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How To Get Featured In The Media — even if you’re just starting out

In this episode, I’m joined by Shelli Varela, and we’re going to unpack how you can get featured in the media by using this very simple structure.

Q&A with Shelli Varela

Know How to Position Yourself [00:23]

Stu McLaren: Shelli, this is something that you have done over and over again. You have used this to land yourself a TED stage. You’ve landed in Forbes, Entrepreneur and Goalcast. You’ve had a docuseries and have been in all kinds of traditional media as well. Today, we’re talking about using a very simple structure to be able to attract the right kind of media, who want to feature you regardless of whether you are a big name or not. Am I right?

Shelli Varela: Absolutely. The advantage of the media is it magnifies your message to the people. But it also is the creator of incredible opportunity. Sometimes it results in book deals, speaking gigs or even your audience knowing who you are, what you do, and why you do it.

Stu McLaren: How have you been able to get yourself where people are not saying no to featuring you, but a clear “yes, we want Shelli”? What’s the first step in being able to cut through the noise and grab the attention to get that yes?

Shelli Varela: Nobody cares to understand you until they first feel understood. Nobody cares to hear you until they first feel listened to. First, you have to know, who is that you’re speaking to? What is important to them? And how can you come in service to them? Because unless you’re coming in service to them, you’re really just calling a stranger and saying, “Hey, can you help me out?” And that literally almost never works.

Remember, whoever the person is you’re pitching to, they have things that are important to them. There is a reason why they do what they do, and they’re passionate about their audience and their message. Unless you care what their message is and know what their message is, they will not care to understand you because they have not felt understood.

Know How to Position Yourself [4:55]

Stu McLaren: Let’s say, I want to land some media or I want to get on a particular show. How do you first go about thinking about this?

Shelli Varela: The first thing I consider is the story of the person and why they do what they do. Your story matters, and I cannot state that enough. But first, look at who the people are who are serving the people you want to reach; not just who has the biggest audience, but who has the end-user audience that you actually want to reach, that you can offer value to and make an impact with. So, the first thing is positioning yourself in terms of coming in service and offering a solution to whoever it is you’re pitching to.

Stu McLaren: When you’re thinking about that, what are you looking for to find that angle and to position yourself accordingly?

Shelli Varela: I’m looking for people who have done their homework, who care about my audience. I’ll use myself as an example. My podcast is called The YES Effect. And before I had a podcast, I was a person who had an idea and wasn’t sure if it was going to work or not, and it did work really well. So, I became very passionate about serving my people.

The first thing I would suggest to somebody when they’re looking to position themselves is don’t send a form letter. Do your research in terms of why you are pitching to somebody. How can you serve those people? What can you offer? Are you looking for a way to make their lives easier or add value to both their show and to their audience? That’s the first thing to keep in mind when you’re starting to position yourself as an appropriate guest for that specific show.

Know What the Media Want [8:11]

Stu McLaren: So step number one, know how to position yourself, what would be step number two?

Shelli Varela: Step number two is to know what the media wants. And again, the media can be traditional media, your print press, your TV, your radio, your Forbes, your Entrepreneur, any of those people, but it also can be podcasters. Podcasters are increasingly having huger and huger reach all of the time. Media could also be considered, being in a Summit or on a Facebook Live in front of the appropriate audience. Whoever the media is, what is it they want? What is it they need? And what is the void that you can fill for them?

Media are always looking for great stories. And oftentimes, especially when we’re starting out, we’ll think we’re not worthy to be on Forbes or Entrepreneur. But the truth is, when you come in service, when you have something you do, an angle, knowledge, experience, whatever it is that you’re bringing to them, they’re always looking for great value to offer their people. So just know, who is it you’re reaching out to and why? What is it they need? And do your homework because there is always a gap that needs to be filled, and they’re always looking for somebody to fill it. The irony is, while it seems like your pitch or your request to be featured is about you, it’s not about you at all. It’s about the person that you’re pitching to and what you can offer them. How can you give them something?

Know How to Tell Your Story [11:06] 

Stu McLaren: You said the media need great stories, and you said everyone has a story and everyone’s story matters. Talk to me about that because I have a feeling that this plays an important role.

Shelli Varela: It’s literally everything. Again, before you can get a yes, you have to avoid an automatic no. How do you do that? You do that by sharing your story in a way that is sticky, connective and comes in service. Great stories are about what has earned you the right to speak about what you’re speaking about, whether it be your skills, your knowledge, or your lived experience.

It really is the difference between not being able to articulate that and having a PhD in results. And also, as somebody who’s putting themselves out there and asking for the opportunity, it is the way that you come in service to somebody else. It is also the difference where instead of feeling like you’re groveling to somebody who’s big media, you can hold your shoulders back and say, I actually have something to offer you that is going to be helpful, valuable and will make you look good to your audience.

How to Do It In Practice [13:03]

Stu McLaren: Can you give us an example of how you used these three tips to get yourself on some national media?

Shelli Varela: Absolutely. I’ll give one hypothetical example. I run a junior female firefighter boot camp, where we teach teen girls aged 15 to 19 how to be firefighters. It’s a week-long program and it’s really cool. The caveat to that is most every other city does exactly the same thing we do, but we got featured in national media. Why? Because I look at the matrix of audiences that I’m pitching to. We have the sponsors, who are the people who are funding our stuff. And then we have the media, who are the people who are featuring our stuff. So, we needed to pitch to the sponsors. And what do I know that they want? They want to look good, to be attached to something that matters, and they want it to be easy for them. They want lots of eyeballs on their brand.

What do I do? I go to the media. The media wants an amazing story. They want people to feel emotionally moved. They want something that’s compelling and uplifting. So, I pitched to the media that we’re not just doing a junior female firefighter boot camp, but we’re rewiring limiting beliefs. And when you feature this story, you are literally changing societal norms. For the generation that’s coming up, becoming a firefighter if you’re a girl, is usually met with a shoulder shrug. The media loves that because they have to see their place and importance in that, and because they were going to cover the story, now I have something to offer the sponsors because I’ve got loads of eyeballs on it.

The ‘Attract the Media’ Challenge [16:13]

Stu McLaren: I love it. Now let me ask you this, if somebody is thinking, “I see how Shelli did it, but how do I begin exploring this for myself?” Walk us quickly through how we can help people.

Shelli Varela: We’re doing a seven-day challenge called Attract the Media, and our tagline is Stop Chasing. Be Pursued. Get Featured. We’re teaching how to build that intro letter, the intro of yourself and who you are, what you do and why you do it. We’re building you a micro significance story – this is who I am and this is who you are, but this is what we can accomplish if we work together and the sum is greater than the parts. It’s building that story, teaching you some simple tricks that help you avoid the automatic no, getting people to say yes, and start getting you booked.

When you start with the lower-tier opportunities, they beget the larger ones. And it doesn’t take very long before people are reaching out to you because they’ve seen you, they know you can tell your story, and they’ve heard you in all of these different venues. Opportunities beget bigger and bigger opportunities, that creates a cycle of influence. You can sign up for the challenge at, and it’s 100% free.

Memorable Quote

“Opportunities beget bigger and bigger opportunities.” – Shelli Varela

“Your story matters and the more people that hear it, the more people you can impact.” – Shelli Varela


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