The hearts … the flowers … the throngs of perplexed men at the corner pharmacy, agonizing over a Whitman's sampler or a Hershey's Giant Kiss. It can mean only one thing: that most beloved and most dreaded of all Hallmark holidays, Valentine's Day, is near.
So who better to turn to for real life advice on love, sex, romance — and marketing and social media strategies — than Andrea Syrtash, a dating and relationship writer, online broadcaster and author.
She is the author of He's Just Not Your Type (And That's a Good Thing) and Cheat On Your Husband (With Your Husband), co-author of It's Okay to Sleep with Him on the First Date: And Every Other Rule of Dating Debunked and editor of two more.
She has shared her advice in more than a dozen relationship books, on numerous popular websites and on hundreds of media outlets including The View, The Today Show, CBS This Morning, The Wendy Williams Show, On-Air With Ryan Seacrest, VH1 and CNN. She's also hosted multiple on-air shows and represented several popular brands, including Skype, Movado and MSN Living.
Let's just say she's an expert on love, romance … and personal branding.
Getting to Know Her
I met Andrea in 2007, when she had just finished shooting “ON Dating” for NBC Studios. A year later, on Valentines Day, I stopped to chat with her as she was setting up a folding table in front of the Time Warner Center in New York City. It was freezing cold and she was dolling out relationship advice to anyone who would stop by. It was an auspicious beginning and I was impressed by her dedication and perseverance.
We have remained close friends ever since and in between her television appearances, newspaper interviews and seminars at Canyon Ranch Resort in Arizona, we had a chance to talk about her past, present and future.
Sobel: You're a native of Toronto, Ontario. You have a Bachelor's degree in theater and history from Queens University in Kingston, Ontario and did post graduate work at Ryerson Institute in Toronto with a concentration in Applied Arts, Radio and Television. How did you end up a relationship expert?
Syrtash: Good question. I went to school for Broadcast Journalism. One of my early paid assignments as a journalist was to interview about 300 singles for a book called "How to Survive Dating." The publisher of the book stuck me on the radio to discuss the results and the announcer introduced me as an expert.
I was confused since I was only a journalist who was sharing the research I had done for the book. This was in 2003. But in the dozen years since I have interviewed thousands of people about love, sex and relationships, have conducted polls and research tracking relationship trends, have worked extensively with other experts in this field, and have dedicated countless hours to helping people find and navigate relationships.
I don't think anything is more important than relationships, so it's an area I'm very passionate about. In 2005, I completed training at The Coaches Training Institute so I could work with singles and couples as a Relationship Coach. I don't know what makes anyone an expert, but I think by now earned my stripes.
Sobel: While your advice is spot on, you are quite the risk taker. For example, one of the most interesting episodes in a series of videos for NBC Studios in 2008 was titled "Signs You're Just A Booty Call." Then there's your book “He's Just Not Your Type (and that's a good thing). Are these intended to be serious or a bit of a joke?
Syrtash: Ha. He's Just Not Your Type (And That's a Good Thing) was my third published book and it's probably my favorite. I've gotten more emails from people who say that after reading it, their lives changed (more than anything else I've written). People write me often to say they changed their dating pattern and found a mate after finishing that book — and that's really awesome to hear.
My book titles — How to Survive Your In-Laws, Cheat On Your Husband (With Your Husband), It's Okay to Sleep with Him on the First Date — are somewhat silly and attention grabbing. But the advice inside is real and research-based.
Anyone in the publishing industry knows how hard it is for a title to stick out in a bookstore or online. So a catchy title certainly helps. The same is true for a number of the dating, love and sex videos I've hosted. Obviously the "Booty Call" episode was light-hearted. But I've also hosted dozens of videos on tough topics like "Signs that your relationship is in trouble," "How to have tough conversations about sex" and "What to do if you suspect your partner is cheating." Anyone in digital video knows that there's only so much ground one can cover in one to four minutes. But I try to at least offer a few actionable items for the viewer and some questions for him or her to ponder.
When I teach a three-day workshop, coach a client or write a book, I can obviously delve deeper than I can in a 500-word advice article or two-minute video. But all are important for me to do because I want to connect with my audience in many ways and across different platforms.
Sobel: In your first books and webisodes, you seemed to cater to a younger audience, primarily women. But in 2011 you wrote “Cheat On Your Husband (with Your Husband): How to Date Your Spouse” — a book overtly targeted to a slightly older married, female audience. What was the decision to skew your audience a bit older and how has it worked out?
Syrtash: My audience is more varied than you (or I) would think. I used to assume it was mostly young women age 18 to 34. These women still tune in (especially to videos I've done on sites like Shape or advice I've offered in Cosmopolitan Magazine). But a number of men have read my books and seen my videos. And I don't assume my audience is only straight-women or men, either. The cliché is true -- love is universal. It doesn't matter if you're old or young, gay or straight, a man or woman, married, single or in the 'it's complicated' box -- most of us are looking to be in relationships with people who value, support, understand and appreciate us.
Some of my relationship advice is targeted younger (especially my last book); but I wrote 'Cheat On Your Husband (With Your Husband) because when I got married I realized every book in the bookstore focused on "Relationship Rescue." I think an issue with a lot of the advice-industry is that so much of it is based on fixing things that are broken. This is probably an issue with our culture, in general. We're not necessarily pro-active about our health and wellness.
I wanted to write a book about relationship renewal (not rescue) since I think part of the work of relationships is keeping the play alive. I also wanted to acknowledge that falling in love is different than being in love, so I dedicated part of the book to examining the brain in love and how to stay connected and appreciative of each other.
