Thoughts on books, publicity, and the media from our Cave Henricks staff.

Chase Relevance, Newsjack with Care

Being brand new, blindingly original, or even flat out fascinating is terrific in the PR game.  But, truth be told, more ink is spilled and air time devoted to ideas that hit media desks at just the right moment.

Many years ago, I toiled away on a small memoir about the pharmaceutical industry in which a former employee described how, after a brief training course, he found himself driving around town urging doctors to prescribe a particular antibiotic.  He became troubled that his job was influencing the process of prescribing medicine, something that doctors took years to learn.  He resigned.  But not before the advent of Viagra when suddenly there were not enough hours in a day to meet the demand for free samples of the pricey blue pills which, at the time, were deemed safe for anyone who had not had a prior reaction to the medicine.  The medicine that had never before been on the market.

To many of us, this seemed the surefire angle for this book’s promotion – lightly trained drug reps pushing pills that were very quickly found to be dangerous to lots of people, including those with heart and circulatory problems.  And it did work, to some degree.  But the media got really interested when the pharmaceutical company in the book cut 20,000 sales jobs.  Suddenly, the sex drug that we thought was the hook came in a very slow second to the sheer existence of a former employee who’d written a book that tainted the company’s reputation even further.

Not every book, story, or product gets quite so lucky when it comes to timing, but being relevant is something you can work at.  When the media gets a pitch, they typically start with three qualifiers – what is this book about?  Does whoever wrote it have solid credentials to talk about the subject?  And, the kicker, why do I care about it TODAY?  The third piece is the biggest challenge.  How can you create relevance when you are not given the gift of good timing?

Listen to the conversation in your area of expertise 

Read the trade publications, blogs, newsletters and other publications in your industry or profession.  Attend events with others in your field and take note of any topics or trends that seem to be dominating the conversation.  Keep your knowledge current and stay on top of changes or trends that may make headlines.  Remember that health care professionals of every type became experts for months on end when the Obamacare story dominated the U.S. headlines for months.

Formulate ideas on how you can advance the conversation

Take the time to formulate your opinion on a news breaking subject.  Consider what you know or think that might cast a new light on the situation or open the discussion further.  In the era of retweeting, reposting, and spreading the word via social media channels, if you want to stand out, you need to break new ground, not echo the masses.

Be sensitive to circumstances

I’m personally very sensitive to the term “newsjack”, which can be interpreted as taking advantage of sensational or even tragic stories and using them as an occasion to self-promote.  A good rule of thumb is to offer an opinion only if you believe your comments, expertise, or knowledge will help someone affected by the story.  If your answer to this question is anything but an unqualified yes, don’t offer yourself up to the media at that particular moment.

Use your existing forums to broadcast your opinions

When a story makes news that you are truly qualified to speak on and no one comes calling, quickly write a short piece and post it online.  From your personal blog to LinkedIn, you have an endless canvas to make your opinion known and visible to the media which is quite likely on the hunt for quick access to qualified experts.  Ask others to Tweet and post to their channels.  Take the time to update your social media bios to reflect your expertise in the subject that is making the news at the moment.

Developing a sense of your own relevance is akin to playing the long game.  It is a skill that gets sharper with time and practice and, done well, will give you a decided edge in claiming a place in the spotlight.