Last month, Practice Edge gave you insights into the advantages of working with the media and ideas on how to prepare yourself to speak with reporters. This month, we’ll address how to introduce yourself to, and then work with, the media. As we discussed last time, keep in mind that your goal is to present yourself as an expert on specific topics, such as estate planning or education savings, and to ask the reporter to add you to her source list and call you when she’s working on relevant stories.

Six Rules of Engagement for Media Success

These are the key rules you need to understand before you begin your outreach:

1. Know the publications you’re about to contact: Familiarize yourself even more with the publication’s scope and style. More importantly, know the reporter’s beat–those subject areas the reporter covers.

2. Keep it relevant: Translate the knowledge you gained from learning about the publication and the reporter into story ideas that are specific and meaningful to them.

3. Contact reporters at appropriate times and through preferred methods: Most reporters prefer being contacted by e-mail. Most morning newspapers have evening deadlines; weekly publications often have a Thursday deadline; monthlies usually have deadlines of the middle of the preceding month. Avoid calling reporters when they’re on deadline, unless you’re returning their call on a timely story.

4. Gain a quick assessment of the reporters’ knowledge and experience: Listen for direct clues from them and ask them about their background in an engaging conversational manner.

5. Be inclusive: Reporters want to write stories about issues that are relevant to a large audience. So think about what the most meaningful aspects of the story are to the audience and focus on those issues in your answers.

6. Think about your audience: Identify your specific audience–you can even ask the reporter about the demographics of the readership. Think of the interview as a way to transmit substance. As such, don’t talk to the reporter, talk through them to your potential clients.

Now that you’re familiar with the rules of engagement, it’s time to introduce yourself or call to pitch a story idea.

Introducing Yourself, Then Pitching a Story

The simple idea behind making an introduction is to communicate your areas of expertise and provide your contact information. Depending on your contact list, you can e-mail or mail the biography you created previously along with your business card and any other relevant information. The purpose of this outreach is to get added to a reporter’s source list.

As for how to pitch a story, there are two modes in which you’re likely to talk to reporters: reactive and proactive.

In the reactive mode, a reporter contacts you looking for information or insight. As a rule of thumb, always get back to the reporter even if you don’t have the answer they’re looking for. Just keep in mind that reporters work on varied deadlines and what is quick turnaround for some may not be timely enough for others. If you miss their deadline, still call them to explain that you were busy. This will ensure that they’ll call you again for future stories.

The second mode–proactive–is more difficult and it’s one of reporters’ biggest challenges. This is the scenario where you call the reporter to pitch a story or a specific development. The best way to be effective is to watch for industry trends and issues and present relevant ideas to reporters accordingly. We’ve outlined a few examples of specific story ideas for illustration purposes:

Investor/client trends. Clients are becoming more concerned with their overall financial plan instead of just the way their investments are managed.

Investment trends. Alternative investments, especially hedge funds, are top of mind for most clients.

Regulatory issues. Take a stance or viewpoint on SEC investigations into Wall Street and investment company practices.

Company/corporate trends. Local publications are particularly interested in local companies, so any insight is appreciated.

Practice management trends. Savvy advisors are increasingly using media relations to promote their practices!!

Human interest. Clients who are involved in philanthropy or charitable giving

Things to Remember, Things to Avoid

When you’re interviewed by a reporter, think about how you want the final article to read. This requires deciding your message points before the interview and sticking to those points during the conversation. Here are some general rules.

o Use clear language. Always think of putting your answers into language that a layman would understand.

o Be concise. As with most things in the media world, the shorter the better.

o Be compelling. In order to make your language more compelling, use concrete examples, colorful language, specifics and numbers (when possible).

o Repeat yourself. The average person needs to hear a message 9-12 times before it sinks in.

o Use transition phrases. Transition phrases are critical, since they lead you from the answer to your message point. Examples include “While I don’t think that is the real issue, I do think this is really important…” Or, “What I think is really important to remember is…”

o Remember that you’re always speaking on the record. Don’t let your guard down and tell a reporter something that you wouldn’t want to see in print, attributed to your name.

There are also some missteps you should avoid at all costs. Here are eight of them.

o Defensiveness. Being defensive is very limiting. Even if the reporter is asking negative questions, stay positive.

o Complexity kills. It is up to you to translate the story, the salient points, and the message for the reporter and for the reader.

o Never repeat the negative. For example: “The reason I failed to inform my client of…”

o Stay out of “quicksand,” i.e., an issue that will sink the interview. Before the conversation begins, list the issues that will be trouble spots and prepare for strategies to work around them.

o Don’t follow the reporter. Reporters will often want to lead you to the “quicksand” issues. If you blindly take their lead, you will increase your chances of getting in interview trouble.

o Don’t make off-the-cuff remarks. Don’t try to be clever in an interview without prior preparation. Sound bites take time to develop.

o Avoid the phrase “No comment.” No comment looks like “guilty” in the eyes of the public.

o Steer clear of “one size fits all” answers. The challenge is to stick to your message throughout the interview, answer the questions, and then transition to the point you want to make.

There are also some rules specific to telephone interviews.

o Stand, don’t sit. This helps with voice quality and keeps you on edge so you are less likely to be caught off-guard.

o Don’t multi-task. Never do anything else while you are being interviewed. No checking e-mail!

o Have a cheat sheet in front of you with the message points.

o Buy yourself some time. If a reporter calls unexpectedly to get your comments, it is best not to talk to the reporter immediately. Always get your thoughts together and call back.

o Be comfortable with silence. Stop answering when you are done and be comfortable with a moment or two of silence. Reporters often use this technique to keep you talking and saying things you don’t intend.

o Repeat after me: Reporters are so often rushed these days that the more times you tell them something, the more likely they will see it when they review their notes while writing their story later.

After the interview concludes, volunteer your availability in the event that the reporter has follow-up questions. Reporters appreciate positive feedback on their work. Once the story is published, call or e-mail with a sincere commentary about the aspects of the story you especially liked.

Using the Media to Promote Your Practice

Reprints are a great marketing opportunity. You can use them to deepen relationships with clients, attract new clients, and further business partnerships with attorneys, CPAs, and so forth. Many advisors utilize reprints by framing them in the office, doing mail campaigns to clients and prospects, or including them in marketing materials.

Keeping these suggestions in mind, you’re now ready to harness the power of media relations to promote your practice. If you follow these ideas, you are likely to increase your chance of maximizing your media relations results. Again, positive media exposure will raise your visibility among your peers, attract new clients, and reinforce relations with current clients–ultimately helping you to grow your practice.