Raj Girn: This week’s media and communications theme show where I’ll be deep-diving why writing a book doesn’t make you an authority. Now I know that I will get my ass kicked for making a statement like that without actually justifying what I’m talking about. So in order to do that justice to help me get it right, please welcome to the show Marissa Eigenbrood, who is the senior vice president of Smith Publicity, headquartered in New Jersey.
Here is Part One of our conversation:
Raj Girn: Welcome to the show, Marissa. I’m super psyched to have you on to share your story. And we’re going to enlighten everyone about this whole concept that everyone talks about, called building authority, that very few people actually get right. Thank you so much for coming on.
Marissa Eigenbrood: Thank you so much for having me with you today Raj. It’s such a pleasure to connect with you. Any chance I get so I’m excited to connect with you and everyone who’s going to be watching and reading and following along with us through this great conversation.
Brilliant. And I’m super excited that we were able to make this happen because I know that you’ve got a lot to say about the subject matter. So let me just dive right in. You have quite the diverse portfolio in public relations, Marissa, which I find lends really positively to when a person is ready to niche down.
I always say go a little wider than you want to go when you’re first getting into your zone and then figure out where you want to go deep and that’s where you would niche. You’ve niched your expertise in the publishing industry, where you’ve worked with small to large-sized publishers, hybrid presses, debut authors all the way up to industry thought leaders.
So I couldn’t think of a better person to position as a subject matter expert when it came to this particular conversation. So before we dive in and just really talk about why it’s important to have a book and to build authority and what the missing link is that a lot of people don’t get right, I want to introduce you and contextualize a little bit of your story with everyone. So can you share some milestones from your career that paved the way for your current position as the senior vice president of Smith Publicity?
I would love to thank you for the opportunity to talk about it. I think that there’s a lot of times when you don’t realize where your niche is, you don’t realize where your future may lie and where that really special place is going to be for you as a thought leader in that space.
So when I was in college, it goes all the way back to that point, I started public relations. I always knew I wanted to be in that field. I knew I wanted to be communicating with people in a distinct and concise way. Really clearly, you know. Journalism, I always loved the idea of that but you have really got to write a lot for that. So I give our authors credit. I give journalists credit. But going back to that point, I always knew that was the path for me, but I didn’t even have an inkling that book publicity was even a possibility for me. It wasn’t even a thought in my head. I didn’t even know it really existed.
And so as I got started, I had the opportunity to work in large corporations, including Campbell Soup. I had the chance to work at a really big branding agency in Philadelphia. I had the chance to experience those different styles of communication, which vary so greatly from one to the next. And the opportunity to join this publicity team fell into my lap out of love, that personal connection that I had and 12 and a half years later, I’m still here.
Oh my gosh. Well, they must be doing something right is all I have to say.
You know, Smith is absolutely doing something right, and it’s such an honour to be in the position that I’m at today. I started as a publicist. I grew into working in our business development team as well. I then moved into a variety of leadership positions and that’s how I really got to not only find this version of book publicity and marketing that I wanted to plant my flag in, but also the role that I would play within our organization. I never imagined there’d be a day where I wouldn’t be pitching media anymore.
That was again the whole purpose of my studies early on. But today I’m not in the day-to-day trenches, but I’m working so closely with our team. And what I’ve come to even find is this like a super niche that I’ve been able to even drill down into further, which is being able to really support our team on so many levels in my role that I’m in today as senior vice president.
Oh my God, I love everything about your story. It’s what dreams are made of, right? Like, we have this dream when we’re young, for those of us that have an idea of what we want to do with our lives, which I’ve always kind of known as well. I knew that I wanted to do something with the communal enterprise. And I wanted to serve and I wanted to be in the media space. I knew that very early on. But life being what it is, it takes you in directions. And then serendipitously, I ended up right where I needed to be.
And I love your story because you were very clear that you knew where you wanted to be and your journey of allowing yourself to tap into many different aspects within your industry helped to know what was the right decision when the right opportunity came along. I love everything about that. So I want to ask you this about Smith, and let’s just let people know a little bit about the company, just so they understand why I felt that you were the perfect person to have this conversation with for anyone interested in knowing more.
Can you share the suite of services at Smith? Because nowadays, publicity PR and what a lot of firms do can really drastically differ from the olden days of traditional PR. So share a little bit about the suite of services at Smith.
Absolutely. Thank you for the opportunity to do so for that reason. The real foundation of what we do is really rooted within in the traditional media landscape. But I love videos because I like to say traditional with air quotes around them.
When I started at Smith 12 years ago, the traditional brand is not what traditional is today. Traditional then was what’s going on radio across the country. You know, let’s look at garnering newspaper reviews and such. Some of that still applies to a degree today. Very genre-dependent and goal-dependent for the authors we work with. But today’s traditional media landscape includes bloggers and bookstagrammers and booktubers and book talkers. And all of these podcasts and of course video calls.
