So my pal Sean is the creator of the TTC Subway Rider Efficiency Guide: a small booklet that helps you plan which car on the subway to get on so that when you get off, you’ll be at the exit stairwell. He got a lot of media attention for this fascinating and obsessive project and he’s very generously offered to share all the things he learned during the process of media outreach which (true to his nature) he extensively catalogued as he went along.
While media outreach is only one part of promoting a project, it’s one that a lot of people find intimidating. He’s broken down a lot of the key things in a very approachable way. Check it out and feel free to add your own tips or questions in the comments.
So Ya Want To Be Famous: 26 Media Lessons Learned
by Sean Lerner
As you read this, you may want to substitute chicks with hot guys or something else, depending on what you like.
I put together a zine called the TTC Subway Rider Efficiency Guide. I managed to drum up a lot of press: so much so that I felt entitled to impart my wisdom through this anecdotal account of my experience. Press, I thought, would generally be a good thing, as it would naturally lead to more chicks.
After putting together the first draft of the zine, I sent an email to all my friends asking them for feedback. A friend who works at the CBC forwarded my email to her colleague who’s a producer for the CBC Metro Morning radio show. She was interested in doing a story. I was excited! I hadn’t even released the guide, and already the chicks were on the way.
I have a freelance reporter friend. She was well aware of the project and provided me great feedback throughout the construction of the zine. She pitched a story to the Globe and Mail early on, well before the guide was finished. They were interested.
The Globe article put things into high-gear for me. It was a Tuesday, and they wanted to publish the article on the TTC guide on the coming Saturday. I wasn’t planning on doing the release for a few weeks and I wanted to send out a press release to all the media outlets at the same time. But it always seemed like my official release was two weeks away, and so I was happy to have a reason to finally go live with the website and release the guide, plus I didn’t want to pass up the opportunity for an article in the Globe and Mail.
The attention, as a result of the Globe article, was great. A few days later I went to a Spacing Magazine fundraiser, not knowing anyone. Apparently a lot of people who go to Spacing Magazine fundraisers also read the Globe and Mail, as I spent the night walking around, half the time by myself and half the time talking to people who had read the Globe article.
The only thing I didn’t like about the Globe article was a miserable photo of me taken at St. George station. How was I ever supposed to get the chicks with a mug like that? In fact, I’m not happy with any of the photos of me that appeared in print. Media outlets weren’t necessarily looking to make me as attractive as possible.
The TTC Subway Rider Efficiency Guide is small and (some have said) cute, and I didn’t think an email press release describing it would do it justice, so instead I sent out a snail-mail press release, with a copy of the zine to over 200 media outlets.
Global TV left a voice message for me about the guide, but I was never able to get in touch with the producer who left the message, and my guess is she lost interest. As many salespeople know, a live person has to be at the other end of the phone line or there’s a good chance the sale will be lost. I decided to turn my cell phone on and refer people from my home answering machine to my cell phone (normally I keep my cell phone off). It paid off: a producer from the CBC 6 o’clock news television show Canada Now called while I was out for dinner.
The CBC producer was keenly interested in the guide. She was concerned about other television media covering it first, and I told her about the Global TV call. This put pressure on her to cover it quickly, and she told me to call her right away if Global called back. They had trouble getting permission to film on TTC property in time for the interview, so they did a live spot across the street from Chester station in a parking lot.
I was going to be on the six o’clock news! I mean c’mon! I was going to be famous! I was looking forward to going home to find chicks lined up outside my door. The next day I was selling the TTC Subway Rider Efficiency Guide at the Small Press Book Fair, and I was sure people would be chatting me up after seeing me on CBC news. No such luck. At the book fair, not a single person mentioned it. I can’t even recall anyone ever mentioning that they saw me on the news (except for my mom, who I made watch a recording of several times).
I got a call from a reporter at the Town Crier. She had seen the Globe article and was interested in doing a story for the local issue of her paper in my neighbourhood. Despite its relatively small circulation, people told me they saw me in this paper.
The Town Crier story revolved around a section I have on the TTC Subway Rider Efficiency Guide website called Quirky Stations which lists a unique quirk about each subway station. This was the first of many media pieces to draw most of the content for their story from this section.
Aside from a small Toronto Sun story, things were quiet for a while. And then I got a phone call from someone to tell me a story had run in the National Post about the guide. It was a surprise, as the National Post hadn’t called to interview me. My guess is the press release I sent out took a while to filter through their system. A few hours later 640 Toronto (a talk radio station) emailed me and I did an interview the same day on their afternoon program. Jim Richards, the host of CFRB 1010’s (another talk radio station) evening show, happened to be listening to his competition on 640 in his car and heard an announcement saying I was coming up later in the hour. He called his producer and asked him to call me to setup an interview. It was all a bit surreal, as while I was waiting by the phone for 640 to call for the live on-air interview, the producer from CFRB called to request their own interview.
