A producer from “NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams” called me during last week’s Carnival Triumph fiasco to speak with my client, Jay Herring, who is a former senior officer with Carnival Cruise Lines and author of the book “The Truth About Cruise Ships.”
I turned down the interview.
Before you cry professional maleficence, allow me to explain. The client was already booked—in fact, he had already appeared on a number of shows across a variety of major networks including CBS, ABC, CNN, Fox, and CTV Canada. He also conducted radio and print interviews for a number of top-tier publications.
The bottom line: When Williams’ producer called, it was too late.
Positioning a client as the expert
The cruise industry has dozens, if not hundreds, of experts who all could have done a perfectly competent job explaining what was happening. Although the different media outlets covered the story in different ways, they all turned to the same expert, Jay Herring. He became the
expert on the topic.
As a result of the interviews, his book became an overnight bestseller on Amazon.com. He will be able to leverage this media coverage for the rest of his life.
Even though Herring’s story is an extreme example, anyone is capable of replicating similar results. Here are a few key areas to focus on:
1. Avoid the usual “expert tips.”
One of the best ways to get a client on television, or in any media, is to position him or her as an expert source. PR professionals love the “expert tips” type pitch, and it works often. But when you’re pitching “CBS This Morning” and “Anderson Cooper 360,” that pitch will rarely get through, because these shows are inundated with thousands of pitches.
The Triumph pitch focused on my client’s experience—he had worked on this very ship and knew how it worked. That helped position him as more than just another cruising expert, and it provided specific insights such as where disease might spread on the ship.
2. Be relentlessly persistent.
If you fail to get that interview the first time, or the second, third, and so on, don’t give up. Change the angle; rewrite the pitch. Target different producers and guest bookers. Publicity takes time and is often filled with rejection from reporters, editors, and producers. It’s imperative to keep coming up with new and fresh angles with which to approach the media.
Persistence was a key to landing media coverage for Jay Herring. We jumped on the story as soon as reports surfaced about a cruise ship stranded at sea, pointing to some of the early television coverage to sell our client to new outlets. At first, some shows passed on our pitch, but as more details emerged we called them back, pitched it again and successfully made the interviews happen.
3. Prepare for anything.
Every television producer I’ve worked with does things differently. Some do all the work themselves, and others practically make the publicist produce the segment—in some cases providing detailed talking points, setting up calls with the client, and even writing the anchor’s questions/script. I make sure my clients understand that no matter what the producer has led us to believe about the segment, chances are it’s going to play out completely opposite, and in working with the media, you have to be ready for anything.
At “CBS This Morning,” the producer followed my client from the time he walked into the building, to the makeup chair, to when he went on the air, grilling him on the subject and making sure he knew the latest developments. He explained to Herring the specific direction the anchors were going to take, but it never played out as planned. The anchors ran off with the show.