There are these wonderful opportunities to further extend the reach of an author’s voice and their story. And so while we still say traditional media today, it’s so very different from what it was 12 and a half years ago from when I joined Smith. But that is really the foundation of our services and what we focus on. We begin working with authors, typically before their book is launched. We love to connect the sooner the better so we can really plan everything out. I like to say publicity is the last domino to fall. As we’re setting up all of our dominoes, it’s the last one to fall down. I want to make sure everything else is set up and ready for that moment that we get to go out to the media with our information.
“I like to say publicity is the last domino to fall. As we’re setting up all of our dominoes, it’s the last one to fall down.” ~Marissa Eigenbrood
And so we really love to work with our authors early on to get a chance to get to know them, their goals, their audience and to build out our publicity campaigns around the launch of their book. Much of our work also extends well beyond publication date to keeping their name recognition and what we call personality cultivations active well beyond the book lots.
We also work with authors in the early marketing stages as well. We really love to dig in on how is your book being incorporated into your platform? How are you making sure that as we’re approaching launch, you’re really engaging your networks, which is such a critical piece of building excitement and attention around your book and its upcoming launch as well? So it’s that early marketing aspect and then moving into our full-service publicity campaigns around the launch and beyond.
I love that. So I know that you’ve already answered this question, but I’m going to ask you just in case someone is just hopping in and joining us. Who is the ideal client for Smith?
We just had a meeting the other day and we were talking about our avatar. I hate that word but it’s a great one to use, though. Who is our avatar? And I think that it really can vary based on different genres that we work within, but in nonfiction overall, which is really where authority plays such a key role. I would say that we love working with someone who is ready to get their hands dirty.
They’re ready to get in and be a collaborative partner with us. If there’s someone who is expecting to come and talk, we’ll see the campaign and their launch and say, “I’ve written the whole book. I’m passing it on to you. You do all the work now.” That’s not how things work in today’s landscape. So, it is great if someone has a little bit of a social media following already. You’re just going to be a level up from someone who doesn’t. But that doesn’t mean that someone who doesn’t have that yet is out of the question.
So it’s really more so I would say a bit more personality based in terms of who that ideal client is and making sure that they’re really ready to be engaged, to be collaborative with us, to be a true partner in the work that we’re going to do together. And all those other aspects, the social media platforms, building their presence through publicity, those things are going to come with time and understanding that if you’re a step behind where someone else is, but you’ve just got to take those steps, those stepping stones along the way to get to that next level.
You don’t necessarily always get to jump 10 steps ahead. If you don’t have the media credentials just yet, you don’t always jump right to the ‘Today Show’ or right to the ‘New York Times.’ There are stepping stones to that, just understanding that process and being open-minded to being educated around that as well. We welcome the opportunity to educate wherever we can and understand that all of our authors and thought leaders we work with aren’t always going to have that knowledge. So how can we provide that education along the way?
That’s a lot of wonderful information for everyone Marissa. And I feel that my next question you’ve already answered. But I’m going to throw it at you anyway. What makes Smith unique in the marketplace?
There are are a number of books, publicity and marketing agencies. There’s a lot of freelancers out there. We always call them our friendly competitors because if you think about how many books are published in a day, there’s plenty of wealth to go around. Some of the things that really stand out about Smith is that when Smith was founded . . . We’re celebrating 25 years next year in 2022. And when we were founded by Dan Smith 25 years ago, Dan really saw a hole in the marketplace that, at that time, self-published authors didn’t necessarily have a voice and a place to go to spread awareness about their voice through the media. And so that was the spark of Smith originally.
Today, of course, we’re working with a lot of traditionally published hybrid publishers and self-published authors. But at that time, what we found was that the self-published book didn’t necessarily get as much of the traditional book coverage. It wasn’t as possible for them to get the traditional reviews, excerpts placed and so on and so forth. And so we had to think differently. We had to think of one of those alternate forms of coverage we can garner around the author, around their story, and around their expertise.
And that’s really carried us through into where we are today at Smith and is so applicable to where the media has shifted and changed. We’ve seen so many of our book review pages be reduced over time in newspapers, and thankfully the online world has helped rejuvenate so much of that. But we’ve always been at the forefront of those alternate ways of garnering that attention and not just relying on the book as this new product to really share. But how is it also a business card to the author to really amplify their voice and their thought leadership overall? I think another really key piece of really what has made us stand out among others is our communication.
We really are strong believers in frequent communication with our authors and our publishers that we work with, because that’s where that collaboration and partnership that I emphasized earlier is really able to shine. And that’s where we’re able to come together and have those important brainstorming and update conversations. We always want to make sure that our authors and our clients know what’s going on. A lot of the work of publicity is actually showing your work. It’s like a math problem. You’ve got to show your work there.
