How to turn your unknown expert into a media success story

News-jacking. Issues-tracking. Call it what you like, but a rapid response to breaking news has long been a route to PR success – particularly for challenger brand spokespeople who otherwise tend to get overlooked by journalists who have their tried and tested contacts to fall back on.

Image copyright: NY - (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Image copyright: NY –
(CC BY-SA 3.0)

Having recently been asked to give my opinion on how to turn an unknown expert into a media success story, I decided to write a quick overview of how to run a PR rapid response programme; done well these have a very high success rate over time – they’re not always the overnight success some people would have you think they are.

Give journalists something that helps to move the story along

Your targeting will have to be impeccable (resist the urge to spam your entire media database). Instead, focus only on those you know have written about the subject in question.

You’ll be battling journalists’ inertia (nobody ever got fired for quoting IBM et al) so don’t be surprised if it takes a while to get a bite – just have faith and stick at it.

You’ll need to have something genuinely useful to say (don’t point out the obvious, help move the story on – this is crucial). If you send something like this to a journalist you’ll be ignored, and rightly so: “Hi, I saw your story about X. My client is an expert in X. Would you like to talk to them about X?”

Make it inescapably clear why they will end up with a really interesting story as a direct result of hearing from your client … “Hi, I saw your story about X. My client is an expert in X. Did you know that one of the unintended consequences of X is Y? Would you like to talk to my client about Y?”

The following advice is primarily aimed at those new to news-based PR, or maybe at smaller PR agencies lacking resources. Although some established agencies/practitioners may find the following of interest, I would expect it to be a little basic for anyone with a reasonable amount of experience in such matters. I’ll apologise up-front if any of it appears too basic; if it feels like I’m stating the obvious, feel free to move right along.

  • Agree, with your client, the top three issues / talking points they could potentially offer valuable comment on. These should be issues that have a tendency to arise in the media. It might be a shortage of acute-care beds in UK hospitals in winter, or the tension between GPs and A&E departments who both suffer from a lack of resources and too many patients. It might be something to do with protecting your smart-home devices from cyber attacks. Maybe it’s something to do with aquifers and fracking. Whatever it is, it’s going to be dictated by the sector your client operates in and their particular expertise.
  • Draft some short, to-the-point email copy for each of the topics you’ve agreed on – something you could cut and paste into an email giving a clear overview of who your client is, why they are someone to be listened to, and a breakdown of their expertise as it relates to the talking point / issue in question. Have it pre-written and pre-approved by the client.
  • Create a list of all the press contacts that write about your agreed issues … and issues related to them.
  • Track the media for stories relating to your agreed issues.
  • When such a story breaks cut and paste your drafted comment and send it to anyone in the press likely to follow-up on that story. The trick here is to give journalists something that moves the story on… something that gives them a good reason to pick up the story (which may have initially been written by a rival) and put their own stamp on it. So, take your pre-written copy and add to it a short explanation of how your client’s insight relates to the issue in question.
  • Make sure your client is available – either to talk to any interested press, or provide you with additional written answers if you get asked for them. That might mean a phone interview, or even broadcast appearances.

It can take a while to get traction, but if you are relentless in your determination to be the first to offer an additional view on a story – an extra nugget of information, an opinion that hasn’t been considered, etc – and the comments you send are genuinely interesting/valuable, eventually you’ll get results.

Good luck!