UK: How To Get Maximum Media Coverage By Identifying And Promoting Your In-House Pool Of Experts

Last Updated: 26 August 2008
Article by Steve Tooze and Jason Bennetto

Everything is going so well. The sun's shining, the train's on time and you've got a seat. Your PA has called to say that your nightmare 10.30 meeting has been put off for a month.

So, you relax, take a sip of coffee and flip open your daily newspaper of choice.

Suddenly, all those sunny, happy feelings vanish behind a cloud of irritation.

Your competitors at Smith, Smith & Smith have done it again. One of their partners is all over page 26, talking at length and in an annoyingly erudite manner about the hot legal/business topic of the day.

Worse, he's managed to skillfully work in a plug for his firm's expertise in the field in question.

You can practically feel new business flowing in his direction as you read each line.

What's doubly galling is that you know for sure that his opposite number at your firm is generally acknowledged as a more able and experienced operator.

In fact, now you think about it, the Smith, Smith & Smith guy who got an honorable mention in the Sunday Times a couple of weeks back isn't half as good as your man Jones...

Why, you wonder, are your firm's experts - plus your company - failing to get the publicity they deserve?

It would be easy to imagine you've been excluded from a secret network of reciprocity linking Smith, Smith & Smith to a host of editors and correspondents.

But the answer is much simpler. Your competitor's publicity success can be summed up by two inter-linked concepts: journalistic work overload and ease of access.

Try this simple multiple choice:

You are reporter or feature writer on a busy regional or national newspaper. Your editor tells you that you have two hours to turn out a piece on the legal implications of a new European Directive for the legendary man on the street.

Do you:

A. Painstakingly, call a host of relevant law firms, the Bar Council press office and various professional bodies to identify the best lawyer in the field. Cold-call his/ her office and get fobbed off by a suspicious PA who has never had to deal with the Press before. Wait nervously – and probably fruitlessly - for a call back as the deadline approaches.

B. Check the online cuttings library for the firm that has been most often quoted on the topic before and call them?

C. Flip open your contacts book and look up Smith, Smith & Smith because they often call you to put forward their expert on the issue of the day, and know how to give a good quote?

Just in case, you haven't taken my heavy-handed hints, I'd suggest (c) followed closely by (b). And you can bet your bottom dollar that Smith, Smith & Smith realised that quite some time ago.

All that your average overworked journalist wants is a reliable and quotable "Go To" expert for emergency situations - ie most days in a newsroom.

So how have Smith, Smith & Smith managed to reach this enviable position? Well they probably produced a well thought out media strategy, that involved taking some time and effort to identify their experts, and then marketing them.

Almost certainly they will have recruited some outside help because it's not as easy as it sounds. A firm's idea of a good story or subject is often not the same as that of a journalist. And that's putting it mildly.

That's why my partner and I - two working national journalists with 40 years of experience between us - are often asked for our News Audit service. It's a detailed examination of a firm's areas of expertise to pinpoint the fields of work, and the experts therein, that will get the attention of other journalists.

Once we've picked out the firm's most newsworthy aspects and staff, we advise on how to promote them positively to journalists on national and regional magazines and newspapers.

We show firms how to proactively put appropriate experts forward to talk about topics in the news.

We coach clients on how to recognize 'booby trapped' topics that might backfire on them, and topics that push the right buttons for particular markets or publications.

One or two hits with a journalist or newspaper will be enough to tick the 'ease of access' box I mentioned earlier.

Your firm's name and number will be ringed in the reporter's contact book as a safe pair of hands, someone willing and able to put a media-savvy expert up to talk at short notice.

He or she will tell friend's and colleague about you, and your reputation for media-friendliness will spread through the industry.

Positive column inches will accumulate. Soon, your firm's name will be the one that pops up most regularly when a journalist takes option (b) in the multiple choice proposition above.

You've established a virtuous publicity circle. It will take time, expertise and probably a fair amount of guidance from a media professional to keep the circle turning smoothly and without any nasty backlashes.

But you'll be well on your way to knocking Smith, Smith & Smith off their perch.

Steve Tooze and Jason Bennetto are two journalists with more than 40 years experience in the national press. They run the media training and consultancy firm Dr Tabloid & Mr Broadsheet.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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