The Tools of the Trade
A short course in "PR-speak" or What the heck did your publicist
By Theresa Meyers
Before I hand you a quick glossary of terms, I would like to explain that
there are two terms that often get used interchangeably even though they
do mean different things to your publisher and within the industry in
general. These are the phrases promotion andpublicity. To your publisher
promotion deals with all the little items such as bookmarks, postcards,
magnets or other goodies you might choose to give out to booksellers,
readers, conferences and the like. These are considered a form of advertising.
Publicity on the other hand deals largely with perception. At times,
it is the perception of authority, power, knowledge or influence that
can sway a situation in favor of an organization or brand. Unlike advertising,
publicity or public relations cannot guarantee coverage, does not deal
in claims, and works closely with the multiple "publics" of
a client to achieve specific results.
As an author you have several publics that must be addressed while building
increased name recognition, also known as your brand, and respect for
your work. These include your potential readers, current readers, the
publishing industry, including other writers, distributors, jobbers, booksellers
and editors; there is also the public of unknowing readers (who may become
potential readers once they stop being so snooty about their reading habits);
and finally, there is the general public represented by the media.
To properly brand your name and increase awareness of your writing, it
is necessary to work with all these publics in different stages and with
specific plans to make the pr efforts as effective as possible. Public
relations makes use of media to convey messages for the client to its
various publics. Public relations is considered more effective than advertising
because media give the messages an implied third-party endorsement through
their use of the information. Research in the communications field indicates
that messages perceived as media are ten times more likely to influence
a purchase or sway an opinion than advertising.
Now let's talk about basic tactics used by public relations professionals
(also called publicists) to get you into the news.
Several basic tactics are used by public relations professionals to influence
perception and distributed information. These include pitch letters, press
releases, press kits, media alerts, campaigns, events, articles, interviews,
reviews and media relations. Some of the more advanced tactics can include
video news releases, syndicated news services, and satellite media tours.
For the purposes of your pr plan, basic tactics will be used to begin,
and advanced tactics may be implemented as your needs develop to a more
advanced level. What follows is a quick description of each of these tactics.
A pitch letter is a single page letter designed with a hook at the beginning
and a call to action at the end. It is meant to draw the attention of
a journalist and entice them into action. These would be used to target
specific journalists at the New York Times, Cosmopolitan, Romantic Times,
Publishers Weekly and other publications as well as television and radio
Usually written on no more than two sheets of letterhead, a press release
is written in Associated Press Style (AP) as dictated by the AP Style
book, which is considered the Bible of journalism. These releases can
be written with either a feature or news flavor, which is dependent on
the information used to create them and the purpose of the press release.
Press releases are most often used to convey information about events,
people or industry news and are designed to be journalist-friendly, which
means they can use the information to complete their regular work with
little effort on their behalf.
Press kits are a well-developed packet of information, often packaged
in a unique way, which convey a pr campaign message. They often contain
multiple elements to provide ample information for a journalist including
items such as press releases, pictures of an author, cover samples, a
title information sheet and industry information or statistics. I tend
to include for most clients (in order) a 5x7 color photo with inset caption
followed by the author's bio with a picture inset (all of this, by the
way should have your name, website and book title on it somewhere), then
the frequently asked questions (often called F.A.Q.s), title page (listing
all of your books, their ISBNs, etc., with a picture of your most recent
book cover), an awards page (if applicable), and statistics from Romance
Writers of America. You can also include a book flat if you like, but
some authors get more of these to work with than others.
A one-page information sheet used to signal the media of an immediate
event or occurrence and spur action. This would be most often utilized
for special events such as book tours.
A mini-pr plan created around a specific goal or activity to generate
interest and increase participation. The publicity plan centered around
the launch of your first single would be considered a complete campaign.
Campaigns often utilize several PR tactics to accomplish goals. A separate
PR proposal/plan will be written for each campaign approved by you.
Often publications will allow outside contributions from authoritative
sources. As your image becomes stronger in with readers, you will be considered
an important source of information about writing and the genre. These
articles are usually general in nature, but have a benign or subtle pitch
for to reinforce author branding or a specific campaign.
