Outreach, Part IV: Making New Connections, Finding Lines of Drift

If you watched our show, you’d know we didn’t cover that.

Yes, but I –


Just out of college, my Rolodex was limited to family, friends, and take-out restaurants. The senior publicist charged with training me through my first PR job forwarded me to the company database and suggested I pull a call list off of it, and start pitching.

I still remember the awful black screen and green type of the database, full of names and addresses, void of information about the outlets and contacts. It didn’t occur to me to dig deeper, go outside the company’s list.

I pulled the contact information for a Dateline producer, added him to the list, sent him a book, made a call, left a message, made another call, left another message, until one day I caught him on the line.

Less than a minute into the call, he said, “If you watched our show, you’d know we didn’t cover that.”

I stalled.

He hung up.

I got mad.

I didn’t watch a lot of TV, but watched enough to know Dateline was a news magazine. I was sharing a book by a veteran. Veterans’ stories have always been newsworthy in my mind, so I thought the producer was wrong. This was pre-9/11, and though the producer wasn’t interested in a military story, I thought he should be.

I thought about all the right retorts, and then . . . I never called back.

Instead, I started going beyond the list, started learning about the people I was trying to connect with, learning their interests.

Through his work, Patrick Van Horne has pinpointed some of the issues that we face when approaching new individuals. Yes, he draws from his military experiences, but those experiences apply across different sectors. From Patrick:

People naturally and unconsciously view strangers as a threat. Strangers are unknown entities, their intentions and capabilities are not yet known, so people are naturally on guard when approached. What is required to build a bond/rapport or any other term used as a synonym to relationship, is that the person no longer perceives the stranger as a threat. Rapport occurs when someone is comfortable.

How do you make someone comfortable?

One starting place: Show you know something about their work.

Since Steve and Shawn launched Black Irish Books, we’ve received a few proposals for books about Black Irishmen. Is that what Steve and Shawn are publishing? No. A quick look at their store and opening statement is a clue-in on that one.

More from Patrick:

I attempt to learn what motivates them and their interests so I can talk to them about things that are of importance to them in order to expedite the process. It’s not manipulative, I don’t dig into private areas, just look through what is publicly available through social media or websites to get a feel for them so I can prevent any wasted time groping for common ground.

When you cold call/e-mail someone, you know—and they know—that you want something from them. It’s a given. So if they are going to give you their time, you need to show that you’ve done the research. They aren’t the ones responsible for finding common ground. That’s your work.

And once you get to know them, you’ll be able to determine “natural lines of drift”—something else I learned about from Patrick—and better be able to estimate where they’ll take/how they’ll use what you present them.

Patrick’s example on “natural lines of drift”:

When we see a dirt path worn through a mulch bed connecting the mall parking lot and the front entrance, we can use that observation to identify how people who are familiar with their surroundings will move through their environment. Behavioral analysis uses these pathways (natural lines of drift) to not only separate those familiar and unfamiliar with their environment, but more importantly to predict where people are going to walk because those lines are the path of least resistance. People will take the quickest, most simple and safest path available to them to move from Point A to Point B.

When it comes to predicting behavior, whether your goal is to identify criminals, understand patterns of movement, or predict customer behavior, the understanding that people follow the natural line of drift is helpful in seeing where they could be going in the future.

There are certain people, organizations, and so on that—after some time researching them—have defined lines of drift, like that footpath in the mulch. Perhaps they came about them on the natural side, but now, they are ingrained within the individuals/cultures.

So where to start?

Find the individuals/outlets that you believe to be a fit for what you are doing. Do the research and don’t push the fit just because you want it. An engineer once told me he’d be perfect for an Oprah spot a while back. He found the evidence that made him believe he was perfect and then pushed a circle into a square. It didn’t work.

Be realistic. What makes the most sense?

And then learn about the right people/organizations, and something about them.

Take a personal interest.

Be genuine.

Above all: Do the research. As I learned from Patrick, the clues are out there. You just have to find them.

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  1. Jeremy on December 7, 2012 at 6:27 am

    This is great Callie, thanks. And a great point about not pushing the fit just because I want it or think it makes sense.

    ESPN’s Colin Cowherd always talks about seeking information, not affirmation. It’s amazing what I can convince myself of when I already have the conclusion before I start the research.

  2. Jerry Ellis on December 7, 2012 at 11:44 am

    You offer a good reminder to us today, Callie. I especially like your “footpath” approach. I strongly relate to it because most of my writing career has focused on VERY long footpaths. Among many other very long footpaths, I walked the 900 mile route of the Cherokee Trail of Tears. My resulting non-fiction book, Walking the Trail, was published by Random House and nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. When I contact media–by phone or email–I, of course, open with that. Most who listen or read my pitch are quickly intrigued because it stirs their compassion (4,000 Cherokee died on their forced march along the Trail of Tears), wins their admiration and arouses their imagination. We have something in common from the opening lines: We are all walking the Footpath of the Human Condition.

  3. Basilis on December 9, 2012 at 2:59 am

    Great stuff as usual!

  4. Rick Gonzalez on December 10, 2012 at 12:33 am

    Novel concept indeed. It seems, in your approach, the goal is to find common ground, right?

    From another perspective, could this concept be used to attract new interactions? What draws people here?

    This article discusses the theory of human information foraging similar to the ways animals forage for food – when food (information) is found we take in as much as we can.

    My question, would providing rich content, in easily digestable manageable chunks provide a line of drift to you website/book/business? In your world, as a publicist, can you create the path of leat resistance and line of drift by offering what people want…information?

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