Master Business Book Publicist Mark Fortier Has Tips on How to Attract Media Coverage

Mark Fortier.

Whether you want to tell the story of your career or get attention for your startup company, understanding how editors, journalists, bloggers, and hosts of TV, radio, and podcasts think is the starting point.

Lessons on the Way to the Top of the Business Book World

Mark Fortier, America’s most respected business book publicist, is glad you don’t know his name (pronounced “for-tee-ay”) since he wants you to pay attention to his authors.

And you’ve probably read a number of the classic volumes by his clients, such as Jim Collins, Howard Schultz, Clay Christensen, Seth Godin, Ram Charan, and Maria Bartiromo (not to mention some non-biz ones, like Ron Chernow’s bio of Alexander Hamilton that was turned into the Broadway hit).

Just in the past year, you may have heard of some of the 33 books his firm worked on that hit the bestseller list, including “Speed and Scale” by legendary venture capitalist John Doerr, “Post Corona” by Scott Galloway, “Effortless” by Greg McKeown, “Impact Players” by Liz Wiseman, “Ask Your Developer” by Twilio CEO and founder Jeff Lawson, and “The Age of AI” by Eric Schmidt, Henry Kissinger, and Daniel Huttenlocher.

The reputation of Fortier Public Relations, founded 15 years ago, is so good that it has to turn down most inquiries. His firm has also launched books for an impressive array of corporate clients, including Cisco, Gallup, IDEO, Schwab, Starbucks, Zappos, Whole Foods, LinkedIn, and all the top strategy consulting firms. If you have a book signed with a major publisher and want it to reach as wide an audience as possible, his firm is the go-to source.

“Successful leaders have a hunger to continuously learn, not only about their industry, but how entirely different companies tackle issues like keeping employees happy and stimulating innovation,” Fortier told Startup Savant. “Many find reading on other topics, like psychology and history, gives them perspective that informs their decisions. I think being a dedicated reader of books is one way for leaders of any enterprise to get an edge over those who think they’re too busy and just need summaries.”

Fortier grew up in Brookline, Massachusetts, where his earliest teachers taught him how to write so well that he won awards. His lawyer father and homemaker mother gave him their favorite books and encouraged him to pursue whatever he dreamed of for a career.

He gained plenty of relevant experience long before he graduated from Wesleyan University with a degree in English literature in 1991. He had interned with an art magazine, where his mistakes taught him the importance of paying attention to details, and at a PR agency, which taught him that what’s interesting about a client isn’t always what you should sell them with. (The account lead for the Jamaica Tourist Board was not thrilled that he chose voodoo as the topic for his press release intended to promote the island’s tourism.)

Thrown Into the Deep End

Just out of college, Fortier was hired by a small but respected literary publisher to cover three executive positions for only $17,000 a year, each with responsibilities that would normally take decades to be given.

“It was a baptism by fire from day one, but mutual exploitation for mutual gain because for me it was a goldmine of experience,” he recalled. “As publicity director, I was presenting our titles to the editor of The New York Times Book Review. As marketing director, I sold our list to the head buyer at accounts like Barnes and Noble and as sales manager I led 20 commissioned sales reps. I had no choice but to figure things out on my own, seek mentors, and model my letters to the media after ones written by my predecessor that I found in the file cabinets. It was great training that prepared me for the many career challenges that would lie ahead.”

A year later, he joined Penguin USA, one of America’s largest trade publishers. While it was exciting to work on bigger books in the center of the action, the management position he was offered at Columbia University Press in 1994 sounded too enticing to pass up, as a step up the ladder without the sales pressures or fast pace of trade publishing. There he practiced the same craft of publicity but discovered it was less glamorous to work in an office that was formerly a dormitory, and it was less exciting to get a review of a scholarly book in the Journal of Nordic Reindeer Husbandry as to get a commercial novelist on the Today Show.

It was from Columbia’s reference editor that he learned how to master the Boolean search technology behind the new digital version of the Columbia Encyclopedia, a skill that would prove essential to his success in the soon-to-come age of Google.

“Never a day goes by when I don’t use Google Advanced Search,” he explained. “If I’m trying to track down a writer or a news story relevant to a book, I write that I want a term ‘with this’ but ‘not that’ to narrow the search down to exactly what I’m looking for.”

Four years later, Fortier was hired by the leading literary PR firm, Goldberg McDuffie Communications, where he rose to vice president of publicity and became their first partner over the course of nine years. That’s where he learned the art of building a trusted client relationship with his authors and becoming their strategic partner in achieving their goals. In addition to the many books he worked on, he also managed the firm’s account with The Library of America and led projects like “The Big Read” for the National Endowment for the Arts and the launch of Nielsen Bookscan.

Most of his colleagues at the firm didn’t want to work on business books because they had all the worst stereotypes of businesspeople as boring gray suits, unlike the liberal arts grad literati they aspired to be. But when he first worked on business books, he was surprised to discover that “business is one of the most dynamic spheres of all where ideas can drive impact and where leaders appreciate strategy.”

