Nov 182005

Shave seconds off your trip!So my pal Sean is the creator of the TTC Subway Rider Efficiency Guide: a small booklet that helps you plan which car on the subway to get on so that when you get off, you’ll be at the exit stairwell. He got a lot of media attention for this fascinating and obsessive project and he’s very generously offered to share all the things he learned during the process of media outreach which (true to his nature) he extensively catalogued as he went along.

While media outreach is only one part of promoting a project, it’s one that a lot of people find intimidating. He’s broken down a lot of the key things in a very approachable way. Check it out and feel free to add your own tips or questions in the comments.

So Ya Want To Be Famous: 26 Media Lessons Learned
by Sean Lerner
As you read this, you may want to substitute chicks with hot guys or something else, depending on what you like.

I put together a zine called the TTC Subway Rider Efficiency Guide. I managed to drum up a lot of press: so much so that I felt entitled to impart my wisdom through this anecdotal account of my experience. Press, I thought, would generally be a good thing, as it would naturally lead to more chicks.

After putting together the first draft of the zine, I sent an email to all my friends asking them for feedback. A friend who works at the CBC forwarded my email to her colleague who’s a producer for the CBC Metro Morning radio show. She was interested in doing a story. I was excited! I hadn’t even released the guide, and already the chicks were on the way.

Lesson #1: once you’ve got a serious start on your project, enough that you can actually see its completion on the horizon, let all your friends know what you’re up to.

I have a freelance reporter friend. She was well aware of the project and provided me great feedback throughout the construction of the zine. She pitched a story to the Globe and Mail early on, well before the guide was finished. They were interested.

Lesson #2: make sure anyone you know who works in media is well aware of your project, and see if they’re interested in covering it. They’re happy, because they get a story out of it, and you’re happy, because you get the chicks.

The Globe article put things into high-gear for me. It was a Tuesday, and they wanted to publish the article on the TTC guide on the coming Saturday. I wasn’t planning on doing the release for a few weeks and I wanted to send out a press release to all the media outlets at the same time. But it always seemed like my official release was two weeks away, and so I was happy to have a reason to finally go live with the website and release the guide, plus I didn’t want to pass up the opportunity for an article in the Globe and Mail.

The attention, as a result of the Globe article, was great. A few days later I went to a Spacing Magazine fundraiser, not knowing anyone. Apparently a lot of people who go to Spacing Magazine fundraisers also read the Globe and Mail, as I spent the night walking around, half the time by myself and half the time talking to people who had read the Globe article.

The only thing I didn’t like about the Globe article was a miserable photo of me taken at St. George station. How was I ever supposed to get the chicks with a mug like that? In fact, I’m not happy with any of the photos of me that appeared in print. Media outlets weren’t necessarily looking to make me as attractive as possible.

Lesson #3: Get your photographer friend to take a bunch of photos of you in the context of your project. Put them online in a nice webpage where media outlets can view them quickly and download hi-res versions for publishing. This way you get to control what’s published, whoever’s covering you is happy as there’s less work for them to do (though some media may still want to take original photos), and it may also mean the difference between a photo accompanying an article about you vs. no photo at all.

The TTC Subway Rider Efficiency Guide is small and (some have said) cute, and I didn’t think an email press release describing it would do it justice, so instead I sent out a snail-mail press release, with a copy of the zine to over 200 media outlets.

Lesson #4: If what you’re doing is small, cute, inexpensive to create and doesn’t cost more than a stamp to mail, consider sending out a snail-mail press release with a piece of your work instead of an email press release.

Global TV left a voice message for me about the guide, but I was never able to get in touch with the producer who left the message, and my guess is she lost interest. As many salespeople know, a live person has to be at the other end of the phone line or there’s a good chance the sale will be lost. I decided to turn my cell phone on and refer people from my home answering machine to my cell phone (normally I keep my cell phone off). It paid off: a producer from the CBC 6 o’clock news television show Canada Now called while I was out for dinner.

Lesson #5: Put your cell phone number in the press releases you send out. Keep your cell phone nearby and always on.

The CBC producer was keenly interested in the guide. She was concerned about other television media covering it first, and I told her about the Global TV call. This put pressure on her to cover it quickly, and she told me to call her right away if Global called back. They had trouble getting permission to film on TTC property in time for the interview, so they did a live spot across the street from Chester station in a parking lot.

