How do you generate massive press by making yourself an expert?
That’s what I asked Lauren Berger, founder of Intern Queen, a site where students can find internship listings and learn how to make the most of their opportunities. By doing her own publicity Lauren generated over 100 articles since 2008, including in The Wall Street Journal, New York Post, and Yahoo Business. In this program, she teaches how she did it.
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About Lauren Berger
Lauren Berger is CEO of Intern Queen Inc, an online internship destination that helps students find and apply for internships while also educating them on how to make the most of their experiences. Berger earned a degree in Organizational Business Communications at the University of Central Florida and interned for top-notch companies across the country such as MTV, FOX, BWR Public Relations, and NBC.
Lauren has been recently featured in The Wall Street Journal, FoxBusiness, The New York Post, AOL, Alloy.com, YPulse.com, E!News.com, Yahoo Business, MarieClaire.com, and more.
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All right. Here’s the program.
Andrew Warner: Hey, everyone. My name is Andrew Warner. I’m the founder of Mixergy.com, home of the ambitious upstart and a place where entrepreneurs come and talk about how they built their business for an audience of people who I assumed were just entrepreneurs, but I’m hearing more and more from developers who are listening to Mixergy in the background as they’re coding up their website. Glad to have you guys on board. You are the ones who are building the websites that I love so much.
So, big question for today is how do you generate massive press by making yourself an expert? Joining me is Lauren Berger. She is the founder of Intern Queen, a site where students can find internship listings and learn how to make the most of their opportunities. She has generated over 100 articles for her company since 2008. Lauren, welcome to Mixergy.
Lauren Berger: Thank you.
Andrew: All right. It’s impressive to get over 100 articles written about a business. I would love 100 articles written about my business or about myself, if for no other reason than just because I want people to know who I am. But, beyond that, beyond the selfish need for attention that I would have, there’s a real business goal behind getting so much press. How has it helped your company to have so much attention?
Lauren: The press, especially today in 2010, is really interesting because it doesn’t necessarily get you that instant traffic or that instant burst of audience members that you might like to have. But what it does do is it definitely builds credibility. And, yes, newspapers aren’t as powerful as they used to be, but people still look for that stuff in terms of credibility.
If someone’s going to call you an expert, they want to see an article written about you in one of the top papers. They really do. They want to see a slew of press. And it really does help other people take you seriously. I think that in terms of marketing, press is just one of many parts of a solid marketing strategy, because, again, press isn’t going to get you eyeballs necessarily.
And I think when you are doing press, you have to be very careful. You have to kind of dabble in things. Because you have to really track it and see, “Okay. I already have this much credibility. Is this something that’s really worth my time?” And you really need to monitor the traffic, because today, you’ll be surprised on how many hits you’ll get from a tiny website online that no one’s heard of as opposed to the KTLA Morning News or “The Washington Post.” It’s just really interesting. So, it’s really nice to monitor what’s coming in and where people are hearing about you from.
Andrew: What is a small site that sent you a surprising amount of traffic?
Lauren: What is a small site? A good example for me, would be, obviously I’m going to the student demographic, so a student newspaper. I was on the front page of the Purdue student newspaper about a month ago, right before I spoke at Purdue. And my site was blowing up that day. I mean, it was ridiculous. I was getting, I think, over 1,000 hits, and from a student newspaper, that’s unheard of.
Again, I have a column that runs occasionally in “The Washington Post,” and I don’t see that kind of traffic from that. So, it’s just really interesting how one [interference] when another maybe doesn’t.
Andrew: How many schools have you spoken in?
Lauren: Over 80 schools over the past two years. I started speaking, it’s a huge part of my business, in November of 2008.
Lauren: And I started doing it all by myself. I didn’t have a speaking agent at the time or anything. And I would just pitch myself. And now, I’ve spoken at over 80 schools. I’m actually in the middle of my fall 2010 speaking tour. So, I leave on Saturday to go to another slew of events, conferences, schools. And I’ll be out for about a week.
Andrew: All right. Now, I want to ask you, too, about how you built up that part of your business. How you got to speak at so many schools. But how does that impact your business?
Lauren: Speaking is huge for me because it is my opportunity to directly connect with students. That’s where the magic happens. People can come to my site and they can read everything they want and I do different things. For example, actually, tonight, every other Tuesday I host intern chat on Twitter, which is another platform for students to directly connect with me.
But when you’re standing in front of a student and speaking to them and especially at the end of my presentations, when students come up to me, they pull me aside, they ask me their personal questions. That’s when I can really help and really, hopefully, reach them. And hopefully my energy and excitement about the internship space really is contagious and affects them positively.
Andrew: And does that lead to more traffic to your website and more people applying for the internships on it?
Lauren: Yes, absolutely. The traffic goes up and my site really is word of mouth. I’ll see one resume from Stanford one day, and a week later, I’ll have 100 resumes from Stanford. I mean, it really does catch on. And it’s all about students talking about it. I’ll speak at one school, and then I’ll have a ton of resumes from that school the following week.
Andrew: All right. And I remember one of the things that I saw on your website was the list of the media that you were on. And I said, “All right. She’s credible. I think we should find a way to get her on here.” Looking at your site right now, I see “Business Week,” “New York Post,” ABC, NBC, Yahoo Finance, “Washington Post,” Fox News Channel. I think I also saw “The Wall Street Journal” in there and a bunch of others.
Let’s go back and find out about how you got the first mention, the first media hit. What was it? Do you remember?
Lauren: The first media hit. Well, I started the site full time in 2008. But I had the idea for Intern Queen and started InternQueen.com back in 2006. So, I think one of the first big articles I did was for “Seventeen” magazine. I did an article called “How to Be an Outstanding Intern” back in ’06. And I remember it was when MySpace was really popular, because instead of running just a photo, they ran my MySpace page picture, which at the time was awesome.