We don’t always get all of the answers, the great placements at the end, but there’s a lot of work that goes on behind the scenes and we want people to know what’s going on with that. So the amount of communication, the frequency of it has been, I think, a really unique factor of our partnerships with our authors. But I think it’s really thinking of those alternate paths of taking it well beyond the pages of the book.
“We don’t always get all of the answers, the great placements at the end, but there’s a lot of work that goes on behind the scenes and we want people to know what’s going on with that.” ~Marissa Eigenbrood
I love that. You know, filling in all of those gaps, I think, is a key element of the businesses that truly are starting to create great momentum, especially in the virtual online and digital space, because that is a big part of how we do business today, whether we want to accept it or not. So being able to fill those gaps and also leverage those opportunities is also a huge thing.
And we’re kind of trained, especially kind of as old-schoolers, to think that if we don’t get something in the ‘New York Times’ or in ‘Forbes’ that it’s not something that valuable. But what I always say is that the value with getting media placements is to put you in front of the right audience at the right time that is going to be the perfect call to action for what you’re looking to accomplish. Some people are looking for authority, other people are looking for clients, other people are looking for awareness. Some people are looking for all of the above.
It really depends on which of those elements you’re looking to understand that there are different types of media that are important for different reasons, too. And I think that’s also the other thing that a lot of people don’t really understand. Do you want to give me your perspective on that a little bit as well? Because I think it’s important.
I’m getting excited. I’m leaning into that question. I like to always say there’s riches and niches. And that is so the case with building authority and building your expert platform. We think about when we’re kind of building out a media campaign. We really think about garnering coverage with what we call brand builders and then audience builders. And a lot of times they’re not the same thing. Those brand builders are the flashy media. They’re the ones that you want to get to add to your website because people recognize their logos and their names. So that’s again, ‘The New York Times’ or CNN or ‘Business Insider.’ Those are the ones we want to go for that because there are just going to build your brand credibility over time.
But that’s not always where your audience is going to get their information. I always like to say, if you want to learn how to roast chicken, you don’t open up ‘The Wall Street Journal’ and hope that there’s a recipe to roast the chicken in there. That day, you’re going to go to a specific site, a specific blog, an Instagrammer, to to find that information, someone that you follow along with. And so that’s where the audience builders come in. And it’s really where are your target audience getting their information? And rarely is that a publishing industry trade or rarely is that a national publication. It’s often a trade journal, a podcast, a blog. And so there’s so much value that lies there in reaching those target audiences. But again, it’s about that balance, too, because those brand builders also have a lot of power too.
“I always like to say, if you want to learn how to roast chicken, you don’t open up ‘The Wall Street Journal’ and hope that there’s a recipe to roast the chicken in there. That day, you’re going to go to a specific site, a specific blog, an Instagrammer, to find that information, someone that you follow along with. And so that’s where the audience builders come in. And it’s really where are your target audience getting their information?” ~Marissa Eigenbrood
Absolutely. And if you can get a bit of both, it’s a win-win, right?
Absolutely. That’s the ultimate goal.
Let me ask you this for anyone out there that is looking to contact your team and explore possibilities of hiring your services because they understand the importance of doing that, especially if they have a book ready to go to market, where can we send them?
I always firmly believe in having a warm body on the other side. So instead of just going through our website and our contact form. Anyone can go to get smithpublicity.com to learn more. There’s a lot of great resources on there. But I always welcome to have those conversations directly, too. And so my email address is [email protected]. And there’s a lot of great resources we have too. If you just want to kind of follow along and learn about things. Sign up for our newsletter. We have a podcast as well, and we got some really, really great content on social media too.
There you have it, folks. If you thought that PR was just about getting you in a newspaper or in a magazine, you have just been schooled. It’s just absolutely amazing. So go check out the website and I love it when people in a position of authority who are decision-makers are reachable and attainable. And that’s what I love about you and about Smith PR. Thank you so much for sharing that information with everyone. Marissa, before I kind of nose dive into the topic today, which I want to remind everyone is why writing a book doesn’t make you an authority, can you provide some insights into who out there should actually consider even writing a book?
I think I’ll stick to the nonfiction space because I think on the fiction side, “Hey, anyone, you’ve got a story, you’ve got an imagination, go for it.” But we really think about becoming an authority and writing a book for those purposes. You really have to be ready to dedicate yourself to not just the book process, but taking it beyond that as well. What I mean by that is really thinking about if someone reads the book, how do they engage with me further from that? What’s the next step they can take? If someone is interested in making money off of writing a book I would not advise writing a book if that’s your only goal.
