Short-Cuts, Quick Fixes, and Thinner Thighs in 30 Minutes


Legend has it that the custom of making New Year’s resolutions dates back to the time of Julius Caesar and that they were embraced with the intention of learning to treat others with greater kindness. With the passage of centuries, however, the January 1st tradition segued into self-serving quests, the majority of which involve losing weight, achieving health, shedding addictions, acquiring wealth, and moving up the corporate ladder. Not surprisingly, the ongoing gloom of a wobbly economy is prompting many a wisher to add “become my own boss” to the list of New Year’s goals. Maybe you’re one of the 40% of Americans who annually stride with gusto into a bold journey of adventure and reinvention, only to lose steam by mid-February because results aren’t as immediately forthcoming as you had hoped they’d be six weeks previous.

So what, exactly, is it that distinguishes the scant 8% who stay the course and see their resolutions not only take root but magnificently blossom?

The difference is that they actually make A Plan.

“If you don’t have time to do it right,” wrote American basketball coach John Wooden, “when will you have time to do it over?” His popular quote about how to play – and win – a game has as much application to building a company as it does to building lasting relationships. Much too often the mindset of Instant Now causes people to rush headlong into promises, start-ups and even matrimony without considering Strengths, Weaknesses, Energy, Access and Time. If you like acronyms, it’s all about SWEAT.

The author wannabe who thinks that (1) publishing is glamorous and (2) s/he only has to write one book in order to retire is little different from the person who assumes that just because she likes to bake cupcakes (but has absolutely no marketing background or business management experience), customers will flock to her door from the very first day.  Likewise, the woman – or man – whose biological clock is ticking will more likely skip the friendship and courtship stage because racing to the altar takes precedence over considering what a successful marriage really entails. By only focusing on an end result instead of taking the time to create realistic, incremental steps and accessing the tools and resources necessary to reach that goal, failure is inevitable.

Every reward – and every resolution – carries its own share of risks. You have the power to mitigate those risks, however, by clearly defining what it is you want (and whether it’s feasible), what it means to you, what sacrifices you’re prepared to make, and whether you honestly have the passion and perseverance to go the full distance.

Want to share your 2014 goals and game plans with Media Magnetism readers? Drop me a note at for instructions on how to participate. As this new year unfolds, we’ll be publishing the best entries.

Meanwhile, here’s this month’s exciting line-up of guest blogs:

The Dr. Jekylls and Mr. Hydes of Business Leadership – by Leanne Hoagland-Smith

8 Pointers for Keeping Your Blog Fresh and Growing – by John Terra

What is Advocacy PR?by Mickie E. Kennedy

5 Tips For Making Your First Interview Experience A Painless One – By Tony Wilkins

Here’s to a stellar 2014. Make it a great one!



Back-Scratching Backlash


“You do something nice for me and I’ll do something nice for you.”

If as business owners, authors and entrepreneurs we embrace the spirit of all being in this world together, it should come as second nature to want to be helpful – to provide an enthusiastic referral, to pen a helpful review on Yelp, to facilitate networking by introducing kindred spirits who might not have met one another on their own. Sooner or later, however, you’re likely to encounter individuals who aggressively play the guilt card and expect – nay, demand – a favor of equal (or even superior) value. How many times, for instance, have you received an endorsement for skill sets from LinkedIn members that you have not only never worked with but have also never met? Oddly enough, some of that virtual applause is for talents you might not even have. (Just last week I was endorsed for my expertise in metallurgy, dog grooming, and holistic healing. Hmmm.)

Not surprisingly, the psychology behind a total stranger dispensing compliments is often to start a relationship that will lead to reciprocal praise and/or seal a deal. Salespeople, for example, typically open a conversation with a flattering remark about your hair or an item of apparel you’re wearing. By making you feel good about yourself, you’re agreeable to making them feel even better by purchasing something for which they’ll get a commission. Likewise in an exchange this brief, there’s no reason for either side to take it personally if the sale doesn’t happen.

Consider the shift in dynamic, however, if an opinion – either requested or unsolicited – isn’t what the recipient was hoping to hear. The slope gets even more slippery when there’s an implicit expectation of mutual fawning and glee.  Nowhere is this more in evidence than in the practice of reciprocal product reviews.

