Find a message you’re enthusiastic about. Try to understand what it is about that message that appeals to you so much. Why are you excited about it? The better you understand that, the better job you will do writing about your message.
As part of my interview series on the five things you need to know to become a great author, I had the pleasure of interviewing Marsha Friedman.
Marsha is the ForbesBooks author of Gaining the Publicity Edge: An Entrepreneur’s Guide to Growing Your Brand Through National Media Coverage. Friedman is the founder and president of News & Experts, an award-winning national public relations agency that secures thousands of top-tier media placements annually for clients. She has three decades of experience developing publicity strategies for celebrities, corporations, CEOs, and professionals in a broad range of industries.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you share a story about what brought you to this particular career path?
Oddly enough, it was never my goal to lead a public relations firm. I didn’t go to college to study it, and I never worked for a PR agency to try to understand how they are set up and how they function. But I was always an entrepreneur at heart and that was my true career path. Public relations happened to become the direction my entrepreneurial spirit led me in, but frankly it could have been any industry. I launched my company in 1990 and here’s how it came about: A business associate knew I loved talk radio and understood it well, and he asked me if I could help him get booked as a radio show guest. I agreed and added that he wouldn’t have to pay me unless I actually booked him. That was the beginning of an innovative approach that became the foundation of my business, guaranteed results, rather than just guaranteeing best efforts.
My colleagues at the time were bestselling authors in the financial world. When I realized how interested they were in this method of getting publicity, I knew I had a winning and viable business model. One of them said to me, “Sure, see if you can book me. But other PR firms I’ve had said they couldn’t get any media interested in me.” We were booking him so much he had to set a budget. I always liked helping people and I always liked the idea of promoting people, so this business was a perfect fit!
Can you share the most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your career?
At one time Jimmy Hoffa Jr. was my client. We were managing his publicity when he was running for the office of President for the Teamsters Union. But as with all political campaigns, when the election is over there is usually no money left when the candidate has lost. It was no different for Hoffa, Jr., when he lost the election. He owed us a fair sum of money for a boutique agency like mine — something to the tune of 60,000 dollars! No surprise when he called me to talk about the debt, but I was surprised when he politely let me know he wouldn’t be paying it. He explained I was the first person on his list to call, but said it in a way as if I should be honored I was top of mind! The conversation was very cordial and certainly memorable. I mean, what do you say to Jimmy Hoffa Jr. who can’t pay his campaign debt?
What was the biggest challenge you faced in your journey to becoming an author? How did you overcome it? Can you share a story about that that other aspiring writers can learn from?
I wrote my first book, Celebritize Yourself, because I had been telling everyone else to write a book as a way to promote their personal and corporate brand. I needed to take my own advice. I thought it would be easy, just putting down in print what I talk about all the time on the phone and in speeches. But when I sat down to write, all I could see was this blank canvas, no matter how long I stared at it. I thought to myself, “There are so many books on this topic — what can I offer a reader that could make my book different and provide value?” As I puzzled over that problem I realized that what would make the book different could only be what makes me different! After all, no two people are alike. Everyone approaches life with a unique perspective. I went through a process of pulling that string of thought to come up with an approach to help others find their uniqueness. I also realized that the biggest problem many clients had when they would come to us was helping them identify their message. So, I devoted the majority of my book to the step-by-step process I went through, to help my readers discover what makes them different from others in their field. Tapping into what makes you unique is essential for writers contemplating a book related to their business and expertise. Once the messaging is worked out, and the book is written, it becomes the foundation to build a marketing strategy upon.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
It might be funny now, but it definitely wasn’t funny then. In the early days of my PR firm I had a client who wanted to be interviewed on national television. At the time, I knew nothing about how to pitch national TV, so I gathered up my courage, picked up the phone, and called the producer of a big show. I didn’t think I would actually get him on the line — but I got him on the line. After my initial surprise, I told him about my client. He listened and then said to me, “I have a question. Have you ever watched my show?” No, I had never watched his show. “My suggestion,” he said, “is you don’t pitch a story to a producer unless you watch it and see what the show is about!” Although I was thoroughly embarrassed, I knew it was important advice. If I wanted to grow my company and provide a valuable service to my clients, I realized I needed to better understand the media; what they wrote about, what their shows were about, and how they wanted to be communicated to. Then I could provide the right clients and messages to meet their needs, which would result in interviews for my clients. That became a basic foundational philosophy of my business, that we serve two clients — the clients who pay us, of course, but also the media who need qualified experts to interview about relevant topics.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
I just finished my second book, Gaining the Publicity Edge, published by ForbesBooks. I’ve spent almost 30 years promoting other authors, so it’s exciting to work with my team to promote my book and, in the process, experience what our clients go through.
Can you share the most interesting story that you shared in your book?