The odd thing about being on the Jim Richards show was that I had never sent his show a press release. I did, however, send two other CFRB shows a press release, plus another to their newsroom, but no one from those shows contacted me.
As the Town Crier is a community newspaper, and they like to link their stories to the local community, they mentioned I was a Centennial College graduate (even though this was ten years ago). A communications officer at Centennial contacted me and asked me if I’d like any help in promoting myself. Apparently all articles that mention the words Centennial College are flagged for him to review. He requested that if possible and appropriate, I mention I was a Centennial College grad. With his help, I was able to catch the attention of the transit reporter for the Toronto Star.
To officially launch the TTC Subway Rider Efficiency Guide I had planned a guerrilla theatre skit to be performed on the subway with some friends. The plan was to perform the same funny skit several times in the span of 90 minutes. The skit ended with me handing out free guides to all those who answered TTC trivia.
The Toronto Star article revolved around the skit. Initially they were going to publish the article the same day the skit was to be performed, with a ‘look out for the guerrilla theatre group on the subway trains today’ teaser.
Because the guerrilla theatre on the subway trains would make for an excellent photo opportunity, Now magazine was interested in taking a photo for their upfront section, Eye Weekly was interested in doing a wandering eye piece on it, and the tabloid magazine the Toronto Special was interested.
Right about now disaster struck. I became too excited about the theatre and over promoted it. City TV called to find out the details, and the day before it was to take place, the TTC called to tell me not to perform as scheduled and to put in a formal request to do the theatre. The guerilla theatre wasn’t meant to be a political statement, and I didn’t want to be on bad terms with the TTC, so I canceled the theatre and submitted an official request. The TTC probably found out about it as City TV would have called them to request permission to film the theater on TTC property. The TTC would have then known the details of the theatre and would have broken it up before it started anyway.
Instead of a photo of the theatre that did not happen, Now magazine put a scathing comment in the screechy news area of their upfront section about the TTC putting the boots to the guerilla theatre. Eye Weekly did a more in-depth story of what happened a few weeks later.
Things slowed down for a while, and then seemingly out of nowhere Breakfast Television asked me to come in to talk about the guide. My family, who watch Breakfast Television in the morning while they get ready for work, were impressed. Even though previously I had been on the six o’clock news (I mean c’mon!), to them Breakfast Television was a much bigger deal.
At the Breakfast Television interview we didn’t discuss what the guide was for. Anyone watching who wasn’t familiar with the TTC Subway Rider Efficiency Guide would have had no idea why I was on TV.
Finally, Rogers Cable 10 called and asked if I’d like to appear in a program called Local Heroes. Was this a joke? Me, a hero? Like Superman or Batman? Or maybe like a firefighter? Would I be a hunky star in a calendar? Well, I knew heroes get all the chicks, so I said “Yes, for sure.”
In retrospect, I received almost no magazine coverage.
Don’t go yet!
There’s still more I’ve got to say!
Another thing about blogs!
You’re still here?
One more thing!
- photos of yourself in the context of your project
- photos of your project on its own
- photos of any events involving your project (i.e. your launch party)
- make the photos easy to view online (low-res), but also provide links to hi-res photos for publishing. Check out what Jim Munroe does for an example
- a bio about yourself
- copies of your press releases. Write your press releases in third person and include snappy quotes from yourself. This lets you control exactly what your message is and avoids misquotes. Media that may not have covered what you’re doing originally due to the effort involved in contacting and interviewing you, may now write something up. When they include your quote, it makes them look like they had a personal interview with you
- a link to your media kit in the press releases you send out
- a webpage with images and logos relating to your project. An image makes a blog post more visually appealing, and bigger blogs often won’t post without an image. Make these graphics web-friendly (low-res). This will save bloggers a lot of effort and will likely result in more blog posts. I currently post transit news on Torontoist.com. I spend way too much time finding suitable images on websites and editing them in Photoshop. See the logo page for the TTC Subway Rider Efficiency Guide for a simple example
- a contact page. Include a link to this contact page on all your webpages. Include your home number, mobile number and snail-mail address on your contact page. Include your email address, and set up a form for people to contact you – in my experience (and to my surprise), many people feel more comfortable contacting someone via an online web form over an email address
So now that you’re famous, go ahead and feed your ego:
http://www.technorati.com/ – tracks blogs through rss feeds and provides live up to the minute info whenever you are blogged about
http://www.google.com/alerts – sends you an email whenever Google finds a new webpage that mentions whatever keywords you provide
http://www.google.com/ – um, I’m not sure what this is for
Visit the TTC Subway Rider Efficiency Guide press page to see the media coverage the guide has received.
I spent a dozen hours compiling media snail-mail and email addresses into an Excel spreadsheet. It imports nicely into Word for label printing. It’s ideal for anyone in Toronto who wants to send out a press release. Contact me at email@example.com for a copy of the spreadsheet – I’d be happy to have my effort to be of help.