Tuesday, May 29, 2012

When your expert ignores all media but the big guys: 4 tactics

"Can you explain to him that he ought to talk to reporters or bloggers even if they don't work for the New York Times?" That's almost a routine request when I'm asked to do a media training for an expert or scientist.

Here's the rub: The researchers aren't wrong about the power of the biggest media outlets: Consider this 1991 New England Journal of Medicine study showing that "Journal articles publicized by the Times received 72.8 percent more scientific citations than control articles." But every good communications director knows there's value in reaching out to a wide variety of journalists, from freelancers to small outlets and trade press, in addition to major media outlets. That's not even counting the fact that the majors can't cover every topic, nor that what your expert has to say may not pass muster in prominent media. What can a communicator do to move experts beyond the majors and into interviews with the rest of the field?

We'll be talking about this issue at my June 19 workshop, Be an Expert on Working with Experts, since the expert who balks at media interactions is a common issue for communicators. Here are some considerations you need to explore as a communicator if you want an expert to move beyond the majors:
  1. Is this an avoidance tactic? Sounding all exclusive or setting unrealistic targets might be an effort to mask overall discomfort, lack of experience or bad experience with reporters. It's worth probing why he's choosing to narrow the field to find out.
  2. Is this a training deficiency? Just because he's expert in his subject doesn't mean he gets media relations. If you haven't taken the time to explain why you--and your company or organization--wants coverage from other-than-big-guys, do that before you attempt to set up the interviews.
  3. What's in it for her? Helping experts find motivation is an oft-ignored part of the communicator's work. Is she seeking funding, a tech transfer, research subjects, support from a legislature? Does his public funding call for reporting out findings to a wider public audience? Establishing a motivation for the interview can help you and your expert later on.
  4. Is this a time management issue? One of my favorite experts finally confided that 10 percent of his calls were from reporters, who were taking up 80 percent of his time. That's an easy fix: We started arranging more conference call briefings (think Google+ Hangouts, too) and other approaches that helped make better use of his time.
Those are just a few of the considerations behind this issue--and we'll be discussing more at my experts workshop on June 19. Join us to develop more tactics for varying your experts' media outreach. 

(Hat tip to Ivan Oransky for the pointer to the NEJM study.)

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