How to Become a Media Darling

By: Sarah Robbins, special to Overdrive

Whether it’s a “40 Under 40,” a “Top 10” or a “Most Powerful,” a spot on a media outlet’s list can spell major exposure for an entrepreneur — and lead to unprecedented opportunity. But how do you land on one? This week, a group of journalists, marketing experts and entrepreneurs took the stage at the annual Dell Women’s Entrepreneur Network event in Istanbul to separate the boost from the hype — and to help the international audience of 150 women business leaders strategize ways to join the ranks.

“A lot of halo comes after these lists,” said Jane Francisco, editor-in-chief of Canada’s Chatelaine magazine, which teams up annually with fellow business magazine Profit to release the PROFIT/Chatelaine W100, an annual ranking of the country’s top 100 female entrepreneurs. “When you’re on a list, the perception is that you’ve been endorsed by whomever it is. We’ve had people tell us that banks actually call them.”

Elisabete Miranda, president of New Jersey-based cultural communications firm CQ Fluency, has witnessed the halo-effect firsthand. In 2010, she was named one of Ernst & Young’s Entrepreneurial Winning Women. “Incredible CEOs, advisors, and investors have approached me because they are interested in what we’re doing,” she told Leaders Magazine. “The amount of exposure and recognition that we received…was a totally different and amazing experience.”

Miranda, who said that she had learned about the Dell conference as a result of a connection that came through the list, did not decide to go for the Winning Women distinction on her own. “I only applied because someone asked me to,” she said. “Now I apply for everything!”

In the conversation, moderated by Fortune senior writer Jessi Hempel, Miranda and Francisco were joined by Ruta Aidis of the Global Entrepreneurship and Development Institute and Dell’s chief marketing officer, Karen Quintos. Here are three takeaways from their 60 minutes of serious goal-setting:

Don’t wait for someone to find you.
While some lists, including Entrepreneur‘s 100 Brilliant Companies, do not take solicitations, other honors rely on you to approach them. Appearing in one prominent grouping, the panelists agreed, can help you turn the right heads to land on another.

“Getting on a list where you can nominate yourself is like dipping your toe in the water,” said Francisco. “And fewer people apply than you think.” Aidis concurred: “You want to put yourself out there in as broad a context as possible.”

Friends, colleagues and significant others can also be excellent champions of your work, said Quintos. In 2012, her husband shared her story with Working Mother magazine without her knowing, which led to a spot on their list of Advertising Working Mothers of the Year.

Burnish your personal brand.
“Just filling out an application can help you cement your brand,” said Francisco. “If you feel resistant, remember it’s worth the effort — the end goal is for your business.” If you’re loathe to self-promote, there are ways to get yourself in the right mindset. One audience member offered this tip for the bashful: “Don’t think about who you are. Think about what you believe.”

Quintos said that every entrepreneur should ask themselves, “What are the words you want people to associate with you?” If you don’t like what shows up in a cursory Google search, start changing the story by looking at your associations and behaviors. And get a second opinion before you throw your hat in the ring. “One big pitfall is that an application doesn’t live up to its promise,” says Francisco. “Have someone else read your submission and help you work it through.”

Be sure the list is worthy.
From time to time, some successful entrepreneurs find themselves in groupings they’ve never heard of or among company they don’t respect. “Some nominations [to lists] can come out of a promotional goal,” said Miranda.

Other leaders may find that they are somehow ghettoized — included in women’s lists time and again, for example — but shut out of other opportunities. Hempel, who works both on Fortune‘s lists that salute women and those that include both sexes, said that men still beat out women in the co-ed lists for two reasons. “Either we can’t find them because they’re not working, or we can’t find them because they’re not [visible].”

You already know how to increase your visibility from the tips above, but to gain creditability, said Quintos, make sure that the list-maker that approaches you has no hidden agenda, and that the values align with what you think is important. “It’s a big red flag,” she said, “when the first words out of their mouths are ‘I need a woman.’ “

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