae understands the value of that coverage and had clearly prepared meticulously for this event.

I have often discussed in these blogs the importance of preparation in order to take advantage of your media opportunities.   That’s especially true when, unlike the Vatican, you don’t know when those opportunities will present themselves.   It’s very easy to miss a great chance at “getting noticed” if you aren’t ready for it.  And as we’ve seen from the Vatican, the more you understand about the message you hope to send, the more effective your messaging will be.

Pope Francis seems to be solidly tuned in to the Vatican’s messaging effort.  His greeting of the crowd and early comments have gotten a very positive response…and positive media coverage.  He has used his big media opportunity to make a solid first impression.   I suspect that was just the beginning of what we will see in the future.

So for some excellent examples of how to build your media strategy, keep an eye on Rome.  Like the faithful who walked out of St. Peter’s Square uplifted, you, too, may come away with your own special gift from the Holy See.

Making Your Message Memorable

When the Dow Jones Industrial Average rose to an all-time high this week, news reporters –as they are want to do when a market milestone is set—spent a lot of time trying to put the record in perspective. One of my favorites was from an old colleague of mine, Joe Connolly, a Wall Street Journal reporter who works for CBS Radio.  Joe noted the last time the Dow was at record levels (October, 2007), the RAZR was the hot cellphone, the iPhone was just coming out and Bernie Madoff was running an investment firm in Manhattan.    It was a funny line that really caught my attention because it put the story in a simple frame of reference that a lot of people understood.  Joe is a great broadcaster in part because he often uses these kinds of audience-grabbing comparisons in his reports.

Joe’s technique is a valuable one that you should remember in your efforts to get noticed in the media.   In education circles, it’s a teaching method called “compare and contrast.”  Explaining how your message compares and contrasts to something the audience already knows makes it easier to understand…and be remembered.   And nothing is better for media success than being clear and memorable.

Of course, all this takes preparation.  You need to know exactly what message you want to deliver…then determine what well-known examples are out there to which you can compare and contrast that message.

So start today to think about how you might “compare and contrast” your own message.  Then, when a media opportunity does come around, you will be ready to deliver a unique line that will make you stand out from everyone else.

Winning Gold with the Media

It was one of the most memorable pictures of the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.

That face!

American gymnast McKayla Maroney, after stumbling during her vault routine and only taking a silver medal, produced the now-famous “unimpressed” look on the medal stand.

The picture was splashed all over the media, so much so that during the team’s celebratory visit to the White House, even President Obama took note, joining Maroney in reproducing the look for an official photo of the event.

Wisely, Maroney has recognized the value of what was actually an unhappy reaction to her lack of success.  Instead of seeing it as a negative, Maroney has been using the picture to her advantage, helping her secure business opportunities and stay in the spotlight.

Media opportunities can come in all different forms…and at different times.  I’m pretty sure at that moment on the stand in London Maroney didn’t plan to make a face she could parlay into real gold.  However, once she saw how it took off, she made sure not only to embrace it but to also make it her signature mark…a brilliant media strategy.

You, too, may find yourself in a surprise or unlikely situation that suddenly provides you with a chance to make a big media splash.  If you do, it’s important to take advantage of the opportunity.  And the only way you can do that successfully is to be prepared–  by understanding what your message is and how you want to present it.

So take a tip from McKayla Maroney, who stumbled on a big opportunity and then took advantage of it.  She may have only won silver at the Olympics, but she owns a media strategy of gold.

Painting Danica’s Portrait

One of the most important aspects of a successful media strategy is for you to control how you are portrayed…not the media.

A great example of someone really trying hard to do that is race car driver Danica Patrick.

Patrick of course gets tremendous media coverage because she is a woman succeeding in a male-dominated sport.   All the headlines going into this year’s Daytona 500 was how she was the first female to ever win the pole position to start the race.

Patrick ended up finishing eighth, and every post-race news story was the same— the first mention was that Jimmy Johnson won, then it was how Patrick made history with the highest finish ever for a woman.

She didn’t like that.  In her post-race comments, Patrick made it clear that WINNING was what mattered and that being happy with a top-10 finish would be setting herself up for failure.

Patrick doesn’t want to be known as the best FEMALE race car driver…she wants to be the best race car driver, period.   And in every media opportunity, she tries to hammer home that point.  It’s a tough battle, because obviously her gender is a big part of the story and will likely be so for a long time to come.  But we should give her kudos for trying to change the discussion from male/female to just  NASCAR racing.

The way you present yourself to the media will go a long way to determining how you are portrayed.  If you have a clear understanding of your message and keep that message always front and center, there’s a good chance you will be seen in the way you want.  Bad preparation and loss of focus allows others to step in and paint you in a whatever light they choose…and it’s likely you won’t like the result.

So remember, be like Danca Patrick.  Know what your message is and deliver it every chance you can.  Do that and you’ll have a great chance finishing first in the race for good media attention.