Lesson #6: Send out a press release three weeks before the official release date. This will give most media outlets enough time to prepare. For example, in the CBC case above, they would have obtained TTC permission to film in the subway system, filmed more footage than required, and then edited and polished the piece before going to air. This means less anxiety for you as it’s not live; being presented in a better light assuming the story’s angle is in favour of whatever they are covering; possibly a longer story; and finally being covered at all. Would Global TV have called me back if they had had three weeks to plan for the release of the guide?

I was going to be on the six o’clock news! I mean c’mon! I was going to be famous! I was looking forward to going home to find chicks lined up outside my door. The next day I was selling the TTC Subway Rider Efficiency Guide at the Small Press Book Fair, and I was sure people would be chatting me up after seeing me on CBC news. No such luck. At the book fair, not a single person mentioned it. I can’t even recall anyone ever mentioning that they saw me on the news (except for my mom, who I made watch a recording of several times).

Lesson #7: Print media attention is infinitely better than television. I didn’t notice any discernable increase in hits to, or sell any more guides than usual. My guess is there’s something too passive about watching TV to bother following through with what it’s reporting on.

I got a call from a reporter at the Town Crier. She had seen the Globe article and was interested in doing a story for the local issue of her paper in my neighbourhood. Despite its relatively small circulation, people told me they saw me in this paper.

Lesson #8: Once a major news outlet covers a story (in my case, the Globe and Mail), the story has been validated and other media outlets, which initially may have ignored the story, will now cover it.

The Town Crier story revolved around a section I have on the TTC Subway Rider Efficiency Guide website called Quirky Stations which lists a unique quirk about each subway station. This was the first of many media pieces to draw most of the content for their story from this section.

Lesson #9: Try to make your project multifaceted. For example, add interesting trivia that relates to what your main project is about. These things can require minimal effort and give the media much more to report on – which may mean longer articles about your project. There’s only so much to say about standing at the correct door on the train so you’re lined up at the escalator.

Aside from a small Toronto Sun story, things were quiet for a while. And then I got a phone call from someone to tell me a story had run in the National Post about the guide. It was a surprise, as the National Post hadn’t called to interview me. My guess is the press release I sent out took a while to filter through their system. A few hours later 640 Toronto (a talk radio station) emailed me and I did an interview the same day on their afternoon program. Jim Richards, the host of CFRB 1010’s (another talk radio station) evening show, happened to be listening to his competition on 640 in his car and heard an announcement saying I was coming up later in the hour. He called his producer and asked him to call me to setup an interview. It was all a bit surreal, as while I was waiting by the phone for 640 to call for the live on-air interview, the producer from CFRB called to request their own interview.

Lesson #10: Some media coverage begets more media coverage which begets even more media coverage. In my case National Post triggered 640 Toronto which triggered CFRB.

The odd thing about being on the Jim Richards show was that I had never sent his show a press release. I did, however, send two other CFRB shows a press release, plus another to their newsroom, but no one from those shows contacted me.

Lesson #11: Send your press release to ALL the shows at radio and television stations that may be interested in what you’re doing. Sending a press release to a generic newsroom mailbox only will likely lead to no coverage.

mediatips-web.jpgAs the Town Crier is a community newspaper, and they like to link their stories to the local community, they mentioned I was a Centennial College graduate (even though this was ten years ago). A communications officer at Centennial contacted me and asked me if I’d like any help in promoting myself. Apparently all articles that mention the words Centennial College are flagged for him to review. He requested that if possible and appropriate, I mention I was a Centennial College grad. With his help, I was able to catch the attention of the transit reporter for the Toronto Star.

Lesson #12: Contact the communications officer at any college or university you have attended for help with promoting yourself.

To officially launch the TTC Subway Rider Efficiency Guide I had planned a guerrilla theatre skit to be performed on the subway with some friends. The plan was to perform the same funny skit several times in the span of 90 minutes. The skit ended with me handing out free guides to all those who answered TTC trivia.

The Toronto Star article revolved around the skit. Initially they were going to publish the article the same day the skit was to be performed, with a ‘look out for the guerrilla theatre group on the subway trains today’ teaser.

Lesson #13: Have your official launch event several weeks after the official release of your project. This gives the media who initially missed the boat on the cool thing you’re doing a good excuse to cover you later. Title the press release for your launch “Media Invitation”. If appropriate, include the words “excellent photo opportunity” in the press release. Take photos at your event, and send out another press release afterwards with the photos, so that media who couldn’t attend it can still report on it.

Because the guerrilla theatre on the subway trains would make for an excellent photo opportunity, Now magazine was interested in taking a photo for their upfront section, Eye Weekly was interested in doing a wandering eye piece on it, and the tabloid magazine the Toronto Special was interested.

