Tim Ferriss's Guide to Self-Promotion

Last Updated Feb 2, 2011 2:20 PM EST

Whether or not you really believe in "The 4-Hour Work Week," or his most recent schtick "The 4-Hour Body," know this about Timothy Ferriss: The man understands self-promotion.

At a talk earlier this week, the angel investor and author explained his method of promoting his books, his products, and himself. Here's what you can learn from Ferriss, who -- in addition to his success as an author, a businessman (he founded and sold a nutritional supplements company called BrainQuicken), and holder of the Guinness Book of World Records for consecutive tango spins -- has been called "the Greatest Self-Promoter of all Time."

1. Pick your moment
If your product or your business model isn't well defined, don't go after a big story. For one thing, you don't want to call attention to the fact that your business isn't quite there yet, and for another, you don't want to blow your one shot at some serious coverage. "The New York Times is not going to write a piece on you twice," Ferris says. Wait until you know your business is ready for the spotlight -- and can handle a potential upswing in demand once the word gets out.

2. Start with the right audience
Ferriss knew that his books would appeal to people like him -- 18-35 year-old tech-savvy males. So he identified 10-15 blogs that captured the attention of this demographic and hit those first. Having his story land on a blog like TechCrunch would put him directly in front of his target audience in a way that a spot on Oprah wouldn't. "People in the same tribe will listen to you with less resistance," Ferriss says. Plus, convincing a producer on a big show to feature you in a spot is nearly impossible without hitting the smaller outlets first.

3. Don't make the conversation about you...
... at least not in the beginning. Journalists are as wary of an overly enthusiastic pitch as anyone. And they also tend to love beer and coffee. So instead of trying to sell himself, Ferriss would ask bloggers out for beers, then ask about their jobs and the tech landscape. When the conversation worked its way around to Ferriss, he'd wait for them to ask questions and develop their own interest. "I never played the I-know-what's-perfect-for-your-audience card, ever."

4. Find yourself a trend
Unless you're making big news -- a merger, huge profits, big scandal -- reporters usually don't have a compelling reason to write about a single company. But business trend stories run all the time. If a reporter can find at least three companies all doing this new thing X, a reporter has a compelling story. And there's nothing wrong pitching a trend, and then naming your competitors as potential sources. It may seem counterintuitive, but "you need to get over it," Ferriss says. "You need to view it as the rising tide raises all ships."

5. Work up the ladder the right way
In the media world, there's a chain of interest. Bloggers/online sites are at the bottom -- it's easiest to get their attention -- and big network shows sit at the very top. "Whether it's 'Dr. Oz' or 'Good Morning America,' to pitch those things right out of the gate is extremely difficult," he says. "The way that you get around that is to create so much noise online that the next set of media needs to pay attention."

If online media have already written about you, it's easier to convince a print reporter to write about you. If you get clips in the paper, radio stations are easier to pitch. Once you can prove that you/your business partners can speak coherently on the radio, local affiliates of bigger networks are more likely to give you a chance. And if that local station can produce a good piece on you, network news might take notice.

But even if you land that national TV spot, remember "it's the strength of the endorsement and the length of time they spend with you" that matters, Ferriss says. A 30-second spot on "The Today Show" would have been less effective for him than a piece on TechCrunch that stayed up half the day. These days, however, he's getting 15 minutes on "Dr. Oz."

(Image courtesy flickr user , Shashi Bellamkonda, CC 2.0)

  • Elise Craig

    Elise Craig has written for BusinessWeek, MarketWatch and washingtonpost.com. She is an alumna of the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism and Georgetown University, and a huge fan of Hoya basketball.