Sunday 20 October 2019

How to get the attention you want from the press

It helps if you are keen, and famous but mostly if you have a story of value to share

Greta Garbo Photo: Evening Standard/Getty Images
Greta Garbo Photo: Evening Standard/Getty Images

Victoria Mary Clarke

I have been asked to give a talk about how to get the attention of the media. Like a foodie who gets asked "What would you cook on Masterchef?" an avalanche of ideas comes tumbling out. Many of my colleagues in the media are horrified at the thought of actually being featured in the media, but luckily for my audience, that has never been my problem.

Getting the attention of the media and let's face it, getting attention in general, has been a passion that I have nurtured since I was a teenager and got myself in Image magazine, by sending them my photo.

And so, what to tell these people? Obviously, it helps if you are keen. If you are already famous, it is easier to get attention. You can get enormous amounts of attention as a famous person by telling the media to leave you alone. Greta Garbo built her entire career on this strategy, and Kate Moss almost never talks to the press, which fascinates people. Famous people become more famous by physically attacking press photographers. Chris Martin allegedly hit one with his jeep after being spotted with Gwyneth Paltrow on a night out, post 'conscious uncoupling'.

A TED talk by Monica Lewinsky has been viewed by millions Photo: Fiona Hanson/PA
A TED talk by Monica Lewinsky has been viewed by millions Photo: Fiona Hanson/PA

No matter how famous you are, it always helps to harness the power of another famous person, which exponentially increases both of your appeal. Both James Joyce and Pablo Picasso were famous self-publicists, and when Joyce started a rumour that Picasso had refused to paint his portrait, it got everyone talking about the pair of them.

Kim Kardashian, who is the world's most followed reality telly star, was initially a stylist for Paris Hilton and her father represented OJ Simpson, both of which associations (as well as her sex tape) propelled her to superstardom.

Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie supercharged their media attention by getting together in the first place and have continued to grab headlines by subsequently getting divorced, with a lot of children adding to the mix.

Diana, who revealed her unhappiness Photo: Jayne Fincher/Getty Images
Diana, who revealed her unhappiness Photo: Jayne Fincher/Getty Images

Even if you are not already famous yourself, you can get media attention by association. In 1992, after Kurt Cobain made recorded death threats to me on my answer-phone, I got two pages in Entertainment Weekly, as well as coverage in the New York Times, LA Times and Rolling Stone. Nobody had heard of Monica Lewinsky until the famous 'blue dress' incident, and now her TED talk has been seen by nearly nine million people.

Should you hook a Kardashian, or a Jenner? Should you sleep with Donald Trump and leak a sex-tape of it? Should you persuade an A-list movie star to throw phones at you? Should you combine all of the above?

The possibilities are endless, but there are some snags. You may be lucky and live in Los Angeles, but if you don't, the supply of A-listers is a bit limited.

Another of the sure-fire ways to get attention involves having something very strange and unpleasant happen to you.

Often, the unpleasant thing will not be something you bargained for, but it may not be a big deal. My partner Shane became famous overnight in 1976 when Sounds magazine put him on the cover because a girl allegedly bit off his ear at a Clash gig and he was accused of cannibalism, even though it wasn't him who bit the ear. Ozzy Osbourne famously bit the head off a bat on stage, which he later admitted was not pleasant and not a planned stunt, but people still talk about it. The Sun's 'Freddie Starr ate my hamster' is now an iconic headline, but turned out to be a completely untrue story which caused Starr's name to be forever linked with the idea of eating hamsters.

Sometimes, the unpleasant thing is one that you really hate. Princess Diana was probably not hoping to do her "There are three of us in this marriage" speech, as she walked down the aisle with Prince Charles. But after revealing the extent of her unhappiness, she became the most famous woman in the world. Monica Lewinsky in her TED talk on shame says: "I lost my reputation and my dignity, and I almost lost my life." And Kim Kardashian swore on Oprah that the sex tape was the biggest regret of her life.

The fact is that getting the attention of the media is the same as getting the attention of anyone, because human beings love a story. What makes a story interesting to your neighbour over a coffee is the same thing that makes a headline interesting. If everyone went around eating hamsters, Freddie Starr would not have made the front page.

Sometimes people need to be persuaded to seek the attention of the media, even when they want it. I work as a media coach, helping people who are terrified of the media and would rather go to the dentist than talk to us.

I tell them that they are unlikely to get followed by the paparazzi, just because they go on Ryan Tubridy, if Ryan is not followed by the paps. They worry that they will make fools of themselves and that people will talk about them everywhere they go, if they let someone print their photograph.

I point out that I appeared naked on the cover of this newspaper, and nobody remarked on it except my mum.

Most of all, they worry that they would be seen to be boasting. I remind them that they actually have something of value to offer to the world, and that the public can benefit from knowing about them.

Human beings love the scandalous stories and the strange stories, but we also love the hopeful stories and the inspiring ones, and they don't need to be about famous people, they just need to be about real people who have overcome challenges.

Many of my favourite interviews are with ordinary people who have had bad stuff thrown at them, depression, death, divorce, disease and disaster, and have come through, still feeling good about life.

So the truth about getting the attention of the media is that we are human beings, just like you.

We are no more scary than you are. And we will probably be interested in you, if you have something to share that is of value.

Victoria will be speaking at the Women's Inspire Network Conference, City North Hotel, October 5

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