Tired of Seeing Economy.com's Mark Zandi Being Quoted Instead of Your Company's Experts? If So, You're Not Alone!

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As New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd recently noted: "Reporting is not stenography." That's for sure -- media experts say it's closer to screenplay writing! Here's five tips to add drama to your corporate story and get your company spokespeople the coverage they deserve.

Tired of seeing Economy.com chief economist Mark Zandi quoted instead of your company's expert?

If so, you're not alone, suggests well-known New York-based media consultant Jeff Barge.

"Forget Crest White Strips and Mountain Dew Code Red," says Mr. Barge, who has worked for corporate brands such as Alka Seltzer and Pilot Pen. "The marketing success story of the past five years has been Economy.com and Mark Zandi. Could the Wall Street Journal put out an issue without a quote from him? I sincerely doubt it!"

And as the media prepares to cover another monthly round of economic reports on same store retail sales figures, the Conference Board's report on leading economic indicators, the Mortgage Banker's Association's weekly index of applications for home mortgages, the final November University of Michigan consumer sentiment index, and new jobless claims, expect to see more of Mr. Zandi this week as well. "His ubiquitous public relations presence is one of the top success stories of the new century," says Mr. Barge.

What's Zandi's secret? It's unclear -- but it's probably the very same secret that other successful experts have followed for years to get valuable, free publicity, says Mr. Barge.

Here's Five Tips to help any firm achieve instant corporate success in the media.

1. IT'S NOT ABOUT YOU, IT'S ABOUT THE REPORTER. "Many public relations advisers write to please their CEO, and not to persuade a reporter to take action on their story," says Mr. Barge. "And then they are surprised when their press release is ignored by the media." Mr. Barge advises public relations executives to focus on who has the power to get their company in the press -- is it the CEO, or is it the reporter? -- and then write a release targeted at the media decision maker. "Basically, the power to get into print rests in the hands of the editor or reporter, and so the press release needs to be focused on their needs, not targeted to the 'vanity needs' of a corporate higher up."

2. FORGET THE FACT SHEET APPROACH -- AND BUY A BOOK ON SCREENPLAY WRITING. "Reporters are looking to tell a compelling, true story that has drama, conflict and energy," says Mr. Barge. "At the same time, reporters don't have access to the inner workings of your company to retrieve the dramatic elements that they need in order to write about your firm. Most often, they're usually unable to ascertain the most dramatic and interesting approach on their own without this access. So you've got to do it for them." That means that a company's failures -- as well as its turn-around successes -- need to be exploited to get media attention. "A CEO of a company might want to be portrayed as having lead a life that has gone from success to success to success," notes Mr. Barge. "But as a news story, that would be pretty boring, and therefore unlikely to be written. Think about it -- have you ever enjoyed a movie where the main character is like that?" Probably not, says Mr. Barge. "Even Cinderella had her setbacks. For instance -- she was originally dressed in rags!"

3. KISS SOME BUTT AND HIRE BEAUTIFUL STAFF. "The best book to read about kissing butt is Michael Levine's 'Charming Your Way to the Top,' which has basically become my Bible when working with the media," says Mr. Barge, who has long been known for the successful use of his charming personality to gain media coverage for his clients. "Additionally, in his new book, 'Often Wrong, Never in Doubt,' ad man and cable TV host Donny Deutsch recommends that a media or ad firm 'stock its pool' with beautiful women and handsome men -- but this can be very expensive." Flattery is much cheaper, says Mr. Barge. Any clue to which reporters need flattery the most? "Any reporter who insists on including his or her middle name in their byline will obviously respond to this approach," says Mr. Barge. "The triple-decker byline is a dead giveaway that this approach will be a success."

4. HIRE AN INSIDER. "One of the most shocking things about the media is that such a high percentage of their stories come from what one friend of mine calls 'the insider,'" says Barge. "This sounds creepy, I know, but in the end, you may need to hire one to get what you want. Large corporations who want to influence government affair hire lobbyists -- and similarly, they hire publicists to influence media affairs. Public relations is now a $40 billion a year industry." Large firms typically retain a public relations firm that bills $15,000 to $25,000 per month -- but small firms can hire individuals of similar quality and effectiveness for $5,000 a month or less. "Just make sure you get solid references citing successful campaigns," says Mr. Barge. "A typical business does not need to spend millions to hire The Rendon Group to get its message across effectively to the press -- although it is certainly a nice CYA if you do!" Many firms -- such as The Rendon Group -- have substantial overhead expenses, which can drive a client's PR bill sky high, says Mr. Barge.

5. KEEP IT SIMPLE. Not only do reporters like drama -- but they also reward simplicity. "Basically, if it takes a reporter more than 30 seconds to understand what your company's story is -- you're not going to get the reporter to write about you."

Overall, says Mr. Barge, creativity and persistance in public relations will get you what you want. "In a sense, it is like that new movie, 'The Prize Winner of Defiance Ohio,'" Mr. Barge says. "You should consider each press release you send out as an entry in a contest, and the press release that is the most dramatic, the most clever, and that cuts through the clutter is the one that will win."

As New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd has recently noted: "Reporting is different from stenography." And she's right -- it's more like writing a screenplay. "Everyone in the PR industry could benefit by taking a few tips from Judith Miller," Mr. Barge concludes obliquely. "Be colorful, be concise, be dramatic, and above all, feature a biased source -- yourself!"

ABOUT JEFF BARGE: Jeff Barge is a well-known publicist -- it's true, look it up on Google! -- who has advised law firms, investment banks, real estate firms and even a Buddhist lama since 1995. Best known for popularizing the phrase "desk rage" throughout America starting in 1997 -- a campaign that got his client, Integra Realty Resources, onto the front page of the Wall Street Journal on two separate occasions -- Mr. Barge has also received widespread publicity for a landmark study for Pilot Pen showing that users of purple pens are perceived by employers as the best workers in their respective workplaces, causing sales of purple pens to expand by 25% nationwide since the year 2000. Mr. Barge's assistance to another client -- a self-help author -- helped that client successfully pose the question to national media of whether viewers of the Oprah television show were some of the most highly stressed individuals in America -- and whether Oprah was herself causing that stress! (As you might imagine, this campaign resulted in a client appearance on The O'Reilly Factor as well as coverage in over 50 daily newspapers nationwide.) Over the past several years, Mr. Barge has collaborated with individuals such as Phyllis Diller and Sarah Jessica Parker, and has helped increase sales for brand name companies such as Alka Seltzer, Pilot Pen, the Sedona Method, Integra Realty Resources (the nation's largest real estate appraisal firm), Marlin and Associates (investment bank), Dietdirectives.com (an online diet system that has been sweeping the nation), Abraham Lincoln University (an online law school), and E-thepeople.com (a ground-breaking force in digital democracy.) Mr. Barge works with all levels of business, from individual authors to large corporations, and his clients have been featured in publications including the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Time, Business Week, Financial Times, Forbes, Fortune, Dow Jones, Associated Press, and virtually every other major publication in the country. (Except for Newsweek, for some reason, and he doesn't know why that is!) He can be reached at (212) 576-8883 or by email.

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