But I think it was that. And this all stemmed, essentially, from internships. My internships, I had 15 internships in college. That’s why I’m called the Intern Queen. So, back in college, I was interning in the PR space and doing a lot with writing, with journalism. And I was a part-time freelance writer in college. So, when you are a writer, people always tell you to write what you know. Write whatever your niche is.
And I thought to myself, “What am I an expert in? What do I know so much about that somebody else doesn’t?” And I had these 15 internships in college. So, I said, “Well, next time I’m pitching, I’ll try to pitch an internship article.” And I had contacts at “Seventeen.” So, I pitched them a few different ideas for interning. And they really liked the idea of a few tips on how to be an outstanding intern. Something short, sweet, to the point. And that’s what we did. And that ran. And “Seventeen” is huge, especially for my demographic. So, it went over really well.
Andrew: How many internships have you had?
Lauren: 15 internships during my four years of college.
Andrew: Why 15 internships? How did that happen?
Lauren: I was really addicted to interning. When I was a freshman [interference].
Andrew: Oh, looks like we lost her. Sorry, we lost the connection there for a moment. You said when you were a freshman?
Lauren: Sure. When I was a freshman in college, my mother called, I have one of those mothers who calls me every day. And she told me that she was watching the “Today Show” and she heard somebody talking about internships. And I had to check them out. So, I immediately checked out internships after my mom harassed me a lot about it. And I was interested. I was curious.
And I went to my career center, and they told me that I could not get an internship. They said I had to wait until I was a senior. And I’m not one to be told no. Not a fan. So, I went back to my dorm, and I researched local internship opportunities on my own. I had my first internship the spring semester of my freshman year, and I was hooked. I, for the first time, was in an environment where people were concerned about their future. They were talking about something more than boys and sorority and football games. And I was really fascinated.
It really was that internship, I call it my click moment. But it was within that internship when I realized that I actually wanted to do something with my life and make something of myself. And I was then ready to take the necessary steps to do that.
Andrew: Okay. All right. So, the first articles that you wrote were about internships.
Andrew: Did you give yourself the name Intern Queen back then?
Lauren: Yeah. I don’t remember exactly how it happened. But I know I was brainstorming with some friends on what I could call an internship website. And I wanted to play off of the fact that I had so many internships. So, that’s how Intern Queen came about.
Lauren: And I immediately, you know, got the web domain. This was back in 2006. I had a friend in college who designed websites, so he put a placeholder site up there for me, for free. I’m sure you can archive the site to see what it looked like back then. It was more of a Lauren Berger biography site at the time. I was using it for freelance writing. And yeah, that’s how I got the first mention.
I think it’s important to start locally. I think there is a lot of local hooks with any entrepreneur, no matter what your business angle is. So, I’m from Clearwater, Florida. So I went after the Florida media. I was in “Florida Trends” magazine. I was pitching the “St. Petersburg Times,” the “Orlando Sentinel.” You want to pitch whatever local hook you have. I was a UCF student at the time, so I wanted to pitch any UCF media. I was on the front page of the University of Central Florida’s student newspaper. I was from Clearwater. So, I wanted to pitch all the Clearwater media. So, I think you need to go with whatever your natural hooks are first.
Andrew: Mm-hmm. And was the idea that you would make money off of writing? Or that you’d eventually transition it into a business?
Lauren: I don’t think I was thinking about money, to be honest. At the time, back in 2006, this was a passion. And the problem came when I was about to graduate, and I said, “I want to be the Intern Queen.” And my parents said, “Well, we’re not going to give you money to be the Intern Queen. So, how are you going to do this?”
So, I wasn’t sure what the business model was at that time. I knew that I wanted to help connect people with internships. Back in ’06, I was doing some consulting, where people would pay me maybe 200 bucks a pop and I would help place them in an internship. So, that’s what I was doing in ’06. By the time we got to 2008, I decided I wanted it to be more of a job board where the employers would pay to post the listings. And then we’d bring in money through that, through advertisers and through speaking engagements.
Andrew: What was it like to start calling yourself the Intern Queen at first? That seems like a really big title. That’s kind of intimidating to take on for yourself.
Lauren: Yeah, I think because it was such a big title, at first I was maybe a little bit in your face about it. I would call people and literally, I would say, “Hi. It’s Lauren Berger, the Intern Queen.” And it’s funny, you learn things as you mature in your business. Now, when I call people, it’s “Lauren Berger from Intern Queen” as opposed to, “Hey, I’m the Intern Queen, everybody.”
So, I think when you pick an expert title, which today a lot of people do that stuff. You know, you have this person and that person, they have all these kitschy titles. I think you just have to develop into your own, I guess, and learn how to properly approach people. Because I think sometimes I was a little bit overwhelming. And I’m sure I’m still a little overwhelming in many senses. But I know I was a little bit overwhelming when I first started, and I didn’t really know what to do with such a big title.
Andrew: How does it impact your ability to get new articles written about you or to get people to your site or to just go out there and become an expert? How does the title Intern Queen affect it?
Lauren: For me, it is all about branding. My heart, essentially, is in the branding business.
Lauren: I guess by nature I’m in this HR industry. I never thought I would be there. But it is the branding that I am really a fan of. So, for me, that’s the catch. That’s how I am able to generate this press and that’s how I’m able to stand out from competitors. I mean, other resource [interference] and other career resources have started things like this because I think that they see that as well. It’s a great way to really reach students and bring them in. When I was a student, I know that I wished there was someone that I could have looked up to and said, “How do I get an internship here? How do I get an internship there?” And there was no one to look up to about it. There was no one to talk to about it. There were a few resource books out at the time and that was it.
So the goal, for me, is to be this person for all of these other students so they can ask their questions and reach out to me. And I’ve been there. I was not the best intern. I was probably a terrible intern in many cases. But I learned from all of my experiences, and hopefully I can pass that knowledge along.
