Let’s start with what you think you want.
“I want to get on Oprah eventually, and we’ve been pitching The New York Times, who’s interested.”
Good news or game over?
I hear some version of this on a weekly basis from start-up founders. Sadly, most of them aren’t prepared for national media and do more harm than good with a premature (and non-strategic) jump into the spotlight. The New York Times doesn’t often do two major stories on a single company, so that first — and possibly only — appearance is what counts.
But what of lack of media attention? Indeed. There are two main media challenges:
How do you get media interest? Big media interest?
How do you ensure you’re prepared when a big opportunity presents itself?
In both cases, you chart a course and execute. In this post, I’ll show how I went from my first real TV exposure to appearing repeatedly as a guest on national TV shows. I’ll also share the exact e-mail pitch that led to a Wired feature, as well as recorded radio interviews.
Media coverage isn’t magic, and it need not depend on luck. It can be a step-by-step process…
Step 1 – Create a Reel
The time was mid-February, 2007. The 4-Hour Workweek was slated to publish on April 27th, and I had a problem: no one in television knew who I was, and I wanted to be on national TV for the launch.
The chicken-or-the-egg problem was simple: big TV doesn’t want you on until you’ve proven yourself on big TV. What to do?
My answer was: look for a local affiliate of big networks like ABC, CBS, or NBC, and find something controversial and timely to discuss. I began to read the news (a rare event) and realized that a soon-to-be-published book was making waves — Game of Shadows: Barry Bonds, BALCO, and the Steroids Scandal that Rocked Professional Sports.
I knew a few people directly involved with BALCO, and — as a sports nutrition company CEO at the time — I was in a qualified position to talk about drugs in sports. Digging into advanced excerpts of Game of Shadows (GOS), which was billed as a “drug-by-drug account” of high-level athletics, I formulated a simple and valid position: far from decreasing drug use, the book would end up serving as a how-to guide.
GOS was going to be published on March 1, 2007. The week before publication, I reached out to all local San Jose or bay area-based big networks. I called the switchboard or main number, requested “the newsroom,” and started the pitch, which was written out on paper in front of me and never lasted more than 20 seconds:
“My name is Tim Ferriss and I have a timely pitch for you. I work with professional athletes and… [establish credibility as CEO and someone with experience in drugs in sports]”
“Game of Shadows, about Barry Bonds and BALCO, comes out next week and it’s getting a lot of attention. Most of the world is viewing it as an exposé that will decrease drug use. They’re wrong. I can discuss why it will actually increase steroid and drug use.”
Most calls went to voicemail, a few people said they’d get back to me, and only one did: NBC 11 in San Jose.
But one is all it takes. The short NBC clip ended up being the social proof later needed to get me on The Today Show and others for The 4-Hour Workweek.
Remember: make it timely and controversial. “Controversial” doesn’t necessarily mean scandalous; it means a position that runs counter to the mainstream or expectations.
But does the “reel” only apply to TV?
Not at all. The same can be done for radio, which is a far easier sandbox to play in, as there are more players. I started with Lamont and Tonelli on KSJO 92.3 and a stunt for Fairtex kickboxing. I invited the hosts to a demo and encouraged their sidekick, Sully, to get in the ring and do some light sparring.
It was fun and had absolutely nothing to do with anything I’d do in media later. It didn’t matter. The producers of radio — just as in TV — simply want to know you’ll speak clearly, be entertaining, and not embarrass them. The subject matter doesn’t matter. On a higher level, they want to know: can you help design a fun segment?
I later parlayed this early radio, along with other random samples, into booking “radio satellite tours” with the help of Peter Marchese. “Radio satellite tours” entail sitting in a room with obscene quantities of coffee and doing back-to-back 10-30-minute radio interviews from 7am to 5pm with almost no space for even bathroom breaks. It’s batching at its efficient best… and punishing worst.
Here are four of my 20+ interviews, here listed in order from December 16, 2009. You’ll note that I launched the revised edition of The 4-Hour Workweek in the same week as I later launched The 4-Hour Body. It was a dress rehearsal for the big game, a dry run for understanding the dynamics and competition of the X-mas season.
Note the talking points (we’ll return to this) and examples, which I repeat ad nauseam with slightly different segues:
But what of these talking points?
Step 2 – Know Your Subject: In Depth vs. Talking Points
To prepare for the NBC TV interview, I had to:
– First, visit a Borders and literally get on bended knee to beg for a copy of Game of Shadows the afternoon before release. The simple begging didn’t work. Several book chains had been shipped Harry Potter late as punishment for releasing a prior Potter before the mandated midnight release time. I finally offered, “What if I do headspins for you? I’m totally serious. Puleeeeease?” after which, I jumped into a breakdancing freeze on the floor. I’m not kidding. Pretty pathetic, but they laughed, relented, and went to the back storage room to get the book.
