Ok. I”ll be honest. From one reporter’s perspective (mine), one of the reasons public relations professionals sometimes get a bad rap from the media is because they aren’t always as well-versed or knowledgeable as they need to be about a client’s industry or expertise. So if a media relations specialist is pitching a reporter about recent trends in Exchange Traded Funds, it is a good idea for that PR person to know—in detail and in-depth—about these investment vehicles. Even if the media relations professional is just setting up an interview, reporters often pose questions of them about the topic.
I know this is an obvious piece of advice, but unfortunately, many PR professionals often fall short.
They either don’t take the time to really understand some of the more complicated topics they may be asked to pitch on behalf of their clients or they don’t have access to individuals who can teach them what they need to know to get up to speed on the topic.
Reporters have it easy. They get the knowledge they need just by picking up the phone. More often than not, someone is always willing to be their knowledge base to write a solid story (as a finance reporter, I always appointed someone to be my guru to teach me all the background information I needed).
But PR professionals don’t have it as easy. In many cases, clients assume their PR firm already has the institutional knowledge they need to understand the content. More often than not, the senior leadership at the PR firm has the necessary knowledge and that is why the client signs on with them. But what sometimes happens is they aren’t the ones who are calling the reporters to pitch the stories. The junior folks are the ones smiling and dialing—but they also might need a little help getting down in the weeds on topic or making the necessary connections between content and relevancy in today’s news cycle.
One suggestion is for your PR agency to bring in subject matter experts (SMEs) to educate your team about content they need to know. This individual, or guest speaker, can not only be an educator but can also be a sounding board for your team to discuss the nitty gritty aspects of some of the content they are expected to pitch to the media. Questions can be asked, story angles discussed, and predictions made. This is incredible valuable when your PR team gets on the phone with a cranky reporter who expects the person on the other end to know the esoteric details of a particular topic.
I would argue that even when your team knows all there is to know about a topic, it is helpful to bring in someone from the outside. That SME can put the industry, topic and content into perspective for your team. They can elevate the conversation to what is actually happening at the moment in the field. This exchange of ideas and knowledge helps your team not only become as well-versed as the reporter who is covering your client but also helps to advance story ideas.
Finding a SME is as easy as thinking of your own business and personal network. When you think about it, most professionals are experts at what they do. Many of them enjoy talking about their work and may even have a secret desire to teach. Tap them and learn. It’s a win-win for everyone: the reporter and the agency.
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