Being on Oprah changed my perception of what I was doing for a living forever and marked the beginning of my long love affair with social media. The story goes like this…
By 2002 I had run my boutique PR firm for 6 years, helping musicians tell their stories, and I was very satisfied doing that work. One fateful day my telephone rang. It was a call from a producer at the Oprah Winfrey Show. She had read an article about my mom in a magazine, where mom had mentioned her entrepreneurial daughter.
Within a week, an Oprah film crew had descended. The show combined live studio and taped interviews with Gloria Steinem, Naomi Wolf, Faye Wattelton, Rebecca Walker (Alice Walker’s daughter) and many other guests. On the air date, Oprah opened the show by promising “A revealing look at what younger women think about older women…”
We were told that the theme of the show would be “generational differences in the workplace,” But what it ended up being was the airing of my painful family struggle in front of 40 million viewers. It turned out the show was really about pitting daughters from my generation against their mothers, ambitious women who were at the front lines in the battle for women’s equality. There was tremendous pain for all of the daughters featured. I’m not writing this to air dirty laundry. I’m writing it to make a point about Traditional media.
In considering whether I wanted to write about this I started researching, and I discovered that this particular episode has been cited and quoted in many books and papers. My story has touched a nerve.
Here’s the thing: Women of my mother’s generation (the silent generation) struggled and women still struggle 40 years later as the most popular article that has ever run the Atlantic monthly Why Women Still Can’t Have it All attests.
The lesson I learned from Oprah (and about mass media) is:
In mass media you have NO control.
The day of the Oprah taping, I sat for hours under hot lights with pancake makeup on while the producer manipulated the story she wanted out of me. I tried my hardest to paint a rosier picture but as a non media-trained novice I was no match for the biggest daytime TV rated show in America.
The producer wanted me to reveal my pain. She actually had an exact sentence in mind that she wanted me to say. In other words she had the script before she showed up in my office.
After hours of back and forth I finally asked her please just tell me what it was she wanted me to say. The producer fed me the EXACT Sentence (not my words) I parroted back, and as soon as I did, the cameras went off and they went away back to Chicago to the editing room.
It took 2 years to repair the damage and the pain that Oprah caused in my relationship with my mother.
Why am I telling you all this?
It’s to explain why I’m so passionate about social media.
Social media comes from you. You get to tell the story that you want to tell. There will never be producers grilling you under hot lights with cell phones ringing in their ears to get a version of a story that they want.
Have you ever heard of someone being interviewed for hours for a newspaper or TV piece and then one teeny snippet (sometimes taken out of context) is what makes it onto the 6 o clock news?
As a publicist working with traditional media I saw it EVERY DAY.
In mass media, it is their truth.
In social media, you have the right to defend yourself if anyone has objections or paints a picture of you that you don’t recognize as your truth.
And in social media, you have the freedom to go deeper to explain if you want, openly in front of anyone who wants to see.
The best part about telling your story is:
You can build your own tribe and they can choose to come with you on your journey
I lost my faith in mass media the day that TV show aired and started my journey towards online PR. This was way before it was called “social media,” it was during the time of list servs and web rings and webzines, and years later, social media has gone mainstream.
Many still believe that with traditional media comes cache.
OK, believe it, maybe sometimes it’s true.
For me, from that day forward, every time I had to pitch a story to a traditional journalist I just felt nauseous.
Thinking that mainstream media will save you, discover you or put you on the map and make your career is a misguided conception.
Just ask 99% of all clients I have spoken to who have ever hired a traditional publicist 😉
Your wonderful tribe of people will come with you after the pancake makeup comes off and the hot lights turn away.
Your fans = your tribe = your conversation and your control.
This is why I believe in social media.