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Master the media

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Very little compares to the thrill of seeing your name in print. Whether you are a multi-national brokerage firm or an independent advisor, you should have a forum to regularly bring your ideas before the investing public. By being a part of a news story, your message may be received with an urgency and importance unlike any other form of communication, offering more relevancy than almost any other form of media.

And thanks to the lightning-like speed of the Internet, your comments may appear visible to the public almost instantaneously, which is why, while there’s a lot of opportunity to build one’s reputation through the media, one also needs to be careful. Like financial planning, it can pay to go with a professional and take a long-term view.

sing a media relations representative or professional publicist can get you in a story and in front of clients and prospects in a timely and worthwhile manner, but finding one who understands your business can be a challenge.

Today, thanks largely to forces such as the Internet, cable and local television, satellite radio, e-newsletters and other forms of electronic communication devices such as iPods and the Blackberry, information has never been more prolific. This can create problems as well as opportunities. You never know who may be considering your firm. Chances are anyone who is will check Google. Having a list of top-flight quotations from business publications can make a distinctive impression.

You’re the expert
“We need to regularly get the word out as to what it is we’re doing,” says advisor Jeff Bollinger of Fortius Wealth Mgt., in Salt Lake City, Utah. “People need to see your name in a way that’s not selling something but as offering insight. There aren’t many things left that people believe but they tend to trust what they read.”

“The Internet is now a form of media,” notes advisor Dean Andrews in Smithfield, N.C. “It can be your friend or foe. We live in the Information Age and clients can see the same things we do; the impact can be positive or negative.”
Andrews, whose office uses an outside media-relations firm, recently held a seminar discussing financial concerns of women business owners. A press release promoting the event “lives” on the Internet long after the seminar ended, giving the office extra mileage from the event. “Prospects can see this is an area we cover,” says Andrews. “Occasionally it will bring us a call.” “When you’re seen in the media you’re considered an expert,” agrees Joseph Ventura, a financial advisor in Latham, N.Y. Ventura does not use paid advertisements, seminars or direct mail and solely relies on media relations and referrals to grow his 20-year-old financial-planning and insurance practice. His office employs a freelance financial media-relations professional who regularly lines him up with local print and television reporters. “It’s hard to quantify the impact media relations has on a practice,” continues Ventura, who keeps a scrapbook of print clippings in his reception area and has a few of his “bigger hits” enlarged to poster size and mounted on the walls. “But you can read the expression on clients’ faces when they flip through a book of clips. There’s tremendous value when a prospect says, ‘I saw you on television. I saw you in the paper’.” Ventura, who got his first taste of working with the media through his former broker-dealer, continued using a freelance media-relations professional because he values the cache of consistently having his comments in front of the public.

Barry Glassman, a financial planner in McLean, Va., who’s been in such publications as The Washington Post, says appearing in the media “does not deluge one with phone calls but does build credibility.” Glassman, who had written a regular personal finance column before hiring a media relations professional, understands the challenges reporters face on a daily basis.

“A reporter often has to become a so-called expert on a topic in a week or day on issues we face on a daily basis,” says Glassman. “We naturally approach the same problem from a different angle so we can provide helpful

Many will argue that there is no better way to offer your perspective than through the media, noting that it’s viewed as somewhat of a third-party endorsement. “When the reporter calls for your opinion, that says something,” notes Ventura.

While often mentioned in the same conversation, media relations is not the same as advertising. Although both can be effective, the difference boils down to one of credibility. An advertisement is a paid-for message. The buyer controls everything about it. When a reporter calls for your opinion, she’s doing so because she believes you’re a subject-area expert. When she signs her name on the article, it’s a subtle yet strong endorsement of your expertise.

Stick to what you know
While it’s flattering should a writer ask for your professional opinion, it can be a disaster to comment on topics you’re not qualified to discuss. If you’re offering yourself as a long term care expert stick with it, don’t venture into technology or tax planning. Inaccurate information can damage your reputation and preclude you from future press contact.

“It’s important to be seen as a source that can provide solutions,” says advisor David Kutcher of Alton, N.H. “There’s generally a good perception by being in the press but advisors need to stay in their specific expert areas.” Kutcher, whose practice focuses on retirement planning will also discuss such topics as long term care and Medicare with a journalist since these are overlapping areas, but for other topics, such as estate planning, he’d defer to an expert in that area.

As a fellow professional, the reporter trusts you and your judgment and may not have time to double-check your answers. Should your comments be incorrect, both of you will look poor.

Avoid exaggerating, evading questions or giving superfluous answers when talking with a reporter. Be sure you fully understand the questions. If you cannot directly answer them, state that you’re not comfortable and ask to move on. Don’t be afraid to give the names of other expert sources. If you need to look something up to be able to give a better answer, say so. Reporters will almost always allow extra time in exchange for good information. But if you promise to get back to the reporter at a certain time, do so—respecting deadlines is one of the best ways to make friends in the media. And do not ask to review the story before it goes to print. There’s usually no time for this plus it can be offensive to the reporter.

Similarly, it’s inadvisable to use the media to disparage competitors and/or former partners and associates in even the slightest way. While this seems obvious, it’s incredible how often people give in to this temptation. It usually backfires.

“It’s not easy finding a media professional who understands this business,” notes Bollinger. “Someone with a financial background plus an understanding of the appropriate media and an ability to write can be very helpful.”


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