Lesson #14: Launch your project with an event – some media find it more appealing to cover an event rather than just the project itself.

Right about now disaster struck. I became too excited about the theatre and over promoted it. City TV called to find out the details, and the day before it was to take place, the TTC called to tell me not to perform as scheduled and to put in a formal request to do the theatre. The guerilla theatre wasn’t meant to be a political statement, and I didn’t want to be on bad terms with the TTC, so I canceled the theatre and submitted an official request. The TTC probably found out about it as City TV would have called them to request permission to film the theater on TTC property. The TTC would have then known the details of the theatre and would have broken it up before it started anyway.

Lesson #15: If any authority has the means and the will to stop what you have planned for your launch, line up your media discreetly. This may even mean lining up only one media outlet to cover you.

Instead of a photo of the theatre that did not happen, Now magazine put a scathing comment in the screechy news area of their upfront section about the TTC putting the boots to the guerilla theatre. Eye Weekly did a more in-depth story of what happened a few weeks later.

Lesson #16: Launch your project with an event! It provides a great opportunity for media to report on. In my case, at least four articles were generated out of something that never even happened.

Things slowed down for a while, and then seemingly out of nowhere Breakfast Television asked me to come in to talk about the guide. My family, who watch Breakfast Television in the morning while they get ready for work, were impressed. Even though previously I had been on the six o’clock news (I mean c’mon!), to them Breakfast Television was a much bigger deal.

Lesson #17: People are way more impressed by you appearing in media they normally consume over big media they never pay attention to.

At the Breakfast Television interview we didn’t discuss what the guide was for. Anyone watching who wasn’t familiar with the TTC Subway Rider Efficiency Guide would have had no idea why I was on TV.

Lesson #18: Prior to being interviewed, write down in point form notes about what you want to talk about (including the obvious points). Have them in front of you when you’re interviewed on the phone, at a coffee shop, or at a radio station. At the CFRB interview, the host asked me if there was anything else I’d like to say about the guide, and I said no, I couldn’t think of anything. As I was leaving I was kicking myself because at the time I was thinking I should have mentioned the upcoming guerrilla theatre (although in retrospect it’s a good thing I didn’t mention it). Chances are you won’t be able to use notes when you’re on TV, but at least bring them and review them just before going on air. You may also have gotten across points A and B in previous interviews and now want to now emphasize point C which hasn’t yet been reported on. Often reporters will ask at the end of an interview if there’s anything else you’d like to say – this is your chance to get across point C. Prefacing it with something like “I’d really like people to know” or “One thing I think is important” or something like that will increase the chance that that point makes it into their article.

Finally, Rogers Cable 10 called and asked if I’d like to appear in a program called Local Heroes. Was this a joke? Me, a hero? Like Superman or Batman? Or maybe like a firefighter? Would I be a hunky star in a calendar? Well, I knew heroes get all the chicks, so I said “Yes, for sure.”

Lesson #19: Media attention doesn’t necessarily equate to chicks.

In retrospect, I received almost no magazine coverage.

Lesson #20: If you can, send out a press release three months ahead of time, as many magazines line up their articles several months in advance. If you don’t want your project reported on immediately, title your media release “Please Hold” (instead of the usual “For Immediate Release”). This means they can start interviewing you and preparing for an article about what you’re doing, but they won’t tell the world what you’re up to just yet.


Lesson #21: Send out another email press release two days before your launch or event. Don’t worry about sending multiple press releases to the same organization – they need to be reminded and are used to receiving tons of press releases. If you’re ready to be inundated by the media, title your press release “For Immediate Release”.

Don’t go yet!

Lesson #22: If you’ve got salesperson blood, follow-up press releases with a reminder phone call. The person you want to get a hold of is either a “reporter” or a “producer”. Ask them if they received your press release and if they’re interested in reporting on the exciting thing you’re doing.

There’s still more I’ve got to say!

Lesson #23: Send your press release to bloggers and podcasters. I figure a mention in a blog that will be read ten times less than a traditional media outlet will still generate the same amount of interest in your project, especially if your project is web-based. This is because a blog reader has only to click a link to check out what you’re doing.

Another thing about blogs!

Lesson #24: I happen to consume most of my news via blogs, and have much more respect for bloggers over traditional media, however irrational this may be. I like to approach bloggers on a more human level, and recommend prefacing a press release email to a blogger with “hey, check out what I’m doing, and if it piques your interest, it would be great if you could help spread the word” and then include the press release below. Initially, I asked bloggers to help generate “buzz”. I was later chastised by my in-the-know friend who said “man, if you had sent me an email with the marketing word buzz in it, your email would’ve been instantly deleted”. Later on a blogger slightly dissed me on my use of the word buzz, but ultimately and eventually gave in and told the world about the guide. Maybe I should’ve used the word hype?