First and foremost, the goal of any feedback is to identify what’s being done well and what elements warrant improvement. The more constructive the comments – “the third act could be tightened,” “the lounge thermostat is set too high,” “the on-hold music is a little loud” – the more chance there is to verify a problem exists, explore options and incorporate remedies. Criticism, of course, is subjective. If 10 people independently kvetch about 10 different things, it’s different from 10 people that unanimously agree your employees are all surly and could benefit from some anger management classes. It also goes without saying that the credentials of those who volunteer their opinions should be taken into consideration. On many occasions, for instance, aspiring screenwriters send me their scripts along with a smiley-face note that says, “My mom thinks this is the best thing I’ve ever written!” Yes, well, isn’t it nice your mom is supportive but I’m guessing she has no film industry experience for that claim to hold any water.

Lastly, what if someone writes a 5-star book review for you on Amazon and then asks if you’d review theirs? Is there an obligation on your part to be equally effusive?  If your honest opinion is that it’s mind-numbingly awful – and you’re judicious about guarding the value of your word and professional reputation – the answer is “no.” In a competitive context, it’s like giving every participant an “A” or a blue ribbon just so no one’s feelings will be hurt. Ultimately, a false award has as little meaning to the person who excelled as it does to the person who simply showed up and did nothing.

A few months ago I found myself the recipient of a string of vitriolic emails stemming from my assignment of 3 stars to a series novel that had wobbly structure, repetitive dialogue, unlikable characters and multiple typos.  Although I clearly wasn’t the author’s target audience (and stated that upfront in my review), I nonetheless respected what she was trying to do as a storyteller and imparted suggestions on how she could hone her craft to one day reach a broader demographic. While I rarely allow authors to preview my critiques, I had made an exception in this case based on amiable correspondence in our introductory phase and gave her the option to decline the post if she wanted to use it for instructional purposes only.

Her first response was shock that I’d jeopardize her book sales by giving her less than a 5. My respectful agreement not to publish my opinion should have been the end of the conversation. Instead, it escalated to a succession of accusations that (1) I clearly didn’t “get” her message, (2) I obviously hadn’t even read the whole thing, and (3) I was totally jealous of her enormous talent and was purposely trying to suppress her voice. And though I had long since withdrawn from any further communications, it didn’t stop her from her final conclusion that (as a Caucasian) denying her a 5 meant that I was obviously a racist. “Oh and by the way,” she added, “I only gave you a 5 because I thought we were going to become BFFs.”

As the saying goes, with friends like that, who needs enemies?

Here’s this month’s exciting line-up of guest blogs:

No Email, No Phone: Plenty of Room for Inspiration to Grow Your Business – by Blair Thomas

The Power of Color in Marketing Campaigns – by Manilyn Moreno

Why Customer Service Should be Integrated into Your Marketing – by Eric Thomas

Branding Risks and Rewards of Social Media – by Derek Whitney


Whether your end-of-year plans involve staying at home or traveling afar to be with your family and friends, my Media Magnetism colleagues and I wish you a safe, warm and joyous holiday.

See you in 2014!

Thanksgiving megan chromik flickr

Beyond the Box

BoxThe very existence of flamethrowers proves that sometime, somewhere, someone said to themselves, ‘You know, I want to set those people over there on fire, but I’m just not close enough to get the job done. – George Carlin

Among the overused metaphors about progress, invention, and career advancement is the one about expanding your mental margins by “thinking outside the box.” While it’s certainly true that unconventional approaches throughout history have given us a broad spectrum of time and labor-saving devices, the memo that way too many people seem to miss is the fact that before you can start breaking the rules, you have to first learn what those rules actually are.

In other words, have you ever spent time in that box you’re trying to bust out of?

In an earlier generation, it was called “paying your dues” and “learning the ropes.” It was about listening to mentors, participating in hands-on training, making trial-and-error mistakes, and identifying the academic credentials and skill sets required to climb the ladder and achieve success. That was then. This is now. A now in which an entire population feels entitled to demand that we allow them to bypass all of the recommended reading, placement exams and entry-level jobs and not only be installed at the top of the class but also on the very top rung of that competitive corporate ladder. While more opportunities exist today than yesterday for young people to chase whatever dreams beckon, there’s a clear and disconcerting disconnect in appreciating the efforts of the dreamers – and hard work – that all came before and made those opportunities possible.

