Wendy Paulson receives a higher number of calls from financial professionals than most. It's not that she needs the help, and rather than offering assistance, they usually ask a variation of the same question: How do I get on the radio?
Paulson, program director at WCCO AM, a news-talk station in Minneapolis-St. Paul, says she's usually willing to listen, because media outlets like WCCO are "always looking for people with good reputations and strong credentials, who can offer sound financial advice. We want them to have personality. Can they endear themselves to listeners?"
If her requirements sound familiar, it's because many of the qualities she looks for are the same that advisors use in their everyday professional lives.
"If you're good with prospects and clients, you have what it takes to succeed with the media," says Ned Steele, founder and president of MediaImpact, a New York City-based firm that provides public relations and media coaching. "Essentially you're sharing knowledge and expertise with the media just like you would with prospects and clients."
"People assume a huge amount of credibility if they see you in the paper, hear you on the radio or see you on TV," agrees David Yeske, principal with San Francisco-based Yeske and Co. and host of "Financial Planning Perspectives," a weekly Internet radio program produced by the Financial Planning Association and airing (until a recent hiatus) on VoiceAmerica Business Channel. "And there's nothing a financial planner can use more than perceived credibility."
Yeske has been quoted extensively in print and broadcast outlets ranging from the Wall Street Journal to the CBS Evening News. He says the benefits to his practice -- what he terms the positive externalities of media attention -- come not from an articulated business-building media strategy but from his "altruistic desire to get the financial planning story out there, to educate the public about the value of planning for their financial future."
Whatever the method or the motivation, making friends with the media can be well worth the effort. Quotes and sound bites essentially amount to free advertising. They can be posted on Web sites, used in company newsletters, framed on an office wall or otherwise displayed to underscore credibility and expertise.
Given the benefits, what's keeping more advisors from pursuing relationships with the media?
For some it's a lack of familiarity with the media outreach process, Steele says, while for others it's intimidation. Either they're not confident their skills as an advisor will translate to a media setting, or they wrongly assume the attention will go to recognizable names in the field.
Often, it's merely a matter of learning whom to approach, the stories they cover and the audience they cater to. According to Paulson, when attempting to contact the media by phone, e-mail or in person, it's crucial for the advisor to balance patience with persistence in his approach.
Here are a few recommendations for getting noticed:
- Spend time reading, watching or listening to the targeted outlet to learn which reporters cover which topics.
- Don't hesitate to contact reporters, editors, program directors, producers and on-air personalities directly.
- Get your name on media source lists that organizations such as the Financial Planning Association make available to reporters.
- Make the media's job easier by approaching them with story ideas that have an angle you believe will resonate with the audience.
- Be ready to provide credentials. A lack of media experience is fine. A lack of credentials is not.
- Offer something to differentiate yourself from the crowd -- "something that makes you pop," Paulson says, whether it's a fresh perspective or a unique characteristic the audience finds endearing.
- "Don't go into it because you're looking for some tangible, immediate business pay-off," Yeske cautions. "People who work with the media purely for business development reasons tend not to get as much out of the experience as people who are doing it because they really care about educating the public."
- Be willing to speak with reporters on background and to serve as a sounding board. They may not quote you initially, but if you help them in other facets of story development, they'll eventually quote you on the record.
- Show enthusiasm for the subject. TV and radio outlets don't want people who sound flat.
- Understand the media outlet's audience and speak to them in a language they understand. Complex details matter little to an audience of laypeople. But they may hold the interest of a more specialized audience.
It takes just one media appearance to gain credibility with the public, prospects and other members of the media. Reporters may be more apt to turn to an advisor they've seen quoted elsewhere. But it often takes just one bad experience for a media outlet to scratch an advisor off a list of reliable sources. In order to avoid this from happening:
- Always return media calls promptly, and understand that a pressing deadline might require your immediate response.
- Understand the media want your expertise -- not you. Long-winded media sources who talk mostly about themselves are not media sources for long.
- Take the high road. Media outlets want their sources to unbiased and free from hidden agendas.
Lastly, says Yeske, know when to say, "I don't know," and be willing to point the reporter to someone who does.