Andrew: Okay. I’ve got a couple of things here written down to come back and talk to you about. Branding and speaking, I want to come back and find out how you got to do both of those. But let’s stick with the press and how you now transitioned from writing about the industry to writing about the industry for business and getting business from those articles. How do you do that?
Lauren: Just to make sure I understand, how am I writing about the internship industry for other publications?
Andrew: I understand how you were writing about the internship industry and how you can get a lot of articles written about it and how it can help establish your reputation in the space. But, once you have this business, InternQueen.com, and you want the articles to start sending business to your website, how do you do that?
Lauren: I think you don’t do that. I think that it’s a matter of not being that direct. When I’m writing an article, the idea is that people are that intrigued by the Intern Queen and by the knowledge that I have to share with them, that they are going to go to the site. The goal is not to be so salesy in the articles. I think a lot of people make the mistake when they are pitching themselves that they think sell, sell, sell. And it’s too much. And I think a lot of times, editors stay away from that.
But, with me, people interview me about my internship experience. They want to know how I became the Intern Queen. So, hopefully, I can reel the audience in slowly. You make them feel comfortable around you. You get them interested. You pique their interest so they want to get to your site and learn more.
Andrew: But the articles that you wrote early on, I guess they just attributed, the byline was Lauren Berger of InternQueen.com, and that’s how you’re starting to get people to the site?
Lauren: And a lot of press, they won’t link to your site. When you get to the bigger press, “The Wall Street Journal,” in most cases, they are not linking to anybody’s site. Or they are not linking to a lot of people’s sites, I guess. But as long as they say your name, you will be surprised how many people will read a quote by you, not even a whole article, but just a quote and they’ll look you up and they’ll call you right away.
In terms of bringing in business, for me, an example would be with employers. It is extremely difficult to get an employer, if you are a job board or an internship board, to pay money to post on your site. It is a difficult task. And it is not something that is cold calling. Cold calling does not work for me. But I’ve found that press really does. If someone reads about you in “The Wall Street Journal” or “The New York Times,” “New York Post,” whatever it might be, they trust you, because that publication trusted you and they trust that publication. So, if you can get in front of the means that these people trust, then you have a better chance of earning their business.
Andrew: Okay. So the way that you got press early on is the same way that one of the founders of Blank Label told me he did. That you just write articles. And when you write articles, it is a good way of drawing attention to the industry and also getting attention onto yourself and establishing yourself as an expert. How do you now get people to include you in the articles that they are writing about internships? How did you make that transition?
Lauren: It’s difficult.
Lauren: What I would say, and this advice really is for any industry, you’ve got to know the players. It’s important to identify who is writing the internship articles in the first place. So, for me, it is important to look at my target publications, the publications that I want to see myself in. The publications that my potential clients are reading. And who is writing the internship articles?
Lauren: It’s difficult, though, because nowadays, not that many people are in staff. A lot of them are freelance. You have to try to find these people. But it’s important to approach these people, not just when they are writing an article, but just in general. I try to set as many general meetings as I can. General phone calls, just to introduce myself. So that when people are writing internship articles, they automatically think of me.
I have a very positive relationship with “The Wall Street Journal,” for example. And I’m always trying to call them and let them know when I see new trends emerging in the space, when I have new ideas. And that way you always stay fresh in their mind. You learn, or at least I’ve learned early on that even when people call you for an interview, it doesn’t mean they are going to actually use the quote. And you can’t really talk about an interview until it comes out. Especially with “The New York Times,” the “New York Post,” and that sort of thing. Because they will call you all the time for quotes, but they are not going to use it all the time. So, you don’t want to be telling people you are going to be in “The New York Times” and then you get it and whoops.
So, I think it is get to know the players in the space. Know who is in your industry. Know who is talking about it and who’s interested in it. And that way when they write something, they are thinking of you first.
Andrew: All right. Let’s hold up and just keep talking about this. You say, introduce yourself to writers before they even want to write about you and before you are asking them to. Stay in touch with them. Doing what? I understand one thing, as you said, is to tell them about the newest trends that you are seeing. But what else can you do to keep that relationship going with a stranger who has probably got a ton of people who are trying to vie for their attention?
Lauren: I would give the same advice to my interns. When interns ask me, “How do I stay in touch with an employer,” I always use the three times a year rule. But I’m obviously not in school anymore, but I still go by semesters. So, once in the fall, once in the spring, once in the summer, I’m e-mailing all of my contacts to stay in touch. Especially the press contacts, I’m going through that once each semester and reaching out to them. Just saying, “Hey, how are you? I wanted to see what you are working on. Here’s a few things that I found interesting.” I’ll send them other articles that I’ve been featured in, clips from morning shows that I’ve been on. And again, it is just about keeping it in their head.
For example, I just started writing a series for Seventeen.com. And remember, when’s the last time I wrote for “Seventeen” magazine? Back in 2006. But I’ve kept up the relationship, and they were not interested in doing anything for the couple of years in between. But now they are interested again. And now they are ready to work together again, which is great. But it is a matter of really keeping up these relationships, because you never know, especially with reporters, you never know when the right time is going to come around.
Andrew: So, this three times a year that you are reaching out to them, it is largely just saying, this is what I’m up to, this is who else has covered me, this is why you might want to cover internships in general.
Lauren: Absolutely. Absolutely. And has this worked with everybody? No. I’m not in every single publication in the world. And that’s why I’m not going to stop, because I still have a lot of territory to cover. So, I think it is a matter of go, go, go. For me, I don’t have a PR person. I’m not into the publicist thing. I’ve had my own publicity training. So, for me, I try to focus on press once a week.
You do as much follow up as you can. You are not going to hear back from everybody. You’re just not. And there are going to be those certain people that no matter how many times you [interference], they are just not that responsive to you. But that is when you either move on to another writer at that publication or you just move on to another publication.