You’re still here?

Lesson #25: If you want as a keepsake a recording of you on TV or radio, either record it yourself or a have a friend record it, as TV/radio stations may not provide you with a copy afterwards. In my case, CBC and Rogers Cable 10 were good to me.

One more thing!

Lesson #26: If you anticipate media attention and want to save yourself some effort in the long run, put together a media kit on your website. This will also likely generate more media attention than if you were to not have one.


  • photos of yourself in the context of your project
  • photos of your project on its own
  • photos of any events involving your project (i.e. your launch party)
  • make the photos easy to view online (low-res), but also provide links to hi-res photos for publishing. Check out what Jim Munroe does for an example
  • a bio about yourself
  • copies of your press releases. Write your press releases in third person and include snappy quotes from yourself. This lets you control exactly what your message is and avoids misquotes. Media that may not have covered what you’re doing originally due to the effort involved in contacting and interviewing you, may now write something up. When they include your quote, it makes them look like they had a personal interview with you
  • a link to your media kit in the press releases you send out
  • a webpage with images and logos relating to your project. An image makes a blog post more visually appealing, and bigger blogs often won’t post without an image. Make these graphics web-friendly (low-res). This will save bloggers a lot of effort and will likely result in more blog posts. I currently post transit news on I spend way too much time finding suitable images on websites and editing them in Photoshop. See the logo page for the TTC Subway Rider Efficiency Guide for a simple example
  • a contact page. Include a link to this contact page on all your webpages. Include your home number, mobile number and snail-mail address on your contact page. Include your email address, and set up a form for people to contact you – in my experience (and to my surprise), many people feel more comfortable contacting someone via an online web form over an email address

So now that you’re famous, go ahead and feed your ego: – tracks blogs through rss feeds and provides live up to the minute info whenever you are blogged about – sends you an email whenever Google finds a new webpage that mentions whatever keywords you provide – um, I’m not sure what this is for

Visit the TTC Subway Rider Efficiency Guide press page to see the media coverage the guide has received.

I spent a dozen hours compiling media snail-mail and email addresses into an Excel spreadsheet. It imports nicely into Word for label printing. It’s ideal for anyone in Toronto who wants to send out a press release. Contact me at for a copy of the spreadsheet – I’d be happy to have my effort to be of help.

  8 Responses to “Efficient Media Outreach”

  1. i feel empowered with greater efficiency. thank you. i think i will carry this guide around in my bag – for quick reference in times of need.

  2. Hey Sean… you forgot an important detail. You have to have a good idea. If you’d decided to publish an inefficiency guide, say, I doubt you would’ve had such a good response. BTW I found myself the other day on my way to Chester station with no clue as to where the escalators might be. Luckily I had your guide in my wallet–thanks!

  3. Dude, your guide rocks. I gave it to my uncle for christmas, he just loved it. You will get the chicks soon.

  4. great article sean ! you really nailed it. way to go.

  5. Cool beans! As always whenever I visit this site I read some info that will help me out. Thanks so much!!

  6. Sean, this is outstanding. It so rich, I’m going to have to come back to it later…

  7. Here are some updated thoughts on this subject:

    * people from Spacing have told me they’ve gotten good results with the TV channel CP24 – immediately after they went on a Toronto based show viewers were going to their website and subscribing to their magazine. My updated thoughts are that if the show you’re on is geared towards a more specific topic (e.g., a show specifically about art or culture or political issues in toronto), the response will be much better than a general show (e.g., 6 o’clock news, Breakfast Television)

    * Globe and National Post have Toronto sections which run on Saturday, and the audience that reads these sections will likely be much more receptive to what you’re doing vs. the audience that reads the everyday Friday post. One thought is to launch on a Saturday, so they report it in these sections – otherwise they may report it in their other sections – just to be the first one to report on it

    * a reporter told me that Sunday is a good day to launch something on, as media usually don’t have much to report on for Sundays (except for crime), so you’re more likely to get attention for something that happens on a Sunday vs. any other day
    I’m probably over analyzing this, but I thought I’d add them here for completeness.

  8. Beautifully done! I strongly suspect that you\’ve *magnified* your experience but going to the trouble to share it with the world, and all in really useful detail.

    Thank you for having taken the time to compose and publish this.

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