How I cheat
A number of readers have expressed surprise about how I manage to blog in addition to holding down a full-time book publicity job. So I thought it might be interesting to post about how I “cheat.” And now you can too!
— Set up an RSS reader: anyone in public relations / publicity needs to know what’s going on not just in the industry, but in the world. While it’s useful reading one’s daily hometown paper, there’s so much else out there, that you really miss a lot simply by reading just The New York Timesor just CNN.com (or just Gawker). So I use Bloglines to keep track of headlines from numerous newspapers, websites, radio stations and blogs — others use readers like Google Reader or NewsGator or the RSS button on their browser — and that allows me to skim thousands of headlines daily fairly quickly. Plus, I hate getting newsprint on my hands.
Check here for instructions about how to set up an RSS reader.
— Send email blasts: Not the best option all the time, but, let’s face it, inescapable, not to mention useful, every now and then.
— Learn your publicity database: Backwards and forwards. When you’ve quit complaining about it (I know, I do it too) take some time to really figure it out. Ask people for their tips and shortcuts. I’ve used several programs in my time — Media Map, Publicity Assistant, Bacon’s Online — and none were easy to pick up immediately, although, ultimately, they all proved immensely helpful. I’ve seen people spend hours using Bacon’s Online, for example, which is unfortunate, because the majority of searches take about a minute to execute (particularly when you’ve saved your search parameters). And I’ve seen publicists create media lists that already exist. Or painstakingly update records individually because they didn’t know about the “Update” function. Or use a program solely to look up names because they didn’t realize they could also be using it to pull media lists. It’s impossible to list every shortcut for every program, but use this rule of thumb: if you ever feel like something is taking a long time, like you’re really slogging through something, ask someone who’s been around for a while if there is a shortcut — sometimes there is an “easy button.”
— Use Microsoft Excel: Just because we work in creative industry and have a way with words doesn’t mean we don’t need to know our way around a database. In publicity, we often send out copies of books to reviewers. Often, we send out many books at a time. Some of these contacts come from our publicity databases; sometimes the names may come from an editor or author or agent. I always ask for names in Excel so that the information can quickly be imported into our publicity database and turned into labels; otherwise, I’m stuck retyping or copying and pasting all the information. FYI, contacts stored in Outlook can easily be exported to Excel. (Check the Help function if you don’t know how this works.) And fon’t forget that contact information stored in Excel can also be used to personalize letters using that handy dandy Mail Merge function.
— Lose the paper: Whenever possible, I work on the computer, not on a printout. Rather than printing out a schedule, writing notes on it, and then typing those notes into the schedule, I type them into the schedule from the get go. If I’m looking over someone’s media list, again, rather than scribbling notes on the list, I make the changes to the list in the database (and then I verbally walk through the changes with the person so they know what’s going on). And if I’m looking over press material and need to make edits, you know where this is going — yes, say, it with me, track changes. My goal is always to have the fewest number of people spending the least amount of time doing (redoing) the same work.
— Guess: I check the general publicity email addresses for my department and somehow, reviewers manage to find their way to our media page, ignore all the instructions / suggestions posted there, and email the wrong department (although, in their defense, a lot of publishing house websites are pretty hard to navigate). So I field a couple dozen requests daily meant for other departments. Since I don’t always have time / get really tired of looking up the book or author, and since I know the imprints at my publishing house very well and know what each is likely to publish, I often play guess the imprint. Usually I’m right. Sometimes, not. Oh well.