Whether it’s the intern who expects a corner office on her first day, the new busboy who tells the chef, “Cooking doesn’t look that hard – why not just let me take a spin in the kitchen tonight?” or the aspiring young screenwriters who eschew the strict industry protocols of formatting, we’re faced with an escalating mindset of individuals determined to reinvent a wheel just for the sake of reinvention, of being different, of making a statement. If it’s your quest to develop a more efficient car, to improve health care delivery, or to write a boffo movie plot no one has ever seen before, we say, “Bravo!” We also say, though, that you first judiciously study existing vehicles inside-out, pinpoint specific deficiencies in current health care programs, and watch a century worth of films before you proclaim that your premise of a cute extraterrestrial getting left behind by the mother ship and making friends with kids in suburbia is an original concept that people should pay attention to.

In a nutshell, you must know what has already been done before you can lay any claim as to how to do it better.

Here is this month’s exciting lineup of guest blogs:

Stop Writing for Web Crawlers and Write for Readers – by Amandah Blackwell

The Psychology of PR: Tips and Tricks about Why People Like What They Like – by Mickie E. Kennedy

Social Media Marketing Checklist for Your Next Trade Show – by Richard Larson

The 5 Things to Avoid in Your Next Web Conference – by Carrie Wynne




The Reporter’s Not Your Prom Date

The Prom

After working almost two weeks on the creative slant for an interior designer’s upcoming feature for the local press, the last thing I expected was a call from her assistant telling me that the story needed to be put on hold. “The thing of it is,” she meekly explained, “Caroline has sorta been working on a similar story with another publisher and since they want exclusivity – well, uh, would it be okay if she held off on doing yours for a while so that theirs can run first?”

Why did I suddenly find myself flashing back to high school and hearing that the guy who asked me to the prom had apparently found a hotter date. “But hey,” he might as well have said (indifferent to the money I had already spent on my dress), “maybe we can go bowling or something in a couple months…”

In the years I’ve spent in the media industry, I’ve met no shortage of business owners that treat journalists as if they are either coveted trophies or simply placeholders that can be ditched guilt-free in a heartbeat. Just like a teenage girl without a steady beau, they spend every waking hour hoping that someone really popular will sweep them off their feet and into the spotlight. In the meantime, they’re indifferent to any wannabe suitors that are not only besotted with them but would also probably be attentive and show them a great time.

When it starts to become apparent that they’re just not going to get that date with destiny they’ve been dreaming of, they grudgingly accept a “lesser” invitation rather than not be seen at all. Their grumpiness, however, quickly manifests in snarky behavior toward the person who has offered to gallantly rescue them from being home alone on prom night with a carton of Chunky Monkey ice cream. They don’t return the date’s phone calls. When they do, it’s with the attitude that they’re being taken away from something much more important. To top it off, instead of enjoying any time on the dance floor once they arrive, they’re the ones most likely to sit there with arms folded and a grumpy scowl the entire evening.

Getting back to the interior designer, she had to have known that accepting two invitations for the same event would eventually require her to choose one over the other. The way she handled it, however, did far more damage from a credibility standpoint than she likely took into account when she decided to become a player.

In the first place, the weekly newspaper for which I contribute feature articles has treated her extremely well throughout the years she has been an advertiser. The competition – a magazine-style monthly – has never worked with her at all…and yet she is convinced it will be a marriage made in Heaven. Secondly, she was dishonest with both of us. Not until the question of exclusivity was raised was she finally forced to admit that she was already in a long-term relationship with someone else. Thirdly, isn’t it a bit of cowardice to use a messenger instead of making the call yourself?

While I’m professionally bound to accommodate whatever assignment decisions my publisher makes, on a personal level it’s pretty remote that hers is a business I’d ever want to hire. Based on a glaring lack of media manners, what assurance would I have that she wouldn’t abandon my kitchen remodeling job halfway through on the excuse that she just couldn’t say “no” to a guest stint on HGTV?

The takeaway lesson? If you pride yourself on never breaking promises to the customers that keep your doors open, the same courtesy needs to extend to your dates with the media.

