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Get Your 15 Minutes of Fame: Making Media Relations Work

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Nearly everyone’s a media star today — or at least it appears that way. Thanks to the Internet, cable television, podcasts, and satellite radio, more and more of us have the ability to reach out to the rest of the world. But is the rest of the world reaching back?

Why is it that some insurance and financial professionals regularly appear in the press while other, equally knowledgeable pros toil away in relative obscurity? Probably because the ones that are out there have a plan and a consultant who regularly puts them in touch with the right media.

Let’s meet the press
How can you get the media to call your office? Like a lot of things, this is easier said than done. Don’t be like the prospect who turns down professional insurance or financial advice, opting to go it alone and/or do it themselves — to get some bang out of your media-relations buck, it generally pays to hire a professional.

One of the best things we can do to drum up business is to regularly work through lunch. During this time when prospects and business associates are usually unavailable, call or email local business reporters and editors. This is a great and simple way to begin promoting yourself to the media, and is easier to do than it looks.

Reporters regularly need fresh information sources. They often want to speak with knowledgeable people in their publication’s geographic coverage area but do not want to quote the same individuals in each story they file. Most general-interest reporters, the kind working at your local newspaper, are usually not trained in insurance or financial services. This requires them to find reliable sources to help them quickly climb the learning curve.

“We’re in a growing rural community,” says Mark Hall, principal of Market Street Advisors in Smithfield, NC, an independent insurance and financial advisory firm.

“We have a lot of competition from banks and wirehouses. We use media relations to position ourselves as authorities with the local media.”

Hall’s office began using a media relations professional about two years ago. And while no scientific surveys have been taken, he admits their presence has grown among retail clients and competitors.

“It’s been a snowball effect in terms of our relationship with the media,” he said. “In the beginning, we were reaching out to them. Now, we occasionally get a phone call when a reporter needs a comment.”

Stick with what you know
While it’s flattering when a writer asks 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 an expert on one subject, make sure you are qualified to do so. Inaccurate information can damage your reputation and preclude you from future contact.

Say a writer on a tight deadline suddenly calls asking for a comment on an area you’re not fully qualified to discuss, but — tempted by the publicity and prestige — you decide to take the call. As a fellow professional, the reporter trusts you and your judgment and may not have time to double-check your answers. Your comments appear in the next edition. Readers see it and begin calling you regarding your comment, or call the reporter or the editor pointing out your error. Each of you now looks foolish.

Do not exaggerate, evade questions, or give superfluous answers. Make sure you fully understand the question. If you cannot directly answer it, say that you’re not comfortable with the question and ask to move on. If you know an expert source, give the name to the writer. Say you’re sorry you couldn’t help, but ask to be kept in mind when the reporter is writing about something that’s in your area of expertise. Also, 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.

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.

Media relations is about more than getting your name out there. With the help of their media pro, Hall’s office recently placed an editorial in a local business newspaper regarding a regional bank takeover, positioning his office as one with a perspective on the local business environment.

A successful media-relations strategy requires a long-term commitment and in return can pay long-term dividends. However, to enjoy those dividends you must be prepared to invest daily in the process — or retain a professional to do so.

Joseph Finora is the author of “Media Relations and Creative Marketing for Financial Professionals.” He can be reached at [email protected].