Enhance your impact by Following Up
Sending out news releases and media kits isn’t the most important phase of your public relations campaign; following up on those initial contacts is absolutely critical to your market presence. Authors who follow up with the media have much more success publicizing their books than do those authors who fail to follow up.
Fielding Follow-up Requests from the Media
Follow-up calls from editors and reporters might come immediately or as much as three weeks after you distribute your publicity piece, but you cannot predict when or if you’ll receive the calls. Again, practice your conversation by anticipating and preparing to answer the types of questions the reporter or editor might ask. If the caller requests a review copy, send it right away, then follow up within a week to see if he or she has additional questions or would like to schedule an interview.
Making Your Own Follow-up Calls
Although a reporter or editor might follow up with you after receiving your release or kit, more frequently you will need to follow up with them. Again, time your call to match the media outlet’s schedule. Be pleasant and direct, as you work your way through the phone system to the individual you need to speak with.
When you reach the editor or reporter to whom you’ve directed your news pieces, DO NOT ask whether he or she received your news release. This pointless question is an annoying waste of the editor’s time, and typically he or she will say “no,” then hang up. Instead, tell the editor who you are and that you sent them a news release related to your book; explain that you are calling to offer your assistance in providing further information for their use in crafting a story about the piece, writing a review, or scheduling an interview. You also can remind the editor that you will happily send him or her a free review copy of your book. If you’ve scheduled an appearance, book signing, or other event subsequent to sending the release, you can mention that as well.
Again, be pleasant, direct, helpful, and willing to answer questions. If the reporter brushes you off, remain pleasant, say good-bye, and move on to the next contact. Keep your contacts pleasant and upbeat so that you can continue to try to forge a working relationship with the majority of contacts on your media list.
If you land an interview in response to your public relations efforts, congratulations! Print and broadcast interviews can be powerful publicity machines for promoting your book. But talking to members of the media can seem overwhelming, especially when you’re in the beginning stages of your public relations efforts. The important thing to remember is that the interview is designed to gather information about things you know very, very well—your book and your background. With some preparation and practice, you can learn to gain the most from media interviews.
Preparing for the Interview
When you put together your media kit, you probably created a sample question-and-answer sheet. The items you recorded there will give you a strong head start in preparing to handle media interviews. Here are some subjects you should prepare to discuss in your interview:
- Your background, and how your other interests, ideas, or expertise evolved into the writing of your book
- How you came up with the idea for your book
- Some of the more interesting ways you researched or learned of the information you used when writing the book
- How your book connects with local interests
- Authors or books that have inspired or influenced you and your work
Again, research is a critical key to this phase of preparation. Read, watch, and listen to interviews with the media outlets you’re contacting. Become familiar with the interview format, the types of questions typically asked, and the length of time slotted for responses. Learn which types of issues associated with your book are most likely to resonate with the media outlet’s audience. Practice answering those questions. Interview yourself; sit in a chair before a large mirror and run through your interview questions and answers. After you’ve become comfortable with these self-interviews, enlist the aid of a friend, relative, or your spouse as a partner in practice interviews. Give your partner your list of interview Q&As, but tell them to feel free to improvise as well.
Handling the Actual Interview
Most interviews will be arranged in advance. If the interview will be conducted over the phone, be sure that you arrange to take the call in a quiet place where you won’t be distracted or interrupted. Also, be sure to have practiced your interviews in this environment, too, so you feel more prepared and comfortable during the actual call.
Listen to the question, carefully think through the appropriate response, then clearly and carefully relay your response to the interviewer. Though you need to be concise and efficient, you don’t need to rush. Take your time, remember the talking points you’ve practiced, and answer questions in a way that presents you and your book in the most positive and interesting light for the individual media outlet’s audience. With practice, you’ll also learn to relax during interviews, which will also help make you more effective.
The more often you practice responding to questions about your book, the better able you’ll be to say the things you really want to say. And that’s an important point; don’t say ANYTHING to an interviewer that you don’t want broadcast to the public. Even if the interviewer assures you repeatedly that your comment is “off the record,” it won’t be. If you say it to a reporter, it’s public knowledge—period. So think carefully before you respond to questions.
If you feel yourself becoming shaken and nervous, take a deep breath and give yourself a few seconds to collect your thoughts. If you are asked a question that you don’t know the answer to, tell the reporter that you’ll have to consider the question and get back to them. You’ll be less nervous as you gain more experience; again, practice is the key.
Finally, remember that the best way to avoid “mis-statements” is to be honest. Don’t exaggerate or spout overblown hype about your book. And don’t stress out over mistakes; everyone slips up at times, and you’ll improve with experience.
Following Up After the Interview
Within a day or two of the interview, phone or e-mail the reporter, editor, or producer who interviewed you, to be certain that they have all of the information they need to complete their piece. They may have developed more questions in the course of preparing their story or broadcast, or they may need more information on one of the interview points. Remember to thank them for their time.