Susan Harrow (Image copyright: In Her Image)
Susan Harrow is a renowned media coach, marketing strategist, and author of “Sell Yourself Without Selling Your Soul” (Harper Collins). On top of all this, she’s also a black belt in aikido! She’s a truly inspiring woman, and my conversation with her left me feeling incredibly motivated.
Image copyright: In Her Image
What drove you to pursue a career in the media?
I’m an English major, so I really wanted to use my writing background along with my sales background in high tech sales and start-ups. Combining these two backgrounds led me to become a publicist, so I was booking people in the media and writing lots of press releases and articles.
What I found was that I could get my clients into prestigious publications like the Wall Street Journal, Forbes, and the New York Times, and onto national radio and TV shows like Oprah, and CNN, NPR, Good Morning America, etc. however this didn’t always translate directly into business.
I wanted to get to the root of the problem so I started listening to and watching my clients’ media interviews and realised that the problem was them! Because they weren’t showing up as authentic and captivating to attract the business that they wanted to, and they weren’t speaking in soundbites to succinctly express their offerings.
That’s what led me into media coaching. I started training my clients to make sure everything that they do, say, are and think was in alignment with their offer before they did interviews. Once I trained them, we started to see dramatic results. They got an immediate rush of clients, customers, and sales.
At the time, I became known as the go-to girl for getting on Oprah, because the first thing out of almost everyone’s mouth who contacted me was that they wanted to be on her show. I started teaching classes on how to get on Oprah. Today, I run the only course on how to get featured in O Magazine. It’s the most powerful placement on the planet for things of interest to women. Being featured in the magazine can double or triple your business overnight. Most businesses who have had that success sustain it and often grow exponentially after that.
What are your 3 top tips for becoming a “media darling”?
Number one is, as Oscar Wilde said, to “Be yourself, everyone else is already taken”. In today’s world, we have so much pressure to be bigger than ourselves and to follow what other people are doing, rather than reaching deep within ourselves to discover what we bring to the table that nobody else can. Developing that self-acceptance and self-awareness is a huge part of having success in the media.
Number two is to learn to master yourself. Mastering yourself means you can maintain your equanimity and are capable of getting your point across regardless of any circumstance or personality type. When you get a surprise question in an interview, the journalist or producer isn’t trying to make you look bad, they just want a fresh, spontaneous response, so you need to be prepared to give an answer that you want your audience to know in the moment.
Number three is to let go of attachment to the outcome and stay focused on how you are going to serve. Ask yourself these two questions:
1.What does my audience need to know now.
2.How can I help?
Most people’s biggest fears are making a “mistake,” or doing or saying something that they’ll regret. To prepare for that I work with my clients on breathing, calming, and centring techniques behind the scenes. We always role-play worst-case scenarios as well as their personality hot-buttons or triggers.
The most important thing is to be relaxed and enjoy yourself. Then if you do make a “mistake” you can either go with it and laugh about it, name it, or change it on the spot, and move on and remember your purpose — what you came to impart to your audience.
In aikido, we talk about moving the other person off their centre whilst staying centred ourselves, which is what a reporter is doing is trying to do when they spring a surprise question on you.
What my clients and course participants learn is that even if you’re pushed off centre, you bring yourself back to the centre with something as simple as a pause and a breath. Then you direct the conversation where you want it to go.
Image copyright: In Her Image
Do you think it’s been more difficult for you to get to where you are in your career because you’re a woman?
I never really think about it. I grew up with two brothers, and my dad taught me that I could do anything if I set my mind to it. I think it’s about knowing how to move within the hierarchy, and understanding what’s needed now to move forward with that.
As women we often sell ourselves short, myself included. For example, I discovered that a male media trainer in my area was charging more than me. Way more. So I immediately raised my rates. I silently thanked him for bringing to my attention that I was undervaluing my skills and services.
When my partner worked at Pixar he noticed that the people in the meetings who spoke in the loudest, in the most confident voice, and who repeated their points in different ways got their ideas heard. For women, it’s often hard to speak up and be noticed. I don’t think that we have to say our piece loudly, we just have to consistently insist on being heard. That takes practice. Just like prepping for media appearances.
I see that you do work teaching verbal self-defence practices to women. How do you think verbal self-defence can help women in dangerous situations?
Using your voice and body language before anyone even gets close enough to touch you can help to create a pattern interrupt and shift a potentially dangerous situation. For example, if someone is following you, something as simple as asking them for the time can really throw them off. Another technique is to turn around and shout “I see you! Stop following me!” There’s no one right way. It’s about training yourself to react and respond until it sinks into your mental and muscle memory. It’s important that your face, voice and body language are all in synch so that you deliver a clear, unified message — no matter if you’re in a meeting or preventing sexual harassment or assault. My motto is: Speak your mind. Stand your ground. Sing your song.™
Using your voice is often a first step to stopping an unwanted or uninvited physical encounter. That said, I do recommend that people train in physical self-defence as well, because not every situation can be presented verbally. No matter how careful we are, there can always be surprises that happen in an instant.
Image copyright: In Her Image
What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced in your career, and how did you overcome it?
Getting my black belt in Aikido. I started at age 52 and I was awkward, clumsy, and slow. But I kept training, 2 hours a day 4 days a week. The essence of my philosophy is to just keep moving forward and do the next thing vs. setting some ginormous goal that hovers over you like a black cloud daring you to burst it.
I just heard the question, “What is your growth edge?” One of my favourite sayings is, “If you’re not living on the edge, you’re taking up too much space.” I’m always exploring that edge and asking, “what is my next step.” Whatever my next big challenge is, I set up micromovements to keep moving forward incrementally. When working with clients we do the same thing. We apply this by reviewing their media appearances and asking: What did I do well? What do I want to keep? What do I want to shift for next time?
What do you want your lasting legacy to be?
The poet Mary Oliver wrote,
“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”
Now, my next challenge is to work with billionaires and start-ups doing amazing things to help them hone their messages so they can be even more effective in the world. These are the people who have the capacity solve the world’s big problems like hunger, climate change, and sexual slavery without having to wait on laws, government or policy changes to move forward with their projects.
The legacy I want to be known for is really twofold. I want everyone to be able to speak up, stand up for what they believe in, and move forward with what it is they came here to do. And I want to be known for helping the people who are doing important things in the world in their own wild way. I want to be part of that bigger picture, to be remembered for having helped them with joy and spirit to shape their words, thoughts, and deeds.