Many readers of this blog contact me directly with questions and comments. While often the responses are very specific to a particular circumstance, occasionally the subject matter is general enough that it might be of interest to others as well. Accordingly, I will occasionally post a new "MailBag" article, presenting the question or comment (on a strictly anonymous basis!) and my response, in the hopes that the discussion may be useful food for thought.
In this week's MailBag, we look at a question about how to get started and best practices for building media visibility, getting articles published, and getting quoted in the press.
Comment/Question: It seems many advisors clearly use a publicist to get quoted or have their articles published in a local business magazine. As someone like yourself who has a large presence in written media, what was it like when you first started? I imagine people come to you for quotes or articles now, but before that did you initiate contact with media outlets to get your name out there? It seems like every “Joe Blow” advisor who is really a commissioned sales rep gets quoted or makes the local news and they all come across as little more than white noise. But maybe that is how you have to start?
When I first started down the route of working with the media, I did it by getting involved with my local FPA chapter, and took on the mantle as the chapter PR director. In my volunteer capacity, I started receiving and managing the media inquiries that came to the chapter (which wasn’t many) and which were distributed to the chapters from FPA National (which was a lot more). My responsibility was to share those leads with our media list within the chapter, but of course it also gave me the opportunity to respond to a media inquiry directly when it fell within my own area of expertise!
In the process, I was diligent to respond to any media inquiry that came in that I could relate to, replied promptly (since it’s often first-come first-served), was as responsive as possible to the reporter, and always asked for an email address to send a follow-up. My follow-up email would thank them for their time, offer my contact information if there were subsequent questions, and ask for their permission to be added to my mailing list for story ideas and updates. As the list grew, I sent out monthly story ideas – suggesting something that was timely in the news, with a personal finance angle, that I could speak to as a planner – although in truth I think the value was as much about just drip marketing my name in front of them, as having them use the actual story ideas. Over time, my list grew, and the media inquiries started come in to me directly, rather than just through the association's media inquiry process.
Done systematically over time, it grew from there! I still essentially do the same thing, although now I offer to subscribe reporters and finance writers to my blog and/or newsletter updates, rather than a separate "story ideas" email, as almost all of my articles have several story ideas embedded. In point of fact, though, if I have a more substantive topic that I would really like to get out, I will still send a more pointed "story idea" email to a targeted subset of the reporters on my list who I think would be interested in doing something with the idea.
I’d note that these days, I also draw a significant number of media inquiries directly from the material I write on the blog, and from what I share on social media (especially Twitter). In point of fact, I view this as one indirect benefit of being active on social media; it's not just about reaching prospective clients who might be using the platforms, but also reaching the reporters who are looking for insights and story ideas and are also active on social media.
It's worth noting as well that the best strategies for cultivating relationships with the media require establishing a clear niche or expertise for yourself. As I've written in the past, having a niche will become crucial for most planners to succeed in the future, because you're simply not really differentiated from your competition anymore by just being a credentialed comprehensive financial planner who has lots of experience, does good work, and acts in the interests of his/her clients - which is the exact same "differentiators" that tens of thousands of advisors now put on their website (and when everyone uses the same differentiator, it means they're not actually differentiators!). The same is true in the context of the media; reporters work on stories about specific topics, and want people who are recognized experts on that topic; saying you're a financial planner who can speak to anything financial doesn't differentiate you from every other financial planner who tells the reporter the same thing! Ultimately, you will be far more memorable to the reporter - and more referrable to his/her colleagues - by being clearly established as "the best" at something in particular, not by being unmemorably good at everything (which no one believes anyway).
Similarly, the reality is that competing for visibility in broad, high-profile publications like the Wall Street Journal or the New York Times is difficult - at best, you may only get into a story there because you are a nationally recognized expert in the particular, specific topic that was the focus of the article. On the other hand, for many more niche publications, the opportunities are broader, because there is less competition - and in reality, may be a better match to the kind of target clientele you're trying to reach anyway. For instance, if your focus is eye doctors, not only are there probably more opportunities to get quoted and published in something like EyeWorld rather than the WSJ or NYTimes, but the reality is that the eye doctor clients you're trying to reach are probably more likely to see and read about you, recognize your expertise, and care, because you're quoted in their publication that they read regularly, not a more generalized one they may only browse occasionally if at all.
The bottom line, though, is that if you want to start building visibility with the media, some starting steps include:
1) Get involved with media publications for your (local or national) association; virtually every organization does something in this regard
2) Build an email list of reporters you talk to and send them relevant story ideas once a month
3) Consider getting started on social media, especially Twitter, as a way to showcase some of your expertise
4) Have a clear focus on what niche/area/subject you want to be an expert on. "Everything that has to do with money, finances, or financial planning" is not an acceptable answer.
5) Consider targeting publications that focus on your niche, rather than going for the high level publications. That could be a particular industry, or just focusing on your smaller local publications rather than large national ones.
6) If you want to write and submit articles (instead of just being quoted), reach out to the editors directly and ask about their policy for taking article submissions. For many smaller local or niche publications, they're always in search of good content.
I hope that helps a little!