By Jennifer R. Farmer
Throughout my career, I’ve met countless people who had lofty dreams and larger-than-life aspirations. Most of them were passionate about a particular issue, and they wanted the world to know. It’s not hard to understand why; media attention offers a type of validation that signals to clients, potential clients, funders, allies and others that an individual is making a positive impact.
For much of my career, I’ve worked to help leaders and organizations receive media attention for the incredible work they were spearheading.
But media attention is highly addictive. Regardless of how much one gets, there’s usually a desire for a bit more. The exception, of course, is when the media is lambasting an individual. Outside of negative coverage, many of us have an insatiable appetite for media coverage. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. However, the path to sustained media coverage is action.
When I think about truly remarkable leaders, I realize that they are active; they are constantly doing something in furtherance of their calling or working to influence positive change.
The experiences of two of my favorite entertainers and producers, Tyler Perry and Steve Harvey, underscore this point. When Perry got the idea to produce stage plays, he invested all he had on his first show, only to attract a mere 30 people. He spent $12,000 – his life savings at the time – on the show, rented out a theater and a little more than a couple dozen people showed up. He had this experience for years before ultimately finding success. In his case, the path to success was to refuse to stop, even in the face of disappointing failure. Harvey also suffered through years of disappointment, estrangement from his family, financial lack and homelessness before finally striking it big. There would be no “Steve Harvey Morning Show,” “Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man” or Harvey as host of “Family Feud” had he embraced a life of inactivity. These leaders didn’t necessarily set out to garner media attention; they set out to share their gifts with the world. The media attention was a byproduct of their life’s calling.
If you’re a communicator under pressure from colleagues who want to be recognized in the court of public opinion, encourage them to get busy doing work they care about. Help them tease out the pieces of their work that may be most appealing to the media and be a thought partner offering honest feedback. Listen for what’s unique about their work and then use the uniqueness as an entry point to pitch them to the media.
If you’re an executive desiring more publicity, the path to notoriety is sustained, long-term action. By “action,” I mean doing work that you truly care about, and work that fills a void.
It doesn’t hurt to hire public relations staff but be clear that a communicator’s role is to amplify; it’s to serve as a megaphone testifying to what is already occurring.
For example, I recently arranged a meeting with media executives and colleagues who work on gun violence and mass incarceration. The discussion went well, and I expect it will result in media coverage. While I set up the meeting, the discussion would have been futile if my colleagues didn’t have a body of work that demonstrated their promising approach to addressing gun violence and mass incarceration. Had they lacked experiential evidence of their work, the interview may have gone poorly.
The bottom line: If you want media attention, get busy working on your craft or your life’s purpose. I’m confident you’ll find that media coverage is a byproduct of sustained action.