Sunday, June 12, 2011

Publicist Or Therapist: Which One Are You?

Though legally there doesn’t exist a doctor-patient type confidentiality between publicist-author there ought to.  There is really no difference in how each relates to the other.  In fact, being a publicist is a bit like being a therapist.

This blog entry is for all the promoters out there, whether your work at a publishing house, at a PR firm, or independently for an author.

A publicist does many things for an author.  He or she instills confidence in the author that the media will be supportive.  The publicist shares a vision of how the campaign could unfold.  She is a creative consultant who comes up with crafty pitches.  She’s a salesperson to the media, to her boss, and to her client.  She needs to possess optimism, energy, great communication skills, exhibit a good writing ability, know how to research the media and network connections.  She needs to be well-read on the topic she is promoting and well versed in the media she’s pitching.

But above else, she’s a therapist.

Authors need to know that you as their trusted publicist, believe in them, that you feel what they feel, that you are an extension of them.  Their book is a baby and they want to make sure you’re a nanny they can rest their prized possession with.  If they sense you don’t like them or think their book is less than amazing they won’t feel secure.  If they get an indication that you’re not seasoned, not familiar with what they write about, not strong enough to call the Today Show or are not connected enough to reach USA Today or not persuasive enough to even land the local rag, they will forever treat you with apprehension.

But it goes beyond that.  If your author is insecure, or an egomaniac, or has unreasonable expectations, or is misinformed on the process, life for the two of you becomes a nightmare. You end up spending more time with defensive conversations with the client or your boss than you do on actually contacting the media.

Here are some ground rules that are helpful in making sure publicists don’t have to make “house calls” to their “patient”:

1.       Set expectations.  They need to understand what’s a goal (rule nothing out) but what’s realistic.  Have them feel you value them as a partner but set boundaries for how often you’ll communicate.  Identify what you’ll need from them and outline what is fair for them to expect from you.

2.       Set priorities. Let them know what you’ll focus on, how the pace of outreach and follow up will take place and have them understand you’re on top of things. 

3.       Send weekly updates and always have something new to see. List new people approached, new angles taken, etc.

4.       Share good news fast and celebrate it.  Don’t wait for your weekly update to tell them something good happened.

5.       Mix in bad news when it can be countered with good news.  It’s best to confess failure when you have something positive to say in hope that the euphoria of the good will overshadow the bad. If you hit a home run, people forget you struck out three times before that. 

6.       Explain what’s normal or typical – give them a benchmark.  Assume your author doesn’t know the media as well as you do so help them understand that the PR you generated has value.

7.       Explain deadlines and lead time.

8.       Give them homework when they seem anxious or tell you they saw someone with a similar book on 60 Minutes and want to know why they didn’t get on.

9.       When it looks like things aren’t working, address the issue.  Find new story angels, new people to pitch, new media stories to tap into.  Go back to the author and brainstorm some more.  Find out how far the author will let you bend the pitch or look for new supportive information that wasn’t initially shared with you.

10.   Be honest when giving feedback on a media outlet’s interest.  Just because someone requested a review copy, it doesn’t mean an interview or review is to follow.  And if someone requests a copy, follow up with them and get a final answer on whether they plan to do something or not and then update the author.

11.   Don’t avoid or ignore your author.  This will infuriate them or make them feel abandoned.  They want continuous communication and to feel they are on your radar even when they’re not bugging you.

12.   Don’t ever tell them you have a heavy workload or other books that are priorities.  They don’t want to hear it.  They already assume it anyway.  They just want to see results and know you’re working on it.

13.   Befriend your author.  Sure it’s a business relationship, but it can’t hurt to be friendly and show an interest in the author as a person.  Get to know them.  Ask them questions about their writing life or what they do fun or about their family.  Of course, you’re not to come off as some curious nudge, but rather, as a caring, informed, and interested person.

14.   Ask your boss or co-workers for help if you really find you’re not connecting with your author.

15.   Best tip of all: get good results, often, and spend less time on therapy, damage control, and dead-end outreach. Find a way to convince the media that your author is terrific. Otherwise, you will be seeking a therapist!

*** Brian Feinblum is available at and can be followed on Twitter @theprexpert.

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