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How to Convince the Press That You're an Expert

Anybody can contact the media and argue that they are an expert in their field. Convincing the media that you are an expert takes much more than brash self-promotion. This is especially true when you are running a relatively small business.

So, how does a small business owner get the clout to get on the media's radar?

Start by finding the right outlet to pitch...
Zeroing in on the right outlet depends greatly on your level of expertise and the extent to which you've already gotten publicity for your company. Go after small business blogs first -- they're always hungry for fresh sources and content -- and then work your way up as you get more and more coverage.

Here are a few lists to get you started:

I'd also highly recommend using these two free tools:
  • HARO (Help a Reporter Out) is a tremendous resource for sources looking to contribute to articles. Several times a day (on weekdays) HARO emails a list of queries from reporters looking for immediate help with stories they are currently working on.
  • Muck Rack monitors the Twitter feeds from journalists across the globe. Reporters are organized by the subject matters they cover as well as the media outlets they represent. Often reporters will seek out sources through their tweets.
...Then craft the right pitch
As a former journalist, I must have received thousands of pitches in my career. While I ignored or briefly scanned most, a number of them caught my attention.

Here's what the successful pitches had that the unsuccessful ones lacked:

  • Great headlines or subject lines: You need to distinguish yourself from the other pitches. Be concise, be creative, and be smart! Put yourself in the shoes of a reporter. Which pitch are you more likely to look at: "I am an expert in Search Engine Optimization" or "Ten Killer Tactics to Move You to the Top of Google Results"?
  • Evidence that you did some homework: When you contact a reporter, mention a specific article or subject matter that reporter has written about. Explain how your insights or your business would fit in well with the kind of stories he/she has already written. But -- don't pitch a story that's a carbon copy of what the reporter just wrote.
  • Proof of your expertise: Make the case for why you're the perfect source. Talk about what sets you apart -- your insider knowledge, your contacts, whatever. If you have written any articles on the subject, link to them; if you haven't been published yet, take the time to write a blog post or press release that includes great quotes that clearly demonstrate your specific expertise.
  • Delivered on a silver platter: Write the story you'd like the reporter to write. Tell the story of your business or your services in great detail. Some of the best material to provide can come from disasters you've had in the workplace. Talk about your worst client, the most outrageous demand ever made, or the biggest misconception clients have and then show how you used your expertise to handle the issue. Anything you can give the reporter/blogger before the interview is greatly appreciated. Reporters not only appreciate this kind of help, they often use what you write in the pitch verbatim in the story.
  • News hook: Remember that "news" means "news." Keep up with the latest trends. See what people are writing about. If you have expertise in those areas, then tell the reporter exactly how you can contribute.
The follow-up
Here's my policy on follow-ups: If you haven't gotten a response after a few days, send an e-mail. Don't be a pain. Just remind the editor of your submission and ask if there is any other information you can provide or if there is a good time to talk.

Jon Gelberg is Chief Content Officer at Blue Fountain Media.
Flickr photo courtesy of Gribiche, CC 2.0