Andrew: You and I have talked for months now about doing an interview here. I’ve been a real jerk.
Lauren: There you go.
Andrew: And I’ve tried to be nice. But, I can imagine, from your point of view, I must have come across as a real jerk. In fact, the pre-interview that I did here, where I said, I think I said it nicer, but essentially I was saying, “All right, Lauren. What makes you so great?” If somebody asked me that, I could see myself thinking, “You son of a bitch. Who are you to judge what makes me great? Do a little bit of research or screw it. Or maybe you just don’t want me. I’m not about to parade around here until you say yes, you are welcome to come on my little video show.”
Lauren: But I kept in touch with you, right?
Andrew: Yes. The point is, you kept in touch. I would be really frustrated. If I were in your shoes, I would say, “Andrew. Shove it. I’ve got other things to do. I’m in ‘The Wall Street Journal’ and ‘Washington Post.’ I don’t need you if you’re not going to work to get me on.” Why didn’t you give up? Why didn’t you say, “Who is this Andrew? I’ve got to go do something else.”
Lauren: There has definitely been situations where people are flat out rude. And that’s what I don’t find acceptable at all, of course. But, you know, not everybody is going to see your value at first. And I see it as a challenge. I’ve always seen it as a challenge, whether it was getting internships, getting jobs right out of college, or doing interviews now. I get rejected, Andrew. Trust me. I get rejection letters from different schools, from different businesses. Hundreds, every week. You just learn to develop a thick skin, and you can’t let that stuff get you down. And I really do see it as a challenge.
I think that internships are a topic that a lot of people can relate to, no matter how old they are. They’ve had an internship, they know someone who has an internship, they have interns of their own, they are making jokes about interns, whatever it is. Everyone can relate to it. And I just hope that you and whoever else see the value. And if you do, great. If not, that’s okay, too. Not everybody is going to see the value in what you do. It took me a year to convince my parents that what I was doing was worth quitting another job for.
Andrew: Be a little vulnerable with me here. Was there a time when you got rejected when you said, “Forget it. I just can’t deal with this.” Where you were genuinely hurt?
Lauren: I’m sure there’s been tons. Literally.
Andrew: Describe one of them.
Lauren: I’m trying to think. I don’t know that I can pinpoint one. The hardest time for me was back in ’08 when I had an idea for Intern Queen, but nobody was interested in it. And nobody wanted to hear about it. And I was meeting with branding companies and a couple of investors here and there. And no one wanted anything to do with it. And I would say, as far as vulnerable times go, that was the worst. Because for every entrepreneur, when you have an idea, but you don’t know what to do with it, and you don’t know if you are going to be able to do anything with it, essentially.
I was in a space back in ’08, I was working at Creative Artist Agency, CAA, which out here is the end all. And no one was into it. And I was telling all of these people at the coolest talent agency in the world that I wanted to be the Intern Queen, and I’m sure you can imagine what their response was. It was bad, it was not good. And I kept telling people about it, and no one wanted anything to do with it. And I was probably a terrible assistant because my mind was on Intern Queen, and I was working for one of the busiest women in Hollywood who had a million things going on. And all I could think about was Intern Queen. I could not put 150 percent into my job. And I wanted so badly to be a part of an industry where I was passionate about it as well. And I just wasn’t. So, I think that was probably the hardest time for me. You never know what is ahead of you, obviously, but, that was probably the roughest time.
Andrew: I see. And the reason you stuck with it is because you are just so passionate to be in the space.
Lauren: No. The reason I stuck with it was because I told everybody. And if you have an idea, tell everybody what that idea is. And I got a call one day from Hollywood movie producer Marshall Herskovitz, who I’d never met before. And he said, “Lauren, I hear you call yourself the Intern Queen and I’m interested in investing in you.” So, I was able to stick with it because he was confident in my idea and wanted to put some funding behind it. If he hadn’t done that, I don’t know what I would have done. Because, yes, I was passionate, but unfortunately, you have to have the financial means to go ahead and run your business as well.
Andrew: How did he find you? How did he know? Were you looking for investment?
Lauren: No. I didn’t know what I was looking for, I don’t think. I knew I wanted to do this, but I wasn’t sure how I was going to do it. And Marshall was represented at CAA. And Marshall’s agent, who I had never met before in my life, heard through the grapevine that I was calling myself the Intern Queen. So, when Marshall mentioned something about putting an internship aspect to his QuarterLife.com website at the time, his agent said, “Wait. I know a girl. She calls herself the Intern Queen.” So, it’s just funny how things happen.
And my message to people, young and old, is put it out there. Tell people what you want to do. There’s going to be people who don’t want to hear it. And I’ve definitely run into my share of those people. But so many others do want to hear about what you want to do, and they’re interested and they are going to talk about it.
Andrew: All right. What else do you do to get into other people’s articles?
Lauren: What else do I do to get into other people’s articles? Again, it’s all about relationships. The whole thing is relationship building. I try to be in touch with other career coaches. Following them on Twitter, seeing what other people are up to is important. My Google alerts are crucial. It’s important for me to track what’s going on, what’s being written about the internship space currently. And again, just to go after those writers. I mean, you’ll drive yourself crazy if you get down on yourself every time an article comes out [interference].
It is just not physically possible. But again, like you read, I have some great names on my website. If you can get those five names on your website that are big names, I mean, that’s what you want. And from there, the rest will come. I get plenty of press inquiries. And I am at a place where I’m still talking to everybody. I’m not blogging as much as I was in the past. I think at first, when you start out, you want to write for everybody. You want to do everything. And then you get to a place where you say okay. You’ve got to start valuing your time a little bit better and just knowing what the right places are for your work.
