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

General Petraeus and Mastering the News Hook

Over the past few years, the media landscape has shifted dramatically. Our fearless leader Barbara often tells clients that the media has changed more in the past two years than in the past twenty.

One of the most marked differences is that a larger share of the media hits we secure for clients come in the form of guest articles. While the opportunities for book reviews in print magazines are increasingly elusive, most of the major media outlets are looking more and more to book authors to supply them with original and insightful content for their online operations. It’s a win-win for content-hungry editors and media-seeking authors. So while you might not get a book review in Fast Company, you have a decent chance of placing a guest piece on their website – if you play by the right rules.

Without a doubt, the most effective way to place a guest piece is by responding to the news cycle. It’s our job to monitor the news for major stories that we can use as “news hooks” to secure media placements for our clients – whether it’s getting them on NPR to comment on a developing story, or flagging news stories as opportunities to lend their insight in the form of a guest piece.

There are countless news stories every week, but the key is to look for the ones that reach critical mass – the ones that spark conversations and dialogues, whether at cocktail parties or on Twitter. If you follow the media regularly, you’ll notice that most weeks have one or two major stories that dominate the national conversation. If you happen to have expertise in a topic area that connects to the story, you have a prime opportunity on your hands – and you’ll want to leverage it quickly and with the right execution.

So, what are the guidelines for responding to the news cycle in a way that will catch the attention of top editors?

For insights, let’s take a look at how authors responded to this week’s top news story: the Gen. Petraeus scandal. Below are five completely unique takes on the story – each one was written by the author of a book, and published by a top business media outlet.

The Warning Signs of David Petraeus’ Fall, And How to Find a Way Forward

By Tom Kolditz, author of In Extremis Leadership: Leading As If Your Life Depended On It

Published on


Leadership Lessons: Petraeus & the Value of Failure

By Margaret Heffernan, author of Willful Blindness: Why We Ignore the Obvious at Our Peril 

Published on


What David Petraeus Teaches All of Us About Trust

By Rodger Dean Duncan, author of Change-Friendly Leadership: How to Transform Good Intentions Into Great Performance

Published on


How Often Do People Have Sex at the Office?

By Arianne Cohen, author of The Sex Diaries Project: What We’re Saying About What We’re Doing (John Wiley & Sons)

Published by


Petraeus and the Rise of Narcissistic Leaders

By Jeffrey Pfeffer, author of Power: Why Some People Have It – And Others Don’t

Published by


Each article reflects on the same news story, but is written with a different angle in mind, based on his/her unique platform and expertise. What can we learn from them? A few takeaways:

  • Act Fast. The media waits for no one. If you spot a news story and recognize the unique angle you bring, but it takes you over a week to write the piece, you have likely missed the window. Chances are, someone else got there first.
  • Know your topic area. Each writer from this list explored the Petraeus story through the lens of their particular area of expertise. This all goes back to platform-building – know your topic, stay on message, and stick with it for the long-hau.
  • It’s not actually about the news story. While you are writing with a news outlet in mind, your job is not to report the news – it’s to use the news as a starting point for drawing universal lessons that you are uniquely qualified to offer. For example, Rodger Dean Duncan leads with the Petraeus story, but then spends the bulk of his article drawing lessons from the scandal that any leader would find relevant. Duncan is a highly-accomplished leadership consultant and expert (he’s also our highly-awesome client), so he recognized that his readers would look to him not for his opinion on the scandal itself, but for the universal leadership principles they could draw from it
  • Resist the urge to promote your book. This is one of the trickiest parts. When you have a major media outlet in the palm of your hand, it’s so tempting to sneak in as many mentions of your book as possible, or to approach the entire piece through the framework of your book. But if you don’t resist this temptation, you’ll be hard-pressed to find an editor who will agree to run your piece. When editors look to book authors for guest content, they aren’t interested in your book – they are interested in your ideas, and what those ideas (that often come from the book) can communicate to readers about the biggest news story of the moment. You will serve yourself far better over the long-term if you approach your piece like a journalist, resist the urge to self-promote, and trust that the book mention in your byline is all the promotion you need.

What are the major stories of the moment that you can weigh in on?