– Second, digest a 368-page book in one evening, which I did over espresso (limit: two singles per hour) and wine (limit one glass pinot noir per hour) at Santana Row in San Jose. Here is a one-page index from that session:
– Third, prepare main talking points and sound bites. This involved taking the above notes and observations (I had several other pages) and whittling them down to 3-6 major points I could convey in a total of 120 seconds, 20 seconds or so per point.
Here are the talking points I used for a recent Newsweek interview on The 4-Hour Body, which became a feature piece called “The World’s Best Guinea Pig”:
I answer a few things on this small sheet:
“Why is what I’m doing different or controversial?” (Answer: using new tools to scientifically test all of the myths and old wives’ tales on myself and others)
“Why is this timely and important?” (Answer: I’m part of a much larger trend; cite books and growth of Quantified Self, etc.)
“What are some actionable examples of counter-intuitive findings?” (Answers: 30g within 30 min of waking, replacing milk in coffee with cinnamon, etc.)
For the last group of actionable takeaways, I list them first, then number them in descending order of priority for inclusion. If these sound familiar, you’re right. They’re the same talking points I used in the above radio satellite clips.
NEVER assume you’ll get to cover everything you hope or rehearse. Media is unpredictable. I had to account for this in my recent appearance on The View, as just one example (notice we skipped over half of an entire table, as questions from Barbara required it). I didn’t get frazzled, as I had planned for this and prioritized my points, both mentally and logistically — the latter by ordering props on the tables.
Step 3 – Pitch Properly
Why is pitching step 3 instead of step 1?
Because it makes no sense to pitch until you have your prep (reel or sample clips) and basic positioning (timely and controversial angle with examples) in place.
Then, before you start spamming people with template emails, keep in mind: Thou shalt know thy media outlets. Don’t pitch the same thing — or something general — to niche outlets. It’s a waste of their time and yours. Know the magazine or program and customize.
Here is the actual pitch I used for Wired Magazine that ultimately led to the 4+-page feature entitled “Tim Ferriss Wants to Hack Your Body.” It lacks a self-intro, as I’d met this editor in person, an approach I always encourage, as e-mail is the most crowded channel.
Notice that I provide different options/ideas for different lengths:
OK, here are a few ideas. They’re in three categories:
2) Shorter 1-2 page piece
3) Book mention in Playlist
My preference if possible, no big surprise, would be 1, 2, and then 3. Here are the toplines:
For Wired readers, being one myself and having been in the mag before, I think one of my chapters as an exclusive excerpt would be the least work for Wired and the best fit. It’s ready to go and would just need to be tightened for space. I’ve attached the latest version (sorry for the hand edits). Here are some headlines and toplines:
BLOOD HACKING: Creating the Perfect Fat-Loss Protoplasm
I implanted a medical device in my side that sampled interstitial glucose levels every 5 seconds. It’s used by cutting-edge Type 1 diabetics, but I used it to figure out which foods and meals would make me fat. I wore it 24/7 for weeks, including a trip through customs to Nicaragua. There some sweet graphics and nice how-to takeaways I can provide.
Other potential headlines:
Tracking Blood to Lose Bodyfat
BLOOD: Self-Experimentation for Losing Bodyfat (could appear on the cover like this: http://www.flickr.com/photos/timferriss/5388565667/ [NOTE: In the actual e-mail I used a private Skitch link]
Diary of a Blood Tracker
2) Shorter 1-2 page piece
This would detail 5 or so of the coolest and craziest drugs and tools I used in my experiments over the last 3 years, ranging from the above medical device to stem cell growth factors, anabolic steroids, IGF-1, and more. I could write it or it could be a Q&A with me. Potential headlines/titles:
BECOMING SUPERHUMAN: Drugs and Gadgets to Make You a Mutant
Gadgets and Tools for Becoming Superhuman [this one would omit drugs]
BECOMING SUPERHUMAN: An Interview with Human Guinea Pig Tim Ferriss
3) Mention in Playlist — Pretty straightforward here. Just a book mention and little blurb.
Look forward to your thoughts, [name]. Wired is a great place to break this one.
Afterword: Is this type of media how-to of interest? If so, I’ll do a “Part 2″ continuation of this post and talk about media training and other little-known aspects of the game. In the meantime, please find my most recent Dr. Oz clips below.
Also, if you’ve read The 4-Hour Body and haven’t yet left an Amazon review, please take 30 seconds to do so here — I need a few more to pass 1,000 reviews (currently 965)! Thanks for your feedback, all. It’s what keeps me going.
Posted on: January 25, 2011.
Watch The Tim Ferriss Experiment, the new #1-rated TV show with "the world's best human guinea pig" (Newsweek), Tim Ferriss. It's Mythbusters meets Jackass. Shot and edited by the Emmy-award winning team behind Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations and Parts Unknown. Here's the trailer.