Andrew: What about having something to say and saying it clearly? I’ve interviewed some people who are very clear about their message, who can say it in a sentence or two. And I’ve interviewed some people, some others who will take forever to get a statement out. How do you get your statement so clean that it is easy for a writer to include it in her piece?
Lauren: I think that it is a matter of telling the writer, in a sense, what they want to hear. So I think it is important to really listen to the writers. A lot of writers won’t tell you. They’ll just call you and say, what’s your thought on blah, blah, blah. It’s important to say, “Well, what’s your angle on this?” And honestly, I will say to a writer, “What exactly are you looking for?” And that will help me so much. Because, again, so many of these writers, they’ll just get all of these quotes and then they’ll throw half of them out the window before they write the article. So, it’s really important to know what they’re looking for. And sometimes, it is just a matter of asking the question.
Andrew: Can you give me an example of a writer who called you up who, by asking one of these questions, you were able to deliver a better message?
Lauren: I’m trying to think. For example, there’s a writer at “The Wall Street Journal” who I keep in touch with frequently. And I’m calling her all the time with ideas. And there’s been plenty of times where she has not used my material, definitely. But I’ve learned to ask her what exactly are you looking for and what is your angle on this piece? And I’ll start talking on the issue, and then when I’m done, before we get off the call, the writer will always say to you on the phone, “Is there anything else you want to include?” But I kind of turn the question back on them and say, “Well, based on the other quotes that you’ve received, what else can I give you that’s valuable to the article?” And that really helps me go a long way. And then, I’ve been included a few times now in this specific writer’s articles because of that.
Andrew: I can see that.
Lauren: Yeah. A cool example, this is maybe going off topic a little bit, but in terms of developing new opportunities from press, I had someone who was from, I think it’s the Agriculture Future of America Society. They were asking me about internships in the agricultural space. And I was giving her some information. And I always like to ask people, “What else are you involved with? What else are you guys doing?”
As a young entrepreneur, an expert in anything, you’ll get so many calls from people who, you have no idea who they are, what they’re talking about, what they need, what they’re involved with. And I said, “Well, you know, what else are you involved with?” And she started telling about this big conference that’s coming up. Their big national conference is in St. Louis on November 5th. And I said, “Oh, that’s so funny, because I’m actually a speaker and I’m in the middle of my fall speaking tour.” And P.S., I’m speaking at their national conference and getting paid for it. And I’ve turned that into business. So, now not only is it an article to a whole new crop of students. Crop, get it? Agricultural?
Lauren: Not only is it this article that is going to reach a new audience for me, but I’ve also got a business opportunity out of it.
Andrew: How about one other thing? You said media training. How has that helped you?
Lauren: I don’t know, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean, I think when people say media training, they think how to sit in front of a camera, what to do. I didn’t mean that. I meant that my education, you could say, was in the publicity space. When I had all these internships, the majority of them were at PR companies.
Lauren: I’ve interned at BWR, Warren Cohen Public Relations, a ton of them. And I learned how the business works from the other side. So, I think that gave me an advantage when it came to pitching myself because I knew how to approach these editors. I knew about their editorial calendars. I knew the long lead times. I mean, I’m pitching people for summer articles two months ago. It’s really important to know, especially with the magazines, their editorial calendars, what they are looking for, how to speak to them.
Andrew: I see. Do you have a mistake that you made in trying to get press?
Lauren: Do I have a mistake?
Andrew: Yeah. Is there a time when it didn’t work that well that I can learn from?
Lauren: I make mistakes every day. I can’t think of a clear example of a mistake that I’ve made. But I can think of one.
Andrew: Hit me.
Lauren: I had an interview scheduled. This is embarrassing. I had an interview scheduled [interference] I had never met before. And she reached out to me over Twitter.
Lauren: Am I still here? Did I lose the connection?
Andrew: Yeah. In fact, can you start that again, because we lost the connection for a moment.
Andrew: You said you had an interview scheduled? With who?
Lauren: So, I had an interview scheduled. A reporter had reached out to me over Twitter a few weeks back. And we scheduled the interview for a time and she was going to call me. And apparently it was one of those, she called but the phone didn’t ring situations. So, I kind of went about my day. And apparently she had left a message, but I didn’t check my messages. With me, I have 20 million things going on every day. So, it was one of those, “Oh, you know, I’ll call her later. Maybe she didn’t want to talk to me anymore.” Because it was a Twitter message. And I didn’t know much about the publication. So, I just went along with my day. And it kind of flew my mind a little bit.
So, the next day when I was going over the schedule and what I had missed from the day before, that kind of came up. And I said, “Oh, I’ll reach out to her later and make sure that everything is okay.” And it was a little bit too late. I’d already received an e-mail saying that she had left a message and she was really upset that I didn’t call her back and so forth. So, you want to check your messages all the time. Be in the loop. It’s flukes. They happen. But you try to avoid those types of things as much as possible, because you never want to, especially with people you don’t know, no matter how big or small they are, you don’t know who else they know, and you want to make sure that you are giving everybody a very professional image.
Andrew: All right. By the way, other entrepreneurs who I’ve talked to who are really good at getting publicity for their companies tend to talk beyond their company, tend to talk about the industry as a whole and promote the industry as a whole as their message instead of their own specific company.
Andrew: Have you found that that’s worked for you too?
Lauren: Absolutely. I think so. I think it works with a different audience. For me, when I’m talking to my students, a lot of them want to hear about Intern Queen. That’s what is going to hook them. However, when I’m speaking to employers or other businesses within the HR, career, internship space, they do want to hear your thoughts on the industry.
So, I think another part of press is getting involved on the industry side of things. For me, that includes attending conferences, like the SHRM conference, Society of Human Resource Managers. I attend ERE every year, which is another great recruiting conference. You’ve got to remember conferences are, not always, but normally these are unpaid. But I do think it is worth the time to speak on a panel, to moderate a session at these kinds of conferences because it does put you up as a thought leader in that industry.
