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Manage the Media: Blow Your Own Horn, Project Your Achievements






As a woman moves up the ladder, she can and should gain media attention—and it’s her responsibility to see that it’s positive. Media is an extension of communication; it’s critical in shaping the public’s attitudes. Women’s achievements are woefully underreported, and when women are spotlighted, it is often in a stereotypical way—as a geisha, homemaker, little helper, floozy, vamp, dominatrix, witch, or male clone. Although a few women manage to deal with the media and their image in it with ease and flair, others find their relationship with the media a daunting challenge, although ultimately winnable. As women aim higher, the roadblocks become higher and more hazardous, and the scrutiny usually becomes brutal. 

  • Shape and control your image and put it out there for the media; don’t let the media do it for you.  Carly Fiorina told an aide: ‘When you’re starting a revolution, the first thing you do is seize control of the airwaves.” Upon arriving at HP, she immediately did so, and she crafted her message on the company web site, in speeches, white-board presentations, mass e-mails, and in the HP in-house publication.  In fact, she was catapulted to national prominence and became the center of a head-hunting frenzy because of a single Fortune magazine article (in 1998), which captured her pithy aphorisms, pegged her as “The Most Powerful Woman in America,” and defined her as “at the center of the ongoing technology revolution that’s changing how we live and work.” No doubt Fiorina suggested this to her interviewer, which is a perfectly legitimate approach to establishing your own image in the media.
  • Develop your own signature style, hone your image, and gather support. For example, the author has always picked new frontiers, fed a hungry press, and defined the benefits of the work I was doing. I also developed an upscale, innovative style that carried through, from eye-catching brochures and invitations to large and glamorous opening parties: for example, to promote my vineyards, I had a white-tablecloth catered dinner on a West Texas mountainside, with a symphony orchestra playing, and private planes ferrying in high-profile movers and shakers in state politics.
  • Leverage high-profile events and call press conferences to put your spin on any event in an arena where you have expertise. Gloria Allred, a women’s rights and employment discrimination attorney (who represented Amber Frey in the Scott Peterson case), maintains consistent high visibility. Ms. Allred is particularly outraged by Michael Jackson and frequently calls press conferences to tear into him—which simultaneously raises her profile.
  • Keep in mind that a sense of humor helps deflect criticism—and that the media finds reporting it irresistible. Hillary Clinton (who has been through many many struggles over her presentation in the media) exemplifies the challenge to get it right.  After being elected New York Senator, she stood at the podium to thank her supporters and said: “62 counties, 16 months, 3 debates, 2 opponents, and 6 black pantsuits later, because of you, we are here!”  She did whatever she had to, to get her message out and her ideas across—and she won the election.
  • Don’t let the media trivialize you by talking about your recipes, your hobbies, or your cat. When former Texas Governor Ann Richards was photographed by Annie Liebovitz for a magazine spread, the media wanted to characterize her as a grandmother and motorcycle rider, as well as the former governor of Texas.  “Absolutely not,” Richards responded. “I don’t know why we [women] continue to trivialize ourselves.”
  • Don’t let the media use your husband or family against you. Put your own positive spin on it. Women who seek to run for public office are often trivialized in ways sometimes condensed and characterized as  "the three H's: hair, hemlines, and husbands.”  Consider the example of Barbara Lee, a Cambridge philanthropist who established The Barbara Lee Family foundation to help move women into elective office.  She has raised funds for Hillary Clinton, and she launched an initiative to reach and encourage the vote of the 22 million single women who did not vote (and 16 million of those had not even registered to do so!). 

She also mounted the Revolutionary Women Boston 2004, a program to help women as candidates, activists, and voters during the Democratic National Convention in Boston,with the battle cry, "Engage, Mobilize, Empower, Elect." For this event, Lee gathered such speakers as Senator Hillary Clinton, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, former ambassador Carol Moseley Braun, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, and Sheriff Andrea Cabral of Suffolk County, Mass. (the first African-American female sheriff in Massachusetts). In discussing the 3 H’s, she says the final "h" can be particularly prickly : "If you have a husband, they think you're neglecting him. If you don't have one, they wonder why. If you're divorced, they say you drove him away. And if you're a widow, you probably killed him." 

Senator Patty Murray also turns the family issue (which is frequently a liability) into a virtue: “Mothers can be politicians too,” she declares, running as “a mom in tennis shoes.”  And Barbara Boxer deflects the issue with humor: “My husband  thought he married Debbie Reynolds, and he woke up with Eleanor Roosevelt.”


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