Here’s the lineup of this month’s blogs by my guest contributors:

It’s All About the Conversation – by Shannon Mouton

How to Get More Eyes and Ears on Your Webinar – by Noelle Sterne

7 Cardinal Sins of Web Content Writing – by Melissa Rudy

The Truth About Money, Abundance and Success – by Wayne Porter and Mandy Wildman

8 Reasons Why Not Having a Blog is Hurting Your Business – by Amandah Blackwell

Chasing Rabbits

white rabbit

It’s a fact of life that within every volunteer organization or public/private entity, there’s always going to be that one irrepressible personality who not only has the vision to routinely color outside the lines but also the chutzpah to liven up dull meetings by suddenly blurting out, “Hey, I know what! Let’s all go chase rabbits!”

Assuming that the notion of rabbit-chasing as The Next Big Thing has never occurred to anyone, the group response may initially be one of unabashed excitement.

Wow! Rabbits! Who’d have thought?!

In the early stages of that giddy moment, it’s enough to make everyone want to drop their pencils, lace up their track shoes and follow the idea gal/guy right out the door as if s/he were the pied piper of Hamelin.

This, of course, is not always the best approach to take if you’re hoping for a successful outcome.

Has anyone paused to consider, for example, whether rabbits are actually indigenous to the area or would need to be imported? Are there rabbits aplenty or just one or two? Is someone with more experience on rabbit-chasing already doing this? What types of skill sets are required to be an effective rabbit-chaser? Will there be costs involved? Are there environmental groups that might oppose this activity? To what purpose will the caught rabbits be put?

In most cases, the person who came up with this idea is the one least likely to have any answers on how to actually implement it. That’s okay. It’s their ongoing sparks of imagination that light a fire under those on the committee who have the analytical expertise and methodical patience to explore multiple options, determine the risks, and establish a timeline. How often, for instance, have you heard someone remark, “I think it would be cool to open a restaurant,” “I want to start my own PR firm,” “I’ve always wanted to write a novel”…and yet they’ve done none of the research to see what’s already out there, who it is they’d like to reach, and how long it will take them.

Bottom line: The best idea in the world isn’t going anywhere unless time is taken to develop the very best plan to bring it to life.

As we celebrate America’s birthday this month, consider what might have happened if the Founding Fathers had decided to chase the British out of town, forego the formal paperwork to create a new government, and just make stuff up as they went along.

The rest, as they say, might not have been history.


Here’s the lineup of this month’s blogs by my guest contributors:

How to Find and Select the Perfect Venue for Your Event – by Kim Hesse

“No Comment” – 6 Alternatives and Why, When & How to Use Them – by Cecelia Haddad

Marketing a Charity Through Social Media – by Mark Tomich

Do You Know the Buzzword? – by Toni Nelson

Media Relations Demystified – by Kaitlin Friedman

Devil’s Advocate


In 1996, defense lawyer Gerry Spence penned a book called How to Argue & Win Every Time. The title alone grabbed my attention, given that I was surrounded at the time by a lot of contentious people – including relatives – and wanted to have an inside edge on persuading them to my point of view. The book has long since disappeared from my home library (the perils of loaning favorite tomes without a smart tracking and retrieval system) but not a week goes by that I don’t apply its two most valuable takeaway lessons to interactions with my media relations clients; specifically, (1) winning isn’t winning if it damages the personal connection and (2) the best way to lead an opponent over to your side is to demonstrate empathy for their side.

Too often in the zeal to prove a point, make a sale or close a deal, what gets lost is an investment in the actual relationship. Creating a platform of trust – coupled with showing respect for the opposing viewpoint – is what lays the foundation for positive interactions…and repeat business. As a professional ghostwriter, for instance, my initial consultation with prospective clients often reveals the latter’s lack of familiarity with today’s mercurial publishing industry. They’re typically so hell-bent on “authoring” a novel that they’ve given no thought as to its scope, its target audience, its competition, its marketing plan or, for that matter, whether a book is even the best medium to deliver their particular vision. While Marshall Field – and later, Harry Gordon Selfridge –swore by the adage, “The customer is always right,” neither of them would have been good stewards of a ghostwriting client’s career, especially if they purposely catered to demands they knew would ultimately be detrimental to the person seeking assistance.

During any negotiation phase, the more support someone perceives is being given to the elements on which both sides agree, the more ownership they’ll embrace of ideas (including differing opinions) set forth by the other party. In any form of sales, it’s the ability to play devil’s advocate – to provide your customers with the tools and knowledge to not only make an informed choice but even potentially choose someone else – that establishes and sustains your reputation as someone who knows how to help others get what they really want.