I also try to write every once in a while for some of these HR publications. Again, I try not to spread myself too thin. That’s really been my focus this year as opposed to last year when I maybe wrote for everybody and was trying to be everywhere all the time. I’ve had to cut back a little bit and really focus my efforts on what gets me the best return.
Andrew: Okay. Before I move on to the next segments of this conversation, I want to make sure that I’ve got the right notes here so far. Want to get a lot of press? Here’s what you do. First, you’re saying make a wish list of publications that you want to be in. Next point is to write in those publications before you have them write about you. Next point after that is to introduce yourself to them before you want them to write about you. Just tell them about the trends, tell them about the space, tell them who you are. And then the next point you said was stay in touch with them. And you say you do it three times a year. And we talked about how you do that.
Persist through the no, even if the person is just running some little video website and he says no or wants more information, just persist through it. Don’t take it personally. Know what the writer is looking for. You gave an example of a writer that you asked at the end of the conversation, “How can I help with this piece?” What is the angle that their looking for is what you want to find out. Finally, talk about the industry more than you talk about your own company. Be the rep for the industry as a whole. True?
Lauren: Yes. Sounds good. And by the way, side note, I do not think you are a small little website owner. And I met you in a very L.A. tech space context as well. So, I think very highly of you and your site.
Andrew: Oh, thank you. I appreciate it. Actually, you know what? I started out saying it’s a small website, and what I’m finding out is, over the last few months it has just grown and grown. So, I can’t say that anymore. But it did kind of help me when I was saying it was a small little website. It was fun to say.
Now, the next goal is to talk about the next point in my list here — branding. How do you brand yourself? First of all, you come up with the title. You call yourself the Intern Queen. That always sticks in my head. What else do you do? What else do you do to brand yourself? I would like to become a brand. Now, that’s my next goal. Now that I’ve gotten a bigger video show, I want to become a brand. How do you do it?
Lauren: I mean, I think it is a matter of knowing who you are talking to. For me, it can get confusing, because I’m reaching students, employers, parents, professors, career centers. So, I’m reaching a variety of people. But who am I really targeting? And for me, that’s the student.
If the student isn’t interested, then I’ve really lost my value, because my value, remember, is that I’ve been there. I know this industry because I was a part of it. Literally, I was interning. I was going through this myself not too long ago. So, it’s important for me to stick with what do the students want to see? And I think a lot of times people can get distracted when they are thinking about the other eyes that might be on them.
So, for me, it always goes back to the student, and thinking back to what would I like to have seen. And I think branding is so many things. And I think the details matter a lot for me. Going into a school and not wearing a business suit to speak, and not doing a PowerPoint. Those are crucial in my branding as the Intern Queen. Students do not want to go to a PowerPoint business suit speaker. I mean, I didn’t want to go to that when I was in college. So when I go to these schools, it’s very important that I look like them. I’m colorful and young and hopefully have a fresh perspective on things. And it’s important for them to see me in that way.
The Intern Queen is an extension of me, essentially. So, when I’m thinking about how to brand everything, how things should look, again, I just always try to look for that youthful spin on things. And I do have to be careful that it’s not too youthful. That it’s not too girly, because Intern Queen, that does sometimes, you know, my site is 80 percent female. So, I have an 80 percent female audience. But plenty of men intern and plenty of men want to intern in the types of companies that I work with. So, I have to make sure that it’s not skewed too female, so that the guys are still involved and included.
We are doing a blog today, actually, about make-up advice. I was very hesitant about it, because you don’t want to make the guys feel like they can’t be a part of the site. But I made the executive call that hopefully the make-up article isn’t going to deter them too much.
Andrew: All right. What else? What else do you do to create a clear brand? How do you know how to communicate to the people who work with you what Intern Queen is, what it stands for?
Lauren: So, let’s take my interns, for example.
Lauren: I have a team of three virtual interns that I work with Monday through Friday. And I think that it’s very important that I represent my brand properly.
Lauren: Because they know how I speak about people, about things. And it’s important that they take on those same attributes. I’m very casual to an extent. It’s important that my students are friendly and go above and beyond to be friendly and get that Intern Queen personal connection really created and developed. But it’s also important that they do, again, maintain that professional, formal image. So, when I’m doing things, I just try to, again, it’s about a personal connection, not only with my demographic and with my students, but also with anybody I do business with.
And it is just important to be consistent. You don’t want to be one way with certain people and another way with another demographic. You’ve got to be consistent. And you’ve got to watch your language, which is important. The way that you’re talking to your audience is important. And again, you have to remember all of the different sets of eyes that are on you at all times. And you have to come up with parameters for yourself. There is certain language that although the students would gravitate towards it, I can’t use it because I do have those career centers and the parents and the professors and the employers [interference]. What’s really important, too, is to find that line of consistency within your brand.
I think that it does take time. I think it’s a lot of trial and error to find what works and to really establish yourself and your brand and find out what you are really working with.
Andrew: Okay. I’m trying to figure out how to get even more details on how you created that brand for yourself and how you communicate what that brand stands for and how the people around you help amplify what your brand stands for. Do you describe to the interns who work with you what the Intern Queen is and what the site is and who you are going after and how you are going to reach them? Is there any messaging like that that you do internally?
Lauren: I think that when you have the proper brand in place, I think it is supposed to speak for itself.
Lauren: With my interns, for example, I do their interviews, and I think after speaking to me, that first time, they get a great sense of my personality. And I think the site speaks for itself. I mean, my Twitter page speaks for itself in terms of how I speak to my audience. So, I don’t feel the need to go there. I think that Intern Queen separates itself from its competition because of this whole Intern Queen, fun, personal, casual relationship we have with our students.
The students, again, they feel comfortable with me. They’re allowed to directly communicate with me. And I just think that goes so far with them. Yeah, I haven’t felt the need to have any of those conversations with my interns, which is interesting. And I think they are very confident about what our brand is.
