I should be able to do this. I’m a journalist. I’ve been a journalist for nearly 40 years, for God’s sake. I know how the game is played; I’ve been on the receiving end of countless pitches and worked with many PRs in different industry sectors.
So why do I find it so hard promote myself? Even though I know what works and what doesn’t work?
I know how to write. I’m also a public speaking coach – so I know how to speak. I’m not afraid to stand in front of an audience. I’ve even done a stand-up comedy routine on stage in a Soho basement, but the idea of pushing myself brings up huge resistance. I’m four years old again, wanting to hide under a blanket.
I co-host a bi-monthly storytelling event – The Story Party – but even then I resist blowing my own trumpet and will only casually mention the work I do as a storytelling expert. I see it as a community, an act of public service – and that promoting my business is not appropriate, even though people have urged me to do so. No, I still sit and wait for other people to offer me work or for potential clients to discover me through word of mouth.
And the idea of contacting a journalist to write a story about me sends me into meltdown. Why would they be interested in me? What’s my angle?
It was different when I inadvertently became the story. Several years ago I wrote a piece for the Sunday Express about getting engaged for the first time at 50 to a much younger man. That led to a slew of media requests for interviews with me and my fiancé, some of which we agreed to. We appeared in Good Housekeeping magazine in a feature about ‘unusual’ couples. We were ‘the age-gap couple’.
A few years later, having sadly split up with my husband, I wrote a piece for the Telegraph website about the pitfalls of marrying a much younger man. That in turn led to more media requests. As recently as a couple of months ago, I was interviewed for a piece in Closer magazine after Kylie Minogue split with her younger fiancé.
They say every story is a human-interest story, and this was borne out by the story of my marriage.
Indeed, I tell everyone I work with that if they tell their story, the need to persuade or sell disappears. Allowing someone to find themselves in your story is all you need. Certainly many women told me they were inspired by my later-life love story; I hope that the cautionary tale I told after the unhappy ending of that story also served those who read it.
So what is my story now? And how can I use that to promote the work I do?
Well, and again I say this to all my clients, we are often blind to our own story. We question its value, or just don’t think it’s interesting enough to anyone else. Even I need to work with someone else who can listen for the story I want to tell.
The question is often, where do I start? There are so many stories I could tell, which one would be the most useful in terms of raising my profile?
I had to stop writing this blog for a while to reflect on the questions I just posed. Eventually I came up with a shortlist of stories. The first one I thought of was my kind of ‘default’ story, which I usually tell when I’m doing my public speaking work.
It revolves around the fact that I coined the term the New Romantics when I was a music journalist in the 80s. That immediately gives me a backstory rooted in a vivid, creative period in music history, which most people over the age of 30 remember with fondness.
It also demonstrates an early talent for spotting trends and coming up with memorable headlines or, put another way, a great hook.
I sometimes push the boat out and claim to have started a youth movement. This is a bit of an exaggeration but it makes for a good story and is partly true.
The second story topic I put on my list was midlife reinvention. This one is not sexy but it is an important part of my story. After a long and successful career in journalism I decided I wanted a complete career change. I now do the work I love rather than the work that I happen to be good at doing, but nothing has gone to waste. All the skills I have built up over nearly 40 years in the media come in handy every time I help someone tell a story or find their message, put together a speech or write a blog.
The third topic on my list is what to do with insider knowledge when it’s not valued inside any more. What I mean by this is that everything I know about journalism and working in the media, all the skills I accumulated as a print journalist, are no longer prized in the newspaper industry – mostly due to the advent of digital media. So that story is about how I repositioned myself and transferred my skills, discovering that they were valued more highly outside journalism.
In due course I can tell all of these stories but I’m still not sure which one would be of interest to other journalists. Maybe all of them. Maybe none.
Which brings me back to my starting point. I should be able to do this. I’m a journalist. I know what works; I know what doesn’t work. But this is different. There is more at stake for me now. This is about me doing the work I love. And that makes me feel more vulnerable. Which is probably a good place to be when I’m working with other creatives who want to raise their profile, because I’m in the same place as they are.
So perhaps the answer is for us all to move forward together into unknown territory, supporting each other and leaving markers on the trail along the way.
To that end, I’m joining forces with coach for creatives, my good friend Nicky Moran, on a series of one-day workshops called The Brass Tacks of Trailblazing PR – plus a four-month programme called A Bigger Splash.
They say you teach what you need to learn, and that’s certainly true in this case! Us creative types need to stick together and become each other’s cheerleaders and champions – especially during those times when the necessity of self-promotion is sunk by self-doubt.