What Makes a Good Expert for Media Interviews?

This week, I thought a lot about what makes a good expert to place in the media. My primary motivation about this topic is based on my experience working with my internal stakeholders this week to find “fresh stories to tell”.

How can you explain to other non-communication or public relation professionals what makes a good candidate to speak with the media? Racking my brain for ideas, I came up with the following:

1)   Sense of urgency. Very important, especially for folks who work on tight deadlines. If I call you and mention this opportunity will you call back within twenty-four hours? While you may think this is the next WSJ article your expert, especially a busy client, may not call back immediately. While follow up is obvious, some folks are not interested even though you gauge their interest weeks or months back.

2)   A Real Expert.  Many times I get clients on the phone that do not perceive themselves as an expert or practitioner. Someone recommended them to speak, yada yada. Waste of time. Make sure when you connect with the client to make sure they are confident in the subject before the interview. Even though I speak with a few folks who are my “go-to people,” I try to confirm their interest in the topic before connecting them with someone from the media.

3)   Titles are good, but TRUE Subject Matter Experts are Better. I see this happen a lot in my industry. I get on the phone with the Director or Vice President, who candidly (thank you!) says that their colleague or direct report is the real expert. No worries. Thank them for their time and get the real experts name ASAP.

4)   Do a pre-brief. Any client I get referred to as “oh, they love our product, you should call them” or something similar gets a pre-conference call with me. It’s a trial run for me to assess the ability of the “expert” to convey her ideas, think on her feet, and to answer not only high level questions, but also granular.

5)   Go with your gut. She never lies! Many times I have been referred to clients who are allegedly “great speakers” or “awesome advocates” to find out they may not be the best at conveying their thoughts in coherent or direct manners. These folks are not bad, just may not be best for live interviews. I usually see if the reporter will do an e-mail interview and correspond that way. Not everyone will do this, but some reporters will.

Nothing on the list above is new, but going through these steps will save you time.

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