Here’s the lineup of this month’s blogs by my guest contributors:

Writing an Effective Press Release – by David Price

Everyone Could Use PR – by Michelle Messenger Garrett

Putting Personality Into Your Events – by Peita Bates

Blow Your Chances in a PR Job Interview in Four Easy Ways – by Nicole Reaney

Planning The Perfect Event (On a Not-So-Perfect Budget) – by John Leo Weber


Earning Your Keep

San Diego May 2007 048

If you’re looking to garner a lion’s share of publicity for your business, a common misconception is that you have to pay a king’s ransom in paid advertising. The fact that you have just shelled out a lot of money for a one-time ad in a newspaper or magazine, however, is never a guarantee it will translate to major sales for your product or service. The operative phrase “one-time” means that you’re banking on every prospective buyer reading the publication that very day and responding to your call to action. But what if they’re on vacation, spill coffee on the page or toss the magazine into their Read Later Stack…and then never do? You just wasted your money.

A smarter approach is the concept of “earned media.” Unlike paid advertising or the content you personally own (i.e. your website, business cards, brochures), earned media is all about putting the power of your brand into the hands of readers and subliminally encouraging them to share it with their network of family, friends and colleagues. Every time you contribute a guest blog, comment on the blogs of other writers, tweet and retweet interesting articles, start a LinkedIn discussion, post a review, “like” a Facebook page/comment/photo, pen an editorial, or offer a quote to a journalist doing research, you’re putting – and keeping – your name in circulation with the consumers you want to attract.

In this heightened age of sensitivity when everyone is wary about who to trust, are they more likely to respond to a hard sell “My product is really great because I said so” or the word-of-mouth referral from a social media connection who re-posts your funny/insightful/useful bons mots on a regular basis? If each of that friend’s friends follow suit and your content goes viral, you have essentially created your own virtual sales force to start a buzz and make the media shout-outs for you…and it didn’t cost you a cent.


Here’s the lineup of this month’s blogs by my guest contributors:

Getting Emotional in Business – by Carlo Pandian

Event Technology – Using Websites, Social Media & More to Promote and Plan Your Event – by Justin Ungerboeck

A Simple 10-Step Marketing Checklist – by Amandah Tayler Blackwell

How You’re Wrong About Debt Consolidation – by Marcelina Hardy

5 Foolproof Blogging Tips for Photographers – by Dazzle Rogers


A Boy and His Tiger



It’s hard to believe that the mischievous Calvin and his anthropomorphic pal Hobbes have been gone now for 17 years. On December 31, 1995, the 3,150th and final cartoon strip of Bill Watterson ran in newspapers across the country. Calvin and Hobbes were pictured in their sled atop a hill of freshly fallen snow. “It’s a magical world, ol’ buddy,” Calvin declares. “Let’s go exploring!”

Not only were fans crestfallen but critics a decade later decreed that Watterson’s decision to end the popular series created a void that no one was prepared to step up and fill.

So what possesses someone to walk away from not only a huge fan base but also a steady income? In Watterson’s words, “My interests have shifted and I believe I’ve done what I can do within the constraints of daily deadlines and small panels. I am eager to work at a more thoughtful pace, with fewer artistic compromises.”

The first day of a new year is often a time of reflection and reinvention – a “clean slate” opportunity that is as beckoning (and daunting!) as a fresh blanket of snow. Have you always wanted to start your own business and be your own boss? Type “Chapter One” or “Fade In” on that novel or screenplay that has been swirling around for years in your head? Throw caution to the wind, pack your essentials in a bag and visit those exotic ports of call that have long enticed you?

What’s stopping you?

Maybe it’s all about hopping on your sled, tuning out the naysayers and taking a bold leap of faith.

Back in the 1980’s I was running a touring theater company, The Hamlett Players. (Hey, with a last name like Hamlett, is it that surprising I’d do be doing something theatrical?)  I was writing all of the scripts, auditioning and training all of the actors, generating all of the publicity, booking all of the productions, and doing rehearsals four days a week and running shows the remaining three. It was grand fun but one day I woke up and asked myself if it was really something I wanted to be doing forever.