Sobel: Speaking of followers, you have been using social media longer than most, including many authors and TV hosts. Can you share with us what inspired you to begin using the various social media platforms and can you advise our readers how they can use it successfully, depending upon their type of product or service?
Syrtash: One of the biggest misconceptions about social media is that everyone is checking in with what they ate for breakfast and all of the content is self-absorbed and meaningless. It is true that some people share these posts a little too often. But for the most part, social media is a powerful way to connect with your audience. I think I realized that early on because I've always believed I can't wait for people to come to me -- I need to find them where they spend time. Social media is very exciting in this way.
The biggest tip I have is that even if you're selling something like a product or service, offer enough editorial and enough personality so your audience doesn't feel like you're constantly marketing to it. Audiences today can read through it if you're not being authentic so share your real voice and know what your voice is.
Also, stop focusing on quantity and consider quality and engagement when it comes to the social networks. I'm amazed how many agencies and brands still don't realize that it's meaningless if someone has 15,000 or 25,000 followers if nobody is listening or engaging in the content. In many cases, these people are buying followers and Likes. I've never bought followers because I want to attract a loyal, real audience. My audience engages and contributes — and this is exciting to me both as a journalist and as a person who loves building relationships.
Sobel: In 2013 things started really kicking for you. You had successfully completed "Love and Sex" videos for NBC iVillage and were the co-host of "Life Story Project" on OWN: The Oprah Winfrey Network in Canada. I remember when you invited me to a screening last year. I loved it, but it was a real departure for you. However, I understand the schedule for “Life Story Project” was grueling. Can you talk about that as well as the success or failure of the series and will it be renewed and/or picked up here in the USA?
Syrtash: 2013 was a great year for me in media. As you said, I hosted a number of shows that were fun, meaningful and exciting. In fact, "Life Story Project" wasn't a departure for me at all. I was tasked with interviewing hundreds of strangers about moments that changed their lives. And my first job as a journalist was to interview hundreds of strangers for the Hundreds of Heads advice guides that I worked on.
I was cast for the OWN show because I'm someone people often tell intimate details to and I'm honored they trust me with their feelings. Also, I had written for Oprah.com and advice books for years. So I think they knew I could get meaningful stories out of the people who sat with me on the couch.
To explain what happens behind the scenes at a TV network is way too long, confusing and non-linear to capture here but I'll leave it like this: the show was very well-received and I still get fan mail about it. I'm proud and honored to have worked on "Life Story Project."
The production was challenging because of long shooting days in the sun and drawing out emotional material. But it's one of the most fulfilling projects I've ever participated in. It reminded me that everybody has a story and that every story matters. Oprah once tweeted that she loved it and what I heard through the grapevine is that it was strongly considered to join the 'Super Soul Sunday' line up here. But Oprah's network slate has changed significantly since they started as they got to know their viewing audience and they didn't know that it would fit with their newly identified audience.
Unless you work in television, you'd probably be surprised by the number of changes in shows that happen month-to-month and how many incredible projects are in holding patterns.
Sobel: You've been a spokesperson for brands like 1800 Flowers, Virgin Mobile, Skype, Movado, Bing, Schick Quattro … the list goes on. What's the connection? How do these brands find you or how does relationship advice apply to them?
Syrtash: Being a spokesperson for these incredible brands has been a highlight of my career and not one I ever planned or imagined. If you told me a decade ago that I'd be a spokesperson for Movado, I'd think that was crazy. How does a luxury watch relate to relationship advice?
What I've learned through the years is that the most compelling content brands can share has a strong and meaningful editorial message. Looking good is certainly an aspect of life. But our relationships are everything -- they are what make life fulfilling. Not surprising since if any one of us experienced a house fire what we'd want most is for our loved ones to survive more than anything material.
The campaigns I've done with various brands have been very creative. Last year with Skype, I gave advice to long-distance couples on how to stay connected and how to connect over video. For Movado, I spoke about how it was time to prioritize relationships and how to find 'the one'. And for a brand like MSN, I shared advice on how to use MSN to plan great dates and why dating your spouse is essential.
The brands are happy that they've reached their audiences through strong editorial content (while marketing their product) and I'm happy because I'm challenged to find a compelling way to share their quality products. I only align with great products or services that I trust.
Sobel: While Howard Stern calls himself “The King of All Media,” you on the other hand seem to be “The Queen of All Media.” Between your books, articles, interviews, television and radio programs you are all over the map. At the same time you have been married for a number of years. How do you do it all and how does your husband handle your celebrity status, especially with such a controversial and unique specialty?
Syrtash: Yes, it's true I do a lot of media. But I've never hired a publicist, even though I think many are great, or paid for SEO. I'm lucky that I give good Google. Producers and editors seem to have an easy time finding me since I'm out there often sharing dating, relationship, love and sex advice. And I think — and hope — my advice is thoughtful, so I'm called back.
I try not to be gimmicky and I think the audience knows I'm authentic. Ultimately, I'm a content creator so whether I'm sharing advice in books, magazines, on the radio, in a workshop or webinar or on TV, I try to offer tangible advice and entertaining content as much as possible. And I remember to have fun. Being on camera requires high energy and focus, and it's something I very much enjoy.
My husband is very supportive and appreciates that part of my job is to be in the public. I've written about him in a number of books and articles and he has a great attitude about it. He doesn't take life too seriously and has always encouraged me to stay on this dynamic and unpredictable path because he knows how passionate I am about it.