How to make yourself the expert in the media
News is made up of many different components – most important of all it should contain something ‘new’. But it will also have some facts and figures, some human interest, perhaps elements of conflict, sex, death and money (one of which is rarely far from the surface of most stories) and invariably it will contain expert opinion.
Expert opinion provides the insight and the context for stories. Journalists rely on independent commentators to explain what it all means or to provide an opinion. Often that opinion will represent one side of an argument and another expert will be sourced to balance up the article with a view from the opposing side.
Understanding the basic structure of news is essential if companies are to work effectively with the media. The role of the PR agency is to help companies work with the media and present them and their work in a way that is accessible for journalists and helps them do their job.
Organisations are built on expertise and staffed by experts. In some cases that expertise is unique to that organisation because of the products and services involved. However, in most cases the benefit of the expert commentator for the media does not come from their unique viewpoint, but from the ability to communicate in an effective, timely and insightful way.
Your company may not be the only widget manufacturer in the world but you can still be the first port of call when a journalist is writing about widgets.
The benefits of being an expert commentator in the press can be considerable. It showcases you and your organisation as experts and potentially the leaders in your field. It also helps people see exactly what you do, the issues you are passionate about and the value that you could potentially add.
So how do you become an expert commentator in the press? The following steps explain how to build a PR programme around your expertise:
Awareness – clearly, journalists need to know you exist, understand what you do and most importantly how you can help them. What is it that you know that could add value to a journalist? The best way to start is by meeting journalists – suggest a lunch or a coffee and plan what you want to talk about.
Credible and authorative – build up your credentials – perhaps you are professionally qualified, have won awards or have some unique experiences that journalists should know about. What are the things that mark you out as a leader in your field?
Insightful and timely – having established that you could be a credible commentator you then need to demonstrate your skills. Look for opportunities to comment on relevant issues and do it regularly. Timing is everything. If you want to comment on a story or an issue you need to make it clear to the press that you are available for comment. The easiest way to do this is to issue a comment. This doesn’t need to be a three page press release – it can be two paragraphs of quotes on an email attributed to your spokesman.
Think of it as a free sample. If you are trying to sell something you need to let people know that you are in the market and let them see your wares. In effect you are saying to a journalist “we want to comment on this story – please consider us when you are writing about this subject”.
Often there is very limited time available to get your comment in when a big story breaks. The newsroom will be chaotic and your chance of getting through to the right journalist before anyone else could be reduced. In these situations it can be best to make a pre-emptive strike. If you know that an issue is coming up then start posting your comment before the news actually breaks. That way you look like you are ahead of the game, more informed than your competitors and are being helpful by giving the journalist a heads-up before the event. It also clearly indicates to the journalist that you are available for comment.
Available – it follows that if you want to deal with the press and be a trusted spokesperson for them, you need to make yourself available. News happens around the clock and the best expert commentators make it clear to journalists that they can be contacted at any time. Give them your mobile number and any other contact information that will help to reassure that you are ‘open for business’.
Be responsive – it doesn’t mean you have to shoot from the hip with an opinion the minute a journalist comes on the line. It is perfectly acceptable to ask for a couple of minutes to check the facts and get back to them. Just make sure you deal with the query promptly and doing what you said you would do.
Colourful – make sure your comment is interesting. Plan what you want to say but then think about how to make your comment more colourful by using analogies or examples. And practice your soundbites and key messages. Be pithy and succinct and make sure you emphasise the key points and then back them up.