Rarely do any of our authors make all of their investments back on just book sales. Where they can make them back is their speaking engagements. Where they can expand their authority is through programs, retreats, workshops, seminars that they’re leading. And oftentimes, bulk orders come through on that side as well. It’s their social media engagement, so it’s really finding again how will your target audience want to engage beyond the book and really being ready and committed to that?
The book release date I think about as the book birthday. It’s the first day that it’s out into the world. It only has the opportunity to continue growing and evolving from there. And you just want to make sure that all the tools and the resources are there to allow it to do so well beyond that date. So it’s that mindset about long term vision. I think that’s really important about long-term dedication to building your authority that the book is going to be one benchmark along the way in that journey.
So what benefits have you seen, from your experience, actually get actualized through writing a book? I mean, I feel like you answered the question, but do you want to expand on that at all?
We’ve worked with others who have been in the early book stages, so they’ve been developing their proposals and shopping around their proposals for a publisher to pick them up. And we’ve been working on getting their platform built up a little bit over time. And the big difference I see between that work versus book launch work is that with a book launch, you have this specific moment in time where people should be interested in covering you. It’s this driver to a certain period of time, whereas the other side of it, more of that personality cultivation is just a consistent simmer. It’s still worthwhile. It’s still worth doing.
But having a book, really, I think one of the first key pieces it’s giving you this timestamp, this moment in time where you and your messages are more relevant than at other times and more newsworthy, truly, because there’s something, there’s a date to connect around it. So that’s one of the real values of launching it. A book also carries a lot of weight. So as a piece of credential, it adds a layer of credential, whether you’re self-publishing or traditional publishing or anywhere in between.
“Having a book, really, I think one of the first key pieces, it’s giving you this timestamp, this moment in time where you and your messaging are more relevant than at other times and more newsworthy, truly, because there’s something, there’s a date to connect around it. So that’s one of the real values of launching it.” ~Marissa Eigenbrood
There is just something that comes along with having a book to your name. It’s something you get to leave behind. That’s not just a pamphlet. That’s not just a PDF brochure to leave. You have this really meaty piece of information to be able to leave behind and to support your core messaging and your platform. And that really just provides such a great resource for a lot of those future initiatives too. So it’s really giving you that tangible piece of your expertise that doesn’t really live necessarily through a seminar or speaking. It’s allowing you to take all these other things and amp it up to the next level.
I want to ask you this: Is there ever a reason why someone shouldn’t write a book? I kind of don’t think there is, but I don’t know what your thoughts are.
I’ll go back to the goal of only wanting to make money off of the book. I would say then maybe reconsider at that time if that’s the only goal. But I really think that releasing a book offers this really exciting moment in time that you just want to be able to fully maximize. So I don’t know if it’s necessarily ever that there’s a reason to not ever publish a book and write a book, but it’s also, I think it’s more so timing. What’s the right time for you to do that?
Are you ready for that launch? Because when that launch comes, you want to have your Sunday best on. You want to be fully ready with your website, with your social media. Ideally, you want to start building your followers and you want to make sure that you’ve got all of those. A book launch is like a puzzle and you’ve got a lot of some of those early puzzle pieces in place. Or at least you’re starting to build them up on your way to that launch. I’ve talked to so many authors who will come to us and say, “You know, I’m self-publishing. I’m launching my book in one month. What should we do?”
And in most of those cases, we’ve pushed their book launch out. Because they’re self-publishing we have control. We push that book launch out to at least five months or so to give us some more of that time to build up and advance. There’s no reason to rush your publication date. So I think it’s more so timing and when you should or shouldn’t publish a book versus whether or not you should.
Are there any downsides to writing a book that people should know about? I mean, the only one I can think of is make sure that you have a good amount of money to do the entire process properly. That’s the only thing I would say. And I don’t see that as a downside. The downside is if you don’t prepare yourself for the investing piece.
Absolutely. I mean, that’s such an important point, right? And I don’t necessarily think there’s any other downsides to it. What it really is preparing yourself for the that not only financial, but the time and energy commitment that you’re heading into as well with it. And again, it’s going to be a multi-year timeline. So you’ve really got it and it’s going to ebb and flow over all of those periods. But even if you end up being traditionally published and let’s say you still get an advance, They still happen in today’s world. You know that those funds are great and they’re going to help support some initiatives.
But really thinking about all of the teams, you’re going to have to bring on board to support the launch, not just the publicity teams. You might want to bring in social media, launch teams and digital marketing agencies, and there’s a lot of those puzzle pieces to put together. So really thinking about how deep do I want to get into this? Because the last thing you want to do is start to invest in it, start to move through that journey, and then get to the point where you say, “I don’t have additional funds to invest into this. I don’t have the time to invest.”
And really, when it comes to the stages around the actual launch of the book and after, that’s when you’re going to need even more time available and have to start thinking about even bigger spends. A lot of time too around publicity marketing, social media advertising and all the things that come with that.