Interviews with publications often give writers the ability to pitch their
campaign or their branding message while speaking to a journalist for
a larger story. These are often arranged by PR professionals to not only
assist the journalist in finding sources for their articles, but in gaining
the client coverage as well.
A publicist will coordinate with an author's publisher to secure reviews
in publications and online venues most likely to reach key publics. This
includes not only sending out the material to the reviewer and tracking
reviews to identify author-friendly reviewers for future use, but also
producing reports, which can be submitted to the publisher as evidence
of self-promotion activities on the author's part.
Just like special events, speaking opportunities give an author a chance
to connect with his or her various publics. All speaking opportunities
are not of equal value to your plan. As your publicist, it is my job to
filter out those opportunities that most closely match our objectives
in branding you as an author and increasing recognition for your work.
These opportunities will be presented to you for your consideration and
a speaking engagement plan arranged accordingly.
Perhaps the most ambiguous part of public relations has to do with media
relations. Through this relationship-building process, PR professionals
gain a knowledge of the inner workings of particular publications and
journalists and then utilize that information for the benefit of their
clients to gain additional coverage.
Syndicated News Services:
Syndicated News Services take materials written in a cut-and-paste format
suitable for newspapers. Articles are distributed to over 10,000 newspapers
nationwide for less cost than a 37-cent stamp and a single sheet of letterhead.
This service represents both a cost effective and efficient way of reaching
a vast audience and would be suitable for future endeavors to spread your
For the most part media want to connect and interview you, the author,
not your publicity person. To help you make the most of each of these
opportunities and empower you to tangle with potentially romance-unfriendly
journalists, it is suggested that you receive media training. Under the
supervision of a media trainer, authors are taken through a session detailing
the different types of interviews, media formats and how they differ,
the development of key message points and sound bites, ways to handle
tough or attacking questions, strategic moves to mold perceptions, as
well as two intensive taped mock interviews which give clients a chance
to review their interview demeanor and improve. A training package summarizing
the session is included for use as a future reference by the client.
Video News Releases:
Video News Releases (VNRs) are often used by the broadcast media in the
way press kits are used by the print media. It is a specialized videotape
combining "A" footage (interviews with client and other members
of the industry) with "B" footage (pictures without any sound
over which the reporter can talk and use it as background). A production
company is usually selected to both produced the VNR and distributed it
via satellite to television stations nationally.
Satellite Media Tours:
Satellite Media Tours have the advantage of the broadcast medium, with
the benefit of reduced travel costs and more selective pickup by television
stations. An author is linked from a studio in either New York or Los
Angeles (whichever is closer) via satellite for live interviews with reporters
from stations across the nation. The tour takes approximately two to three
hours of studio time during which live interviews can be conducted with
as many as 15 to 25 stations. Stations are booked back-to-back for interviews.
A production company is hired to arrange for the studio, satellite uplink
and interviews. This can be done for either radio or television.
Radio Media Tours:
Radio Media Tours also have the advantage of the broadcast medium, with
the benefitof reduced travel costs and more selective pick-up by radio
stations. An author is linkedvia a hosting station or conference service
from home for taped and live radio interviews ranging from 5 -15 minutes
all over the country. The tour takes approximately three to five hours
of time during which interviews can be conducted withas many as 15 to
25 stations and the author has a few breaks. A productioncompany specializing
in this service is hired to arrange for the station hosting and interviews.
Crisis Management Plan:
Every business is open to crisis. How an author handles crisis can leave
a lasting perception with the public that can directly impact an author's
image. With a limited amount of time invested in planning, many of the
critical moments of a crisis can be handled well and with tactical advantage
to an author. This plan details who and in what order people are to be
contacted, who acts as the media spokespersons, sample press releases
and media statements, a press conference plan and checklist, a communication
plan for your various publics and sample web copy and checklist for updating
your websites. What types of crisis can impact an author? Examples include
charges of plagiarism (even if untrue), embroilment in contract and rights
disputes that become public, social connection to a major event, such
as a crime that occurs to you or your family that becomes public news.
I hope this glossary can assist you in understanding the various tools
you publicist uses. Please be sure to look at the other articles in this
section for details on author branding, ways in which to contact the media
and suggestions for making your promotion more successful.