By Jeff Crilley, Emmy Award Winning Reporter and Author of Free Publicity
No one knew the magic of publicity better than Houdini. In fact, he got so much of it, he is still the worldís most famous magician more than seven decades after his death. But the secret to getting coverage didnít go with him to the grave. Anyone of you can get the media to cover your act. You just have to know the tricks of my trade.
As a veteran TV reporter, I can tell you, the media loves magic. But when reporters are hurting for good stories to tell, it seems like most magicians pull a disappearing act. Oh, there are the exceptions. David Blaine had the national media in a spell for 36 hours in April of í99 with his underwater casket stunt.
But you donít have to bury yourself alive to grab headlines. The trick to getting covered on the news is feeding the media when the media is hungry.
So here are some secrets that even some PR pros donít know:
WAIT FOR A SLOW NEWS DAY
The holidays are the slowest "news times" of the year. When government offices are closed, so are most of our sources. Take advantage of it.
In fact, take out your calendar and begin circling government holidays. If the government isnít making news, reporters are scrambling to find something to cover. Pitch even an average story on a day when the media is starving for news, and youíre much more likely to get coverage.
THE FEEDING FRENZY
Another time when the media is vulnerable to your pitch is when we are in a feeding frenzy. Thatís when we are so totally obsessed with one story, that it dominates all the newscasts. This often happens with sports. When your hometown team is in the playoffs, usually the local media is frothing at the mouth to tell stories about it, right?
If you were to show up in front of the stadium during the newscast just before a big game and perform a little street magic for the reporter covering fan fever, youíre almost guaranteed coverage. How do I know? Iíve been that reporter more times than I care to admit. My assignment has always been to find colorful fans heading into the game and interview them. Most of the time, I look for the crazy fans with the painted faces and put them on TV. But if a magician were to show up and make a photo of the competitionís star player disappear, Iíd be all over it.
KNOW THE SHOW
You canít pitch your story to just any reporter. You have to get to the right journalist or the show that would be most likely to your act on the air. In television news, typically the morning newscasts are the best fit for magicians.
If I were trying to get booked as a guest on a TV morning show, Iíd call up the station, ask for the morning show producers and charm them. Hereís how my pitch would begin; "First of all, can I tell you how much I enjoy your show? Your hosts Jane and Bill are like my morning cup of coffee. I canít wake up without either of them. And you do an amazing job booking such interesting guests! I know that has to be a challenge!í
Then, Iíd launch into my pitch; "I have an idea for a segment I think Jane and Bill will love. Iím a magician and have designed a new trick specifically for your morning show hosts." Then describe the trick and how the hosts could get involved in the act.
HOUDINI WOULD BE PROUD
And obviously, if itís within your personality to create a scene, publicity stunts work like magic. The examples of successful stunts are endless, just ask the biggest names in the business.
And we in the media love covering them, even when we know weíre being used!
The journalists who covered Houdiniís stunts were well aware that they were being tricked into giving him free publicity, and yet they gleefully obliged. The human drama was just too powerful to ignore.
SOME EXPERT ADVICE
Each one of you is an expert in something. Make sure the media knows what separates you from all the other magicians.
L.C. Collier from Kansas City has become a media darling by promoting an anti-drug message through his magic. The Fishin' Magicians, Steve Craig & Amy D. Short from Nixa, Missouri tell reporters that they are the only magicians in the country who specialize in "fish shtick." Or if you a comedy magician and hypnotist, like Steve Olsen of Seattle, let the morning show producer know youíll have the showís host believing heís Elvis and singing Hound Dog by the time the segment is over.
Getting discovered by the media isnít a complicated trick. You just have to make sure that when you pitch yourself to the producer, you stress what makes you the best.
PULLING A RABBIT OUT OF YOUR HAT
Okay, so what happens if you do everything Iíve just outlined and the night before your appearance the airport loses your luggage or your assistant pulls a vanishing act?
Thatís the time when truly great magicians have something up their sleeve. Veterans of the magic biz can tell you stories of running to a local Walmart at the last minute and buying enough household objects to salvage the act. Or letís suppose your assistant pulls a no-show. Magicians at the top of their game know that recruiting the showís host to stand-in can be "television magic."
So what if your rabbit runs away? Donít worry if youíre in Miami and your luggage is in Memphis. The thing that separates the best from the rest is the ability to pull a rabbit out of their hat even when life leaves them with neither hat nor hare.
THE MAGIC MOMENT
Once youíre on the air, anything can happen, especially on live TV. The best advice is to just have fun. And if you mess up, have a funny ad-lib tucked away so you can laugh at yourself along with the host. Nothing is worse than watching someone get mad. In fact, in twenty years of doing television news, I can tell you the moments seemed to enjoy the most have been the bloopers.
But if you know how long your segment is and how long it takes to do each trick, you have nothing to worry about. Youíll be fine. Youíll shine. And the audience will love you.
So, if you want the media to cover your act, the trick is simple: feed us when weíre hungry, pitch the right reporter, and every once in a while stage a stunt we just have to cover. Make sure you tell the media what makes you different. And if you lose your hare, donít dispare. Youíre a magician. Just focus on your hocus pocus and youíll have the media spellbound for years!
Jeff Crilley is an Emmy Award winning reporter in
Dallas. His book, Free Publicity: A TV Reporter Shares the Secrets
For Getting Covered on the News, is available in bookstores
everywhere or through his website: