If an organisation wants its views to be taken seriously and to increase its influence over events, then one of the best ways is for its spokespeople to be regarded a thought leader – and be quoted in the press, or interviewed on television or radio as such.
Let me give you some examples from the past couple of weeks:
1. There is a story about changes to nuclear energy policy in the UK, and a spokesman from the World Energy Council is asked to discuss the implications on Sky News.
2. London councils call for tougher penalties in the Dangerous Dogs Act, and the Kennel Club is asked to contribute its views to the debate.
3. A letter is leaked from the Education Secretary in which he discusses whether universities should be involved in the development of A levels, and the Joint Council for Qualifications is asked for its views on behalf of the awarding bodies.
But, in each of these three cases, there were dozens of professional organisations, charities, thinktanks or academics who could have been asked to contribute as experts.
What is that makes a journalist choose to ask these three for expert commentary, rather than anyone else?
Well, there are some key mistakes that many organisations and spokespeople make, with the result that press never call when there’s a story in their field of expertise.
1. They don’t know they exist!
It’s all very well having interesting or controversial views on a particular topic, but if journalists don’t know you exist, then they won’t beat a path to your door.
What to do: Author articles, write blogs, position yourself as a thought leader and make sure the key journalists covering your specialism – and newsdesks – know about you.
2. They can’t get in contact with you
The journalists may have heard that your organisation represents a particular sector, but when they go online to find you, you are invisible – they can’t find your website, or your Twitter stream, or your Facebook page. And when they do find you, the links to the media team’s details aren’t on the homepage.
What to do: Make it easy for the journalist. When you’re Googled, your website, your Linked In profile, and other entries which prove you are a thought leader must come up. These must have names and numbers for your media team are easy to find. And don’t just have an anonymous email contact box – a surefire way for a journalist to go to the next potential interviewee!
3. You don’t call them back
A journalist contacts you for a comment about the demise of the British honey bee, because the world’s leading authority on honey bees is on your university’s academic staff. They’re on a deadline of this afternoon. You don’t get back to them, so they go to the world’s second authority, at another university.
What to do: Make sure that if a journalist wants an interview or comment, you respond in time for them to meet their deadline.
4. You say no
A journalist calls you for the first time to do an interview about your area of expertise. You’re third on her list of potential contributors and no-one else is in. You answer the phone, but are just about to go out to the cinema, so you say you can’t talk. She then calls the fourth on her list, and never calls back.
What to do: Remember you only have one shot. Make sure you are happy to talk, no matter how inconvenient – especially if it your first media opportunity, when you’ll be essentially proving that you’re worth talking to, and ‘auditioning’ for the role of regular expert. Once you’re established as a regular contributor, you might occasionally be able to turn down opportunities, but even then, if you consistently refuse, eventually the journalists will give up calling.
5. You’re inflexible
‘We need someone to do a phone interview on our drivetime programme at 6.15pm’ – ‘Can’t do that, I’ll be driving home from work’; ‘It’s BBC Breakfast, we need someone in the studio by 5.30am to discuss the changes to VAT on our early morning business slot.’ ‘Really sorry, can’t do that, I’ve got an early meeting.’ ‘Can you just give me a quick comment about what businesses think of the budget? My deadline’s half an hour.’ ‘Sorry – I’m tied up for the next hour.’ You get the picture.
What to do: See no. 4. Be available. Be prepared to change your plans. No matter how inconvenient.
6. You don’t have anything to say
If you don’t give good value, there’s no point you being interviewed. If you just sit on the fence about key issues, or speak in generalities, or avoid commenting on controversial points, then the journalist won’t ask you back a second time.
So, the government is reducing the funding for the rehabilitation of injured soldiers, the journalists might go to Help for Heroes or the Royal British Legion, or SSAFA or the Soldiers Charity, or any number of other military charities for their opinion. The charity which says ‘no, we’re not prepared to comment on political issues’ won’t be quoted, while the one that says ‘this is outrageous, the government is breaking its covenant with the military, the long-term effect of this will be xyz’ is the one that gets its name in the news.
What to do: If you want to be regarded as an expert commentator, you have to be prepared to show your expertise & to have some opinions. If you’re authoritative, interesting, controversial, funny, ‘a good talker’, then you’ll be asked back. Again and again and again.
So there are six ‘what not to dos’ – plus six ‘what to dos’. All of which will help to increase the visibility of your organisation, putting it’s views into the public domain, and giving them more weight and you have more influence.
For help with boosting your media profile, & become a thought leader, contact us on 020 8332 6200 or firstname.lastname@example.org.