Branding is so hard to talk about. Because you say, “How do you brand?” You know, you just kind of it. I think you’ve really got to build it from the ground up. For me, the site is InternQueen.com. Okay. Does that mean everything is going to be the royal internship listings? You know, it’s queen. Am I going to go that far? Is everything going to be royal and castle and am I going to be themed? No. I don’t want to do that. It’s Intern Queen. That’s enough cheese right there.
Lauren: You’ve got to have the real stuff to back it up. And hopefully I do. People go to Intern Queen, which is hopefully a kitschy site, they remember the title. But as soon as they get to the home page, they see a couple of opportunities that are hopefully going to knock their socks off. I mean, there are some pretty solid opportunities on my site.
Not only that, but they are going to see all this amazing content. With the content, I try to answer student questions. You’ll see this morning, I put up a blog. I’m directly connecting with these students so that they feel comfortable with me.
Andrew: Okay. And I am looking on your website. You’ve got a certain kind of internship that you seem to go after. I’m seeing Warner Music Group internship. I see Conan on TBS internship. These are fun kind of internships. What kind do you go after?
Lauren: Yeah. Absolutely. I go after what I would want. Remember, it all goes back to me and what I wanted when I was a student. [interference] to brand this after what I would have wanted when I was student. So, I was always looking for communications, PR, entertainment based opportunities. So, usually when we go into a new city, a new space, those are the opportunities we’re trying to go after.
Andrew: All right. How do I phrase this question, this next one? What I’m trying to say is, I’m thinking back to how I reacted when you said, “No, your site is pretty big.” And that is kind of a goofy reaction. I’m not comfortable saying the site is big. It is still just a freaking website and we’re still not giant. Anything less than giant, I figure, is just too small.
But here you are. You own your position right from the beginning. You stand up and you say, “I’m the Intern Queen,” before there was hardly anyone up on the website. That comes from somewhere. Where does that come from?
Lauren: Where does it come from? I mean, I think it is a confidence. I think that I get it, my parents have a certain confidence. Not even a certain confidence. But I grew up with my parents just saying that anything was possible, literally. Just anything is possible. If you want something, ask. If there is someone you want to meet, try to meet them. And see what happens.
You are not going to win everything, but you can at least try. And I think that’s what everything for me is really based on. Growing up through high school and through college, if I wanted to meet someone, I’d email them and ask if I could meet them. And I think that there are so many people out there that would never do that and would still never do that.
Right now, I want to meet Ivanka Trump. Now we’re saying it on Mixergy.com. But I would love to sit in a room with her. I think she is so classy and holds herself as a woman so well, I would love to sit down with her. And last week, I emailed her and asked if I could sit down with her. And she is probably not going to respond, or say no. But, I bet, within five years, I will have dinner with her, I would hope. So, I think it is a matter of asking sometimes. And I think [interference] out there and ask and the people that aren’t.
And I think that doing those things helps you develop a confidence about yourself maybe. I mean, this is what I do, and I think at first, in 2006, when I started doing this, I still had my full-time job. So, my friends would say, “Oh, tell them about Intern Queen.” And I think I was a little shy about it. But when I started doing this full time, I mean, it was my break. It was my one chance to do this full time. Not many people get the chance to call themselves some crazy name and get paid for it. That doesn’t happen very often.
So, I had the chance to build this Intern Queen up. And I really had two options. I could be shy about it or I could own it. And that’s what I tried to do. Again, it’s an extension of who I am. I think, if anything, sometimes I have to say, “Okay. Lauren Berger and the Intern Queen, those are two separate things.” And I think sometimes you can lose your identity in that a little bit. But, I am at a place now, where . . .
Andrew: Was there a time when you said to yourself, for example, “I’ll call myself the Intern Queen. I’m launching this website. I’m saying it’s going to be great. In fact, I’m saying it’s great already. But, if this thing doesn’t work, it’s going to come across as just the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever done. I’ve now called myself the queen. Queen of nothing. The site never even went anywhere.” Was there ever a period where you had that kind of doubt?
Lauren: Here’s my thing.
Andrew: Hit me.
Lauren: If I could get one student, just one, and I’ve gotten hundreds. But if I could get one student in an amazing internship, not even amazing, just an average internship and their career was changed because of that, then I’m the Intern Queen. I mean, that’s really cool, if you think about it.
I have a student, who, he attended Santa Monica college. He just transferred to UCLA as a junior. He has had, I think, three or four internships already. A couple of them, Reveille Entertainment, NBC’s reality production arm, Participant Media. He has had more amazing opportunities than probably most of the UCLA student body. And he is going in as a junior. Transferred from a community college. His career is going to be drastically changed because of the places I was able to get him internships at. And that’s what makes it worth it. That’s what makes me confident, no matter what happens, about what I do. If I can change these students’ lives, it’s a little cheesy, it is what it is. But I’m really going to change their lives. And they are going to have amazing careers, in industries that are essentially hard to break into, because of me. And that makes me feel good about what I do.
Andrew: See, that’s a very healthy attitude. Maybe I should take on that attitude, because I’ve got the exact opposite. I’m like, “If I can get just a million people to listen to what I’m doing here on Mixergy, just a million people who are moved by this. God damn it, that’s not even a start. I’ve got to have even more, because, look, there’s someone over there who’s got way more. Because there is a vision in my head of doing even better.” And it’s a place to go where you’re never going to be happy. You’re going to be driven like mad, but you are also going to be mad because you’re driven.
Lauren: Right. I see what you are saying about how there are more people coming to your site, but you don’t want to say it’s a big site. You are not comfortable. But I don’t think that something has to be big, in terms of numbers, to be big.
