I’ve covered the adult industry as a journalist for more than 10 years, been backstage at award shows and front row at obscenity trials, and nothing I’ve seen shocks me more than the way the porn industry deals press. (And vice versa.)
A few years ago, I got a frantic call from an old friend — a producer in the midst of a crisis. A national news outlet was on the phone, asking about a problem he was having with a disgruntled former model. What should he say? I listened to his side, and told him what to do. The story was killed without so much as a whimper. In the years, as both a journalist and a press liaison, I’ve learned a lot about how the adult industry shoots itself in the foot when dealing with press, and how it misses out on incredible opportunities.
We’re hustlers for exposure, and that leaves us vulnerable. A mention on TMZ, or Perez Hilton, or the Daily Mail can drive hundreds of thousands of potential members to your site, buy your toy or follow you on Twitter.
The adult industry contains multitudes, from dating sites and distributors to performers and pleasure products. At some point, I’ve worked or covered all of them. Below are the nine piece of advice that I tell anyone who’s interested in improving their relationship with the press.
1. Stop Treating Press Like Your Friend
We’re hustlers for exposure, and that leaves us vulnerable. A mention on TMZ, or Perez Hilton, or the Daily Mail can drive hundreds of thousands of potential members to your site, buy your toy or follow you on Twitter. A good story gets repeated on hundreds of blogs and thousands of social media accounts. If done right, good press can make you as much in a month as you make the rest of the year. Still, every time I answer a press call, or click send on an email, I’m know I’m staring at the Sword of Damocles.
After all, good press is independent. They’re focused on telling an accurate and interesting story. But others may have a negative agenda. Like you, journalists depend on traffic. And a juicy accusation, a scandalous side note, or bad behavior often drives more than a positive business profile. I’ve seen a journalist abandon a glowing profile because a director made an insensitive comment — that became the story. I’ve seen reporters who gain access with a positive piece, only to bash a performer in print. I’ve seen press releases mocked, and Change.org petitions filed. When you open that door, everything is fair game.
2. Stop Treating Press Like An Enemy
While there are some raised daggers out there, for the most part, journalists aren’t out to get you. Sure, there’s a default cultural bias against adult industry (producers are gloried pimps, performers are too dumb to know better). But most journalists are smarter than that, and aren’t interested in some hackneyed story that’s already been written a thousand times. When they call you, they’re looking for an interesting, fresh and sexy piece. Other times, they’ve heard an rumor — and they’re calling to get your side.
Either way, answer that call. Keeping your guard up shouldn’t mean sticking your head in the sand. A bad story won’t go away because you don’t respond. Help them get the right story by working with them in a respectful way that helps them get what they need.
3. No One Wants Your Press Release
Most press releases are as interesting as a family holiday letter. Exclamation points and humble-brags, news that’s interesting to the company but not the reader. As a journalist, I get hundreds of press releases a week. Most I just delete. As a press agent, I rarely send out a release — but when I do, I make sure it’s low on braggadocio and heavy on possible stories. It’s short, it’s clear, and probably has a few angles teased out. Journalists are hungry for stories, and allergic to publicity. Learn the difference.
4. ‘Worksafe’ Means Something Different Than You Think It Does
Not everyone writing about adult industry is able to surf fisting videos at work. If you’re looking to promote a new vibrator, or gangbang, or hook-up app, make sure you’ve minimize what they have to dig through to get to the story — and alert them if you’re sending them a link they might not want to open in public (or in front of their toddler). If I can’t visit a site, I can’t write a story.
5. No One Can Reach You
For an industry that loves press, we bury our contact information. I often get calls from journalists looking to get in touch with a certain producer or performer. I might Google the home number for your 2257 records-keeper to find you, but most journalists won’t. Build a press site with information and a direct email or phone number.
6. No One Can Reach You In Time
An average blogger might turn around 5-10 stories a day. A beat journalist at a daily might have twelve hours. Have someone in your office who can reply promptly, or at least ask when their deadline to file is. You don’t have to participate in every story, but you should at least have the option.
8. Know Before You Blow
Want to avoid bad press? Know when it’s coming. When you get a press request, Google them like you would a first date and comb through their previous work like a scene partner’s testing history. Look at their social media. What’s their approach to sex? How to they view sex work? Do they treat interviewees respectfully? Are they balanced? Do you really want to get in bed with a journalist that isn’t?
9. You’re Pitching To The Wrong Person
I spend a good hour each morning running through recently published stories on sex, dating, porn, censorship and other spaces. I make notes as to who covers what and where, and who’s doing good work. I keep my ear to the ground for industry stories I’d want to write (and if I don’t have time, I pass them along to journalists who can). It’s like running a dating service.
You might not have the time to comb through it all, but if you don’t know who is writing about your business for places like Maxim, Huffington Post or Cosmo, how can you expect to pitch the right person?
Mike Stabile is a journalist and filmmaker who has written about the adult industry for publications including Playboy, Buzzfeed, the Daily Beast and The New York Times. He has worked as a press liaison for Kink.com, NakedSword, Glyde, Eros.com and the Free Speech Coalition, among others. He can be reached through his website, PolariMedia.com or followed on Twitter @mikestabile.