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Why Being On Oprah Was The Worst Day of My Life

Dream of your big “Break” ?  Think again….  This is the story of what happened to me when I went on the Oprah Show… Being on Oprah changed my perception of what I was doing for a living forever and marked the beginning of my long love affair with social media.  The story goes like this…

By 2002 I had run my boutique PR firm for 6 years, helping musicians tell their stories, and I was very satisfied doing that work.  One fateful day my telephone rang. It was a call from a producer at the Oprah Winfrey Show.  She had read an article about my mom in a magazine, where mom had mentioned her entrepreneurial daughter.

Within a week, an Oprah film crew had descended. The show combined live studio and taped interviews with Gloria Steinem, Naomi Wolf, Faye Wattelton, Rebecca Walker (Alice Walker’s daughter) and many other guests. On the air date, Oprah opened the show by promising “A revealing look at what younger women think about older women…”

We were told that the theme of the show would be “generational differences in the workplace,” But what it ended up being was the airing of my painful family struggle in front of 40 million viewers.  It turned out the show was really about pitting daughters from my generation against their mothers, ambitious women who were at the front lines in the battle for women’s equality. There was tremendous pain for all of the daughters featured. I’m not writing this to air dirty laundry.  I’m writing it to make a point about Traditional media.

In considering whether I wanted to write about this I started researching,  and I discovered that this particular episode has been cited and quoted in many books and papers.  My story has touched a nerve.

Here’s the thing: Women of my mother’s generation (the silent generation) struggled and women still struggle 40 years later as the most popular article that has ever run the Atlantic monthly Why Women Still Can’t Have it All attests.

The lesson I learned from Oprah (and about mass media) is:

In mass media you have NO control.

The day of the Oprah taping, I sat for hours under hot lights with pancake makeup on while the producer manipulated the story she wanted out of me. I tried my hardest to paint a rosier picture but as a non media-trained novice I was no match for the biggest daytime TV rated show in America.

The producer wanted me to reveal my pain. She actually had an exact sentence in mind that she wanted me to say. In other words she had the script before she showed up in my office.

After hours of back and forth I finally asked her please just tell me what it was she wanted me to say.  The producer fed me the EXACT Sentence (not my words) I parroted back, and as soon as I did, the cameras went off and they went away back to Chicago to the editing room.

It took 2 years to repair the damage and the pain that Oprah caused in my relationship with my mother.

Why am I telling you all this?

It’s to explain why I’m so passionate about social media.

Social media comes from you. You get to tell the story that you want to tell. There will never be producers grilling you under hot lights with cell phones ringing in their ears to get a version of a story that they want.

Have you ever heard of someone being interviewed for hours for a newspaper or TV piece and then one teeny snippet (sometimes taken out of context) is what makes it onto the 6 o’clock news?

As a publicist working with traditional media I saw it EVERY DAY.

In mass media it is their truth.

In social media you have the right to defend yourself if anyone has objections or paints a picture of you that you don’t recognize as your truth.

And in social media you have the freedom to go deeper to explain if you want, openly in front of anyone who wants to see.

The best part about telling your story is:

You can build your own tribe and they can choose to come with you on your journey

I lost my faith in mass media the day that TV show aired and started my journey towards online PR. This was way before it was called “social media,” it was during the time of list servs and web rings and webzines, and years later, social media has gone mainstream.

Many still believe that with traditional media comes cache.

OK, believe it, maybe sometimes it’s true.

For me, from that day forward, every time I had to pitch a story to a traditional journalist I just felt nauseous.

Thinking that mainstream media will save you, discover you or put you on the map and make your career is a misguided conception.

Just ask 99% of all clients I have spoken to who have ever hired a traditional publicist ;)

Your wonderful tribe of people will come with you after the pancake makeup comes off and the hot lights turn away.

Your fans = your tribe = your conversation and your control.

This is why I believe in social media.

I want to help you tell your story.  I want you to utilize my 20 years of PR, Marketing and Social Media Experience to make a huge difference for you in 2013 – Follow this link to work with me, I’ll change your mind about all of this stuff, I promise.

Reader Comments (14)

About 10 years ago I was at a gathering of women writers in Boulder and one of them mentioned she was on Oprah because of a book she wrote. We said, "Tell us about it." She said it was an awful experience and she wouldn't go into detail. We said, "But you were on OPRAH!!"

December 31 | Unregistered CommenterSuzanne Lainson

Thank you for sharing this story, Ariel.

January 1 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

So this was just a long spiel to promote - as it turns out - Ariel Publicity. What a crock.

January 2 | Unregistered CommenterS

I played guitar in a goth band called 'The Awakening' in the 90's. The vocalist, Ashton Nyte, was asked to do an interview about the difficulties of the local scene for a '60 minutes' style current events show. They asked a lot of typical questions, and a few weird questions about vampires. When the thing finally aired, the topic was Satanic cults and blood rituals, and they only used the stuff he said about vampires. The irony is Ashton is/was a christian!

January 2 | Unregistered CommenterAveratu

I think perhaps this is the wrong article for this website.

I understand your frustration and appreciate you telling your story, but it's really just a Hollywood horror story.

Horror stories happen and are real, but the answer, and the innovation in music (which is what MTT stands for) is not to hide behind the "social media" wall just because that's true.

I rarely check this site anymore, and I'm afraid it's for this precise reason. Horror stories or Headlines that start with the word "Why" instead of the words "What if". No thinking involved... just dirty laundry.

January 2 | Unregistered CommenterTaran Gray

why is this on a music site? fail...