As much as I loved acting, writing and producing, only one of these fields – writing – represented not only the longest shelf-life but also the most portable skill set that wouldn’t tie me to a permanent address. When I announced my decision to my board of directors, my actors and the audiences we had served, the reaction was one of astonishment…and anger. How could I just walk away from something that had my own name on it and that I had built from the ground up? What was everybody supposed to do if I wasn’t there to put words in their mouths? 

Despite my offer to support anyone who chose to take over the operation, there were no takers. One of my assistants even went so far as to say that my decision to focus on writing full-time was a selfish one and that there were no guarantees I’d even be successful. The year I made that decision – 1986 – I had four published plays and five magazine articles. In the decades that passed, those numbers now reflect 150 plays, 30 books, 5 optioned feature films and thousands of articles and interviews that appear in trade publications throughout the world.

Yes, it was a bold leap of faith. It was also a leap of faith that landed me exactly where I wanted to be.

I guess the message is that when you want something badly and believe in it enough, it’s all because, once upon a time, the universe put that thought into your head and said, “What are you waiting for?  Yep, it’s a steep hill. Maybe it’s even treacherous. But you won’t find out unless you go for it.” 

For as many times as the fearless Calvin and Hobbes plunged headfirst down that snowy incline and paid for the experience with tumbles, bumps and bruises, one likes to think that their final, optimistic ride on December 31, 1995 delivered them to exhilarating new vistas they might never have imagined.

A blanket of snow – just like a blank piece of paper – is only awaiting a free and unflappable spirit to jump in, leave a mark and make a difference.

Here’s the lineup of this month’s blogs by my guest contributors:

What Color Is the Cow? – by Mindy Littman Holland

Creating a Social Buzz for the Movies – by Janette Speyer

Top 10 Reasons to be Thankful for Social Media (Part One) – by Brandy Wheeler


Tell Me More, Tell Me More

Grease is the word as we roll into August, courtesy of a friend with whom I was reminiscing about the years I spent on stage. Within a few minutes of our hanging up, I discovered she had sent me a YouTube link of John Travolta and Olivia Newton John singing “Summer Nights.” She wickedly did this, I think, because she knows I have a penchant for getting show tunes stuck in my head and not being able to dislodge them for days or weeks at a time.

Unwittingly, she also supplied me with a PR-themed observation about this catchy duet that I hadn’t realized before; specifically, how two people can experience exactly the same event and yet spin it into whatever context best fits their respective listeners. As business owners, this is something you’re likely to do on a regular basis.

If there’s a crisis in the works, for instance, the way you frame the situation to your family and friends is quite a bit different from what you tell your employees, your customers, your board of directors…and members of the media. The challenge, of course, is keeping the various versions straight, especially if there’s any chance of these people ever getting together and comparing notes.

Here’s the lineup of this month’s blogs by my guest contributors:

Crisis Management – Who Needs it Anyway? (Part 2) – by Andrea Obston 

The Joy of Making A Difference – by MJ Pedone

Avoid Looking like a Stalker on Social Media with a Professional Profile Picture – by Amandah Tayler Blackwell

Mum’s Not the Word! – by Andrea Stradling

We look forward to your comments, questions, and suggestions on media topics you’d like to know more about. (And as long as “Summer Nights” is still stuck in my head, it may as well be stuck in yours, too:

(Not) As Easy as Pie

A former friend once remarked in reference to the books and stage plays I had written, “It can’t be all that hard since you’ve done so many of them.” Although I can say that the journey has grown somewhat easier with practice, my publishing projects still don’t write themselves while I’m sleeping nor do I just casually toss out bunches of words to see which ones stick. Writing – like media relations – is an exercise that involves careful thought, focus and a deep understanding of what, exactly, you want your message to accomplish. Our blogs this month are all about random acts of stupidity – the “thrown-together” potluck that looks messy, the speaker that talks without first engaging his/her brain, and the call for immediate damage control when the integrity of your company has been compromised. For your enjoyment:

“PR 101 – Fabulous Impression!” – by Wendy Anderson

 “What Were You Thinking?” – by Lori Bumgarner

 “Crisis Management – Who Needs It Anyway?” (Part I) – by Andrea Obston

We look forward to your comments, questions, and suggestions on media topics you’d like to know more about.