In the early days of my business, I had a client who flew in from Japan to meet me. His business made protein bars and he asked me how many radio interviews I could book a month so that the company could promote those bars. When I inquired about his budget, he said that didn’t matter and asked whether I could book 30 interviews a month. As we never got paid a monthly retainer as other PR agencies do, and only get paid for the interviews we secure, I thought, “Holy crap — this could drive up our revenues significantly if we could do what he asked.” I told him we would go for it and I created an incentive program for my radio bookers. They rose to the challenge, booking 30 radio interviews every month for an entire year. It helped that this company had a great spokesperson who was adept at taking any health-related topic and tying it back to the product. Everything seemed to go unbelievably well with this client, but then something odd happened. After we fulfilled the year-long contract, the company didn’t renew. I began to think that this publicity campaign that seemed so successful must actually have been a failure. I continued to think that for five years until, one day, out of the blue, I happened to get a call from the protein bar spokesperson who cleared up the mystery. He told me that, thanks to those radio interviews, the protein bar company had grown from revenues of 6 million dollars annually to 60 million dollars. The company ended the interviews because they had been so successful they no longer felt the need for my company’s services!
What is the main empowering lesson you want your readers to take away after finishing your book?
It’s all about branding. The value of being quoted in the print media or interviewed on radio or TV is to build your brand, differentiate yourself from competitors, and earn a position as a trusted authority. The credibility that comes with earned media is priceless and what I call “marketing gold.” Yet, so many people think: “Who am I? I can’t get quoted in the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal.” But I have 30 years of hard earned experience to say, “yes, you can be quoted in national publications and interviewed on radio and TV if you provide valuable content for their audience and have the credentials to be an authority on your topic.” If you understand the “business” of the media — and that their revenues are driven by the size of their audience — then you’ll understand the important role you can play of serving the media’s needs with valuable content that will keep their audience tuned in.
Based on your experience, what are the “5 Things You Need to Know to Become a Great Author”? Please share a story or example for each.
- Find a message you’re enthusiastic about. Try to understand what it is about that message that appeals to you so much. Why are you excited about it? The better you understand that, the better job you will do writing about your message.
- Decide who can benefit from your message. You need to know your target audience and understand them. Are they male, female or both? Do they fall within a particular age group? Of course, your message may appeal to many different types of people, the way a fitness instructor has clientele that can include 70-year-olds trying to get healthy and 20-year-olds trying to look their best for date night.
- Understand how your message will help your audience. While it’s absolutely essential that you love your message, that message also needs to resonate with your audience. They must feel that their time reading your book is well spent and there is some benefit for them. A highly successful professional once came to me with his manuscript, which he planned to publish as a book and have my firm promote for him. He wrote about his spiritual awakening, but his personal story provided no real message for the reader. Outside of his family and close friends, no one would be interested because he had nothing to offer them.
- Ask yourself why you are the one to bring this message to the audience. What’s going to be most important to your audience is the actual experience you bring to your message. It’s not going to be that you have a college degree and some letters after your name. What you have actually accomplished is more important. For example, I wrote about growing your brand through national media coverage because I have 30 years of experience helping people do that. Yes, credentials are important, but real-life experience is even more so.
- Take an approach that is uniquely you. No matter what your topic is, it’s likely that bookshelves are filled with volumes on the same subject. You need to identify what’s different about you that will translate into a book that’s unlike all those others. I once met a financial planner who didn’t see how he could come up with anything different from the seemingly endless list of financial-planning books already in print. But after we talked a while, he revealed that his passion was for the special financial plights of the “suddenly single,” and there was the topic for his book.
What is the one habit you believe contributed the most to you becoming a great writer? (i.e. perseverance, discipline, play, craft study) Can you share a story or example?
Consistency. I have gotten better at writing by consistently writing. I could have taken a writing course and spent a lot of time studying about writing, but that wouldn’t have made me a better writer. What got me to where I am is writing, writing and writing some more. I think that when you write you also need courage, because when you share your point of view you often will get blowback from those who disagree or those who are quick to criticize. Whether you are writing a book, a blog, or whatever, you will encounter people who will try to knock you down. Of course, sometimes criticism can be helpful. For many years I have written a newsletter called PR Insider in which I share tips for gaining publicity. Not long after I started the newsletter, I received an envelope from a reader. Inside was my PR Insider with red marks all over it. But this reader also included a caring note and it was clear he just wanted to help me. So, in that case, I was thankful for the criticism!
Which literature do you draw inspiration from? Why?
I love books that have a spiritual element to them, such as The Science of Getting Rich by Wallace Wattles written in 1910 and The Path to Wealth: Seven Spiritual Steps for Financial Abundance by May McCarthy, published in 2015. Those books talk about getting rich not only in business, but in life.
I’m a fan of early new thought authors who were popular around the 1920s. One of my favorites from that era is The Game of Life and How to Play It by Florence Scovel Shinn. It has a spiritual point of view that you can apply to every area of life.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
It would be to help abused, abandoned, and neglected children. They experience more trauma in childhood than most people do in an entire lifetime. In fact, at one time I had a non-profit called Cherish The Children Foundation dedicated to raising awareness to their plight. We created a “Hands of Hope” quilt where hundreds of foster children put their handprints on the fabric, and 25 professional quilters put the quilt together. We presented it at the White House in 1996 to First Lady Hillary Clinton.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
On Twitter: @marshafriedman and @newsandexperts. On LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/marshafriedman/
Thank you so much for this. This was very inspiring!