But he discovered that the market for business books had different rules for success that only a specialized firm could fully serve, so he formed his own agency in January 2007. He resisted hiring employees for two years, despite the fact that in the first half of his first year, five of his books hit The New York Times or The Wall Street Journal bestseller lists (today his team consists of 27 busy members).

“Half my time is spent leading strategy on client project calls,” Fortier said. “The writer in me just won’t quit, so I still involve myself in all messaging, writing and editing detailed summaries of books, with examples of questions and answers that will help the media understand why each book is groundbreaking. Especially during the pandemic, when we all have felt isolated, I’ve found it exhilarating to meet, in person or on Zoom, so many great thinkers, to build a strategy and team around their ideas, and then unleash them to the world with maximum impact.”

Know Your Audiences

You might think your only audience for your message is the one you ultimately want to reach. But for your message to reach the broadest pool of potential customers or readers, you first need to study the mediators: magazines, newspapers, TV, radio programs, podcasts, or websites.

“Gatekeepers play a powerful role in influencing what their audiences consume,” Fortier explained.”To get publicity for your book, first look at a variety of articles or programs you think should be interested in your story and note the types of subjects that are the focus of a writer or interviewer.”

He warns that editors, hosts, and gatekeepers get deluged by pitches, so the most important thing you can do is to send a short, compelling email with a subject line that makes it clear you have something fresh to say. Search Google or Twitter for trending topics and make sure this outlet has not already recently covered your angle.

List a few questions that you believe the audience would like to have answered. Appeal to the added value you can offer, such as plans to mention the article or interview when you speak to other audiences, promote it repeatedly through your social media network, and even in comments to other related stories.

Direct the email to an individual: don’t start with a generic “hello” that feels like you’re spamming hundreds of other journalists. If you do not hear back, you can do a follow-up email a couple of weeks later, but never call unless you’ve scheduled an appointment: if you still don’t hear back after a couple of months, just move on.

You can always start where barriers to entry are lower, such as offering to write an article for a trade magazine, a blog for a business site, or an op-ed for a local newspaper. Try pitching a small podcast for a short, newsworthy interview, then use the result in your marketing and summarize it to emphasize your new message to the next level of your target media. Keep in mind, however, that if a reporter is writing about you, smaller media rarely have a professional fact-checker and even major magazines make mistakes, so ask that you are consulted in the process of making sure the result is accurate.

If you are offered an interview, be very well prepared, no matter how much you know the subject, Fortier advises:

  • You can submit some topics that you can address and ask what the focus will be. But if you have done your homework, you will be ready for related issues that the reporter or host wants to address. Write out a few of the most important answers you want to provide to make sure you remember exactly how you want to express them.”
  • Rehearse without looking rehearsed by practicing in front of a mirror or a mobile phone video recording and be sure you not only hit home your message concisely, but you also ooze confidence with your smile. If you’re not sure where to start, think of a problem the audience will relate to and deliver a solution. If you’re not sure how long you should go, study the show to replicate their rhythm.
  • One of the biggest no-nos is to explicitly plug your product, service, website, or book in a live interview but do confirm how the show will introduce you and how they will show the book. Listen to a program to know what the host prefers and discuss the guidelines in advance. Close with a summary of how you are offering something different.

Engage Professional Help

Does this sound like more than you can personally handle? Find a public relations agency that specializes in your industry or in books for your ideal audience. If you can’t afford one, ask those who teach marketing courses if they know of a student or recent graduate who would value the experience as interns, freelancers, or employees.

If you have a book idea, consult your network to find professional writers who can give an assessment of the potential. They can write the necessary outline and sample chapters and connect you with an agent.

However, major publishers will consider not just your book’s originality and how well engaging it is but the platform you are bringing to the table. If you would like major publicity, full retail distribution, and the author experience you’ve dreamed about, then trying to get a contract with a traditional trade publisher is worth the effort (but only through an agent). On the other hand, if you just need a book to share with clients and potential customers, then on-demand or ebook editions can suffice or even a PDF you can use in your marketing.

“Mastering publicity and marketing requires the same traits as being successful in business in general,” said Fortier. “Think like an outsider looking at your book or your company, then communicate with that view in mind, avoiding jargon and assumptions about what they know. You have to be focused and not try to do too many things at once, so have short-term and long-term goals and be persistent. Continuously learn from achieving them and from being rejected. Whatever the results, you and your business will benefit greatly from the experience.”

And develop the business book reading (or listening) habit. Whether you survive or thrive depends on it.

headshot of Scott S. Smith

Scott S. Smith

Scott S. Smith has had over 2,000 articles and interviews published in nearly 200 media, including Los Angeles Magazine, American Airlines’ American Way, and Investor’s Business Daily. His interview subjects have included Bill Gates, Richard Branson, Meg Whitman, Reed Hastings, Howard Schultz, Larry Ellison, Kathy Ireland, and Quincy Jones.

Read more from Scott S. Smith