I think that if you have a site that people go to, that people wait and they say, “I want to tune in at this time because Andrew is going to be interviewing whoever,” that’s big. I mean, if you can get someone that hooked that they are listening to you every day. I mean, if I can hook people so that they are coming and checking what internships I have every day and what I have to say, I don’t care how many people are hitting your site, I don’t care if it is ten or 10,000. That’s a big deal.
I mean, that’s pretty powerful if you think about it. It’s not easy to get people to do anything, especially today. People just want to be on Facebook all day. So, if you can get them to do anything, I think that’s pretty big.
Andrew: No, I think you’re right. I’ve got an issue here. Because, really, I’ll go ahead and do a marathon. And I’ll read about other people who are doing ultra marathons and I’ll say, “Ultra marathons? That’s what I should be doing. A marathon is not enough.”
All right. I’ve got limited time with you, and I want to make sure to get everything that I promised the audience that I’d give them. The last big point on my notepad here is to talk about how you get speaking engagements. How do you do it?
Lauren: Yes. My whole philosophy in work . . .
Lauren: It’s really to call the people you want to work for. Call the people who you want to write about you. And introduce yourself. And go try to do it. And that’s what I do. When I started speaking in November of 2008, my first speaking engagement was unpaid. I got involved with an organization called the Extreme Entrepreneur Tour. It’s a great organization. Are you familiar with them?
Andrew: Yeah, I think I had drinks with one of the founders.
Lauren: Michael Simmons?
Andrew: I think so, yeah.
Lauren: In New York?
Andrew: In Santa Monica.
Lauren: Okay. When he was here maybe. So, they’re a great organization. They put on these half day entrepreneurial workshops at high schools and colleges across the country.
Lauren: And they always have two keynote speakers. So, I met them through different relationships. They invited me to come speak on one of their tours. It was in Iowa at Marshall Community College. The Extreme Tour pays for all of their speakers’ travel. But, it was an unpaid speaking engagement at the time. So, I knew I was going out to Iowa, so I thought, “Hey, well if I can speak at this school with them, maybe there’s another school that wants me to speak.”
I literally looked up every school in Iowa. I started calling them. People would not answer, not call me back. I mean, I got a million nos. But Southwestern Community College in, I don’t even remember the city, Iowa, they said they would love to have me speak. And they said, “Well, what’s your rate?” And I said, “$250.” And they said, “Great.” And I said, “Okay.” So, it started there.
The next semester, I would start calling more schools in different states. And I would raise my fee, you know, 500 bucks. And [interference] my fee. And I won’t disclose what my fee is today. It’s much higher. But it worked. And that’s really how I did it. And today I do have a speaking agent out of Michigan, and she is great. But she is more for the college conference circuit. So, most of the individual schools I still usually reach out on my own. And I’m at a place where a lot of schools are double booking me and having me back from last year. So, it’s a nice comfortable place to be in.
Andrew: How do you keep students engaged? How do you keep them so interested in you that they will want to have you back and recommend you to other schools?
Lauren: For me, it’s about being the Intern Queen. It’s about going up there with so much excitement about the internships. So much experience to talk to them about. And just being so passionate about the news and what’s out there and how they can really make the most of these opportunities.
I started my business in a recession, in 2008. And it was a great time to talk about internships, because jobs are scarce and still are in many circumstances. And students need internships to get these jobs. They really do. I’m not lying to them. So, it’s really easy for me to get that message across and to get them excited.
I’m speaking, for example, on Sunday in D.C. I’m speaking at the national PRSSA conference, the Public Relations Student Society of America. And this is going to be chapters from all over the country. So, the goal with something like that is to get them so excited that all of the individual chapters want to bring me into their schools.
Andrew: Oh, cool. All right. I think that’s everything in my notes. What do you have coming up? I know there is something called the Intern Queen Phone coming up. What is that?
Lauren: Intern Queen Phone, yeah, we’re launching it today. We’re going to start talking about it, putting it up on the site. Basically, if you are an intern, if you are a student, if you are not a student, that’s okay, too. We have about seven employers that are going to spend 30 minutes on conference calls. I’m going to be interviewing the employers.
If you sign up for the calls, it is a paid service, but the prices are always student friendly at InternQueen.com. So, very affordable. But you’ll be able to tune into the calls, submit questions ahead of time, and you’ll be able to talk to the internship coordinator at several cool companies. We have someone from BWR, someone from MTV, someone from the Conan O’Brien Show, or the Conan Show, I think they are calling it, “Marie Claire” magazine, CollegeCandy.com, Kurtzman/Orci Productions, they did “Star Trek” and “Transformers,” and CBS News in New York.
So, I’m really excited about it. It’s going to give students the opportunity to be on the phone with the people that are looking at their resumes, which, again, I wish that I could have done that when I was a student. I think there is something still really cool about being on the phone with people.
Lauren: So, hopefully it will go really well.
Andrew: All right. I know it will. I like the idea a lot. I also hope that my audience, when they need interns, will think to go to the InternQueen.com website and add themselves to the list.
And hopefully they will use what we talked about here today to create a brand for themselves, to go out there and speak about their big message. And also, more important than all of that, I think, is to get some press. I want them to go out and get press. And I think we did a great job here. You did a great job. I just sat back and listened as you did it in showing them how to get all that press.
Guys, if you do it, if you use any of the techniques here in this interview, please come back to Mixergy and let me know about it. Also let me know if you are a mental patient like me who is never going to be satisfied or if you have a healthier attitude like Lauren. Which is, you just go out there and you own who you are going to be and you make sure that everybody finds out about it. I want to hear about that.
Finally, I’ve got a new mic, as some of you are seeing on camera here. Give me your feedback on this. How is this mic sounding? I’m trying a few new techniques here to make the program sound a little bit better.
Lauren, thank you. Thanks for doing this interview.
Lauren: Thank you.
Andrew: We’ll all check out InternQueen.com. Bye guys.
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