January 4 | Unregistered Commenterranch

I think the negative commentators are being entirely too hard on Ariel, and I'm struggling to figure out why. I don't see a motivation behind this article beyond providing a perspective based on a real world experience on why social media is a superior platform to mass media. As far as I'm concerned that theme cannot be explored enough in the context of artists looking to gain a higher public profile.

Are these personal attacks and flagrant dismissals indicators of a mindset that publicity of any kind is beneath the consideration of musicians who look to music think tank for career insights? If so, here's one for you; music lives in the imaginations of the audience, no other place. This 'place' is highly attuned to cultural filters that, like it or not, require specific semiotic processes of an expertise well outside the talents of a good singer or player. Why? The judgment of the value of a piece of music in the minds of the modern listener includes factors that are entirely non-musical and even rather socially superficial. Even self-described serious music listeners (like me) are guilty of this. For an artist, the resulting balancing act between content and style is very hard to maintain with any integrity without a trusted outside (outside of your own artist's ego) opinion.

It is interesting that Oprah's career as a media star has fallen as social media's profile has risen. Do some think that an attack on a mass media sacred cow like the Oprah brand (by another woman no less) is a cheap shot? The public visibility provided by platforms such as Oprah have been ridiculously over-valued for years. TV trivializes every topic it covers. It's the nature of the medium. Oprah is no less guilty of this despite her high-minded pleas that she has a broader social agenda that sets her apart. The fact is that her willingness to skew reality for ratings is even more heinous given these claims.

The institution of music (a medium I care about) has been destroyed by exposure through television (a medium I don't care so much about) to the point of losing all its cultural force. The more that musicians understand this the better things will get for music in the future.

January 5 | Unregistered CommenterMaurice

You say in your ad at the bottom, that you have 20 years of experience in publicity.

So at the time of the Oprah piece you were a 10 year veteran of publicity, yet you rolled over, and let the producer feed you lines that weren't yours and write your story for you.

Why should readers assume you're the one to go to now?

January 9 | Unregistered CommenterFreddy

An interesting article, and not inconsistent with other stories I've read about encounters with mass media. But as a veteran PR person, shouldn't this have been old news to Ms. Hyatt? What kind of PR person hasn't received media training - especially since her advice to her clients, if it is to be worth the money, should at least be informed by awareness of how the media game works.

But it's the last graph that kills the article for me - a straight-out pitch for her services. Not the sort of thing one expects to encounter on a music industry news site! Save it for your press releases, Ariel, or run it on a more explicitly self-promotional website.

January 10 | Unregistered CommenterEarnest Scribbler


It seems to me your beef is not with media in general but with journalism; specifically daytime television journalism. And in that regard I wholeheartedly agree with your assessment. It is manipulative and often turns it subjects into victims.

However, I think conflating the three would be a mistake for your readers. I'm sure you wouldn't want people to create the equation that "daytime journalism" = "all media," and then compare "all media" to "social media," Doing that would make you guilty of the same propaganda strategy of which you are criticizing of Oprah.

January 10 | Unregistered CommenterMoses Avalon

I just read this article. Seems relevant here.

What Lance Armstrong Wants From Oprah Winfrey - "I would like to go on Oprah. So would you. Don't lie. Oprah is Oprah. Come on."

January 10 | Unregistered CommenterSuzanne Lainson

Okay I think I get it now. The criticism directed at Ariel amounts to the standard theme when a posting appears that challenges the legitimacy of Oprah Winfrey's status as a media entity. The criticism amounts to this, "you're just jealous".

The criticism completely ignores the major point of Ariel's post that social networks using digital technology present a fresh start and a potential new deal for artists who wish to raise their public profile. The criticism on this page has to ignore this new reality because by implication it points out how quickly vehicles like Oprah Winfrey have become almost completely irrelevant.

The arguments about how Ariel's reaction to her experience goes to her deficiencies as a publicist and not knowing 'how the game is played' are completely transparent. The answer is simply this; apples and oranges. Ariel does not profess to having any expertise in Oprah's realm and conversely if you think associating your music career with Oprah is going to get your video more views on YouTube I've got news for you. It's no longer 1998.

Also thanks to Suzanne Lainson for the link to an article that uses dripping sarcasm to point to the deep cynicism and arrogance the stars of the old media game use to maintain their status. I would rather play for change in front of the liquor store than have my music career associated with the same media circus that props up these puffed up egos who refuse to admit that their time has passed.

January 10 | Unregistered CommenterMaurice

I personally thought this was a great article. Ariel pointed out the differences between traditional and social media from personal experience and I loved the way she did it.

I've been on the other side of this as a producer (hopefully with more scruples than described), and can tell you that everyone except the talking heads that are on TV regularly for a living can have this same experience. It's a lot like being interrogated.

The PR people that specialize in television are entirely different from the ones that specialize in social, who are different from the ones that specialize in print. Completely different skill sets. Plus remember that the PR person tries to control the message. The person being interviewed has little ability to do the same regardless of your experience.

January 10 | Unregistered CommenterBobby Owsinski

Thank you for sharing this, Ariel.

I believe that anyone who has actually encountered traditional media knows how easily things can get skewed. Does this mean that all media is bad? No.

I have personal experience...

1) I got stopped in a parking lot by a journalist once who was asking about a particular holiday. He asked us whether we thought it was a good idea or bad idea. There was no in between. He was just looking for a quick comment
2) I was interviewed on the news once. The anchors steer the conversation entirely. You don't have much of a chance to say your bit, you have to stand a certain way, look a certain way (into the camera as much as possible), and answer the questions on the spot with as much eloquence you can muster up being nervous as you are. Not only that but you can't always hear the questions properly with the in-ear devices they give you.

January 23 | Unregistered CommenterAndrew Wiebe

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