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Building the Business 101: Working with the Media

How to make the most of your interviews with the media.

Veena A. Kutler and Annette F. Simon, 03/27/2008

This monthly series of articles describes the many steps and occasional missteps we have taken in building our financial advisory business, Garnet Group LLC. Currently, Garnet has eight staff members, more than 90 clients, more than $300 million in client net worth under advisement, and offices in Bethesda, Md., and Boston. Veena Kutler, CFA, and Annette Simon, CFP, are the managing principals in the Garnet office in Bethesda.

Recently, the principals at Garnet have received a flurry of interview requests from local TV, national newspapers and magazines, and even one European newspaper.  We're pleased to have these opportunities to discuss our views and, of course, to get our names out as experts as well.

Although we are happy with the recent opportunities, in general we think that marketing and public relations is one of our weak spots as a team. Between the four partners, we have great technical, strategic thinking, and client relationship skills, but none of us feels like an expert at creating and implementing a marketing plan or building a good public relations campaign. Nor do we have a substantial amount in our budget for public relations. Any publicity we garner has to come our way through free channels--and appearing as an expert in the media certainly makes for excellent public relations. 

How do we keep this streak up, we wondered? And how would an advisor without established media contacts start building a media presence?

We decided to turn to a professional and asked our friend Ben Lewis for his thoughts. Lewis is president of both Perception, Inc.--a public relations firm in Gaithersburg, Md., that works exclusively with companies and associations in the financial services industry--and of Rapportica, Inc.--a Web-based PR platform where members of the media and financial advisory community can meet to share story ideas. Lewis' firm has been handling public relations for the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors (NAPFA) for several years and has done a tremendous job of helping the organization develop its brand and build stronger media relationships. 

If you had to describe Lewis with just one word, it would be "energetic." He oozes enthusiasm for his work and can develop a kernel of an idea into a full-blown campaign in the blink of an eye. He is a force of nature, and it's quite a challenge to keep up with him.

We interviewed Lewis recently and asked him for some advice for advisors who would like to work more effectively with the media.

The Interview
Garnet Group
: How can advisors position themselves to become a resource the press will turn to?

Ben Lewis: First of all, it's about knowing who you are and how you are different and unique. Why should someone in the media even care to talk to you? Everyone is fighting for the same air time and page space. 

Reporters want to talk to experts with experience in something specific. Narrow your focus, present yourself as an expert in that area--and you'll be remembered and called upon again and again. Eventually, if you deliver consistently in a single area, your press contacts will begin to turn to you for other related issues as well.

For example, I have a longtime client who built his reputation as a 401(k) guru, but wanted to become a source for money management issues as well. He did so by positioning his knowledge of money management around 401(k) plans and pension issues. He became an expert people could come to for sound bites on these topics.

The bottom line is that you need to use what you know to get in front of people for other things as well.

GG: It sounds like you need to devote a lot of time an effort to this in order to be effective.

BL: The key is to build media rapport not with hundreds of reporters, but to develop close knit relationships with a small group of five to 10. These people will become your advocates and will pass your name along to others. I had a great contact at Dow Jones Newswire who came back to me again and again for stories he was working on. Over time, he referred writers from other financial news outlets to me, and now I have a great network of contacts in the industry.

GG: You recently wrote a book on this topic.

BL: It's called Perfecting the Pitch--Creating Publicity Through Media Rapport (Larston). We've also developed a Web site, mediarapport.com, which introduces the "foundations of media rapport."

GG: Tell us about the foundations of media rapport.

BL: Just as a building is supported by its foundation, you need to pay attention to the structure of your relationships with members of the media. There are four cornerstones of this foundation: respect, pitching, message, and skills. It's important to master and attend to all four building blocks; otherwise, your relationship, like a building with a problem in one corner of its foundation, will begin to sag or tilt.

GG: Can you give us an example?

BL: The first cornerstone is respect. As a source, you need to be aware that reporters have a deadline, a specific beat to cover; that they need to come up with a newsworthy article and that they follow a specific process. If you can understand and meet these needs for reporters, you can become a valuable resource. 

To help them meet their deadline, you need to be available to provide information in a timely manner and to commit to any necessary follow up. 

Understanding the reporters' beats allows you to give them appropriate material for their needs. Google reporters to learn what kinds of stories they have written; then edit what you say to provide the most relevant material.

Ask yourself if you are providing newsworthy information. Is it timely? Entertaining? No one wants to write an article that elicits a "who cares?" response from the reader.

Finally, you need to respect the process. It is not acceptable to cold-call a reporter you don't know. Find out how and when a reporter wants to be contacted.  If the reporter has daily deadlines, you don't want to call at the wrong time of day.

In my book, I break down the other three cornerstones--pitching, message, and skills--in a similar way, providing specific information to help you build media rapport and make it work for you.  PAGEBREAK

Top Ten Tips
Lewis has so much information to offer on how to work with the media, we asked him for some tips for advisors who, like us, are now getting calls from the media and want to make the most of it.

  1. When you receive a call from a reporter, first find out why he or she called. Did he or she see something on your Web site? Was he or she referred by another advisor or reporter? If he or she was referred by another member of the press, always send a thank-you note for the referral.
  2. Learn as much as you can about the reporter before the interview. Google he or she to find recent articles. It's important to know what and how the reporter writes and to tailor your message for the audience. For example, if the reporter is writing for a consumer publication, speak at a level everyone can understand. If he or she works for an industry outlet provide a more detailed response using more technical language.
  3. Research your topic to be sure you are well versed. This is especially true for articles about specific legislation, rules, or products. If you are responding to a call about tax breaks for homeowners who install energy efficiency products, make sure you know all about it. And certainly make sure you know more than the reporter.
  4. At the outset, establish clear guidelines. Don't be afraid to ask about the length and depth of the interview.  Reporters appreciate sources who can get to their target message quickly, succinctly for a short interview.  If they are planning to do a longer interview, you'll have more time to build toward your big points.
  5. Be sure you completely understand the topic of the interview. An article about 401(k) plans in general is very different from one about hidden costs that may affect the way business owners handle their 401(k) offerings.  You need to be ready to answer the questions they plan to ask.
  6. Find out if there will be a photo accompanying the article. If the publication plans to send a photographer, make sure you have your suit pressed, your hair cut, your roots touched up.whatever you need to do to make your mother proud.
  7. Try to anticipate questions and think through your answers in advance. Practice your responses--out loud.  How you phrase things vocally is very different from the words in your head.
  8. As soon as you receive the call, send the reporter a media kit or at least a biography that includes your name, your title, and the name of your company. If you are fee-only or have a specialty, spell that out clearly in your bio.  Send your bio in a PDF file--not as a Word file or within the body of e-mail. Photos will frequently cause your e-mail to be rejected by spam filters. 

We came away from our conversation with Lewis with a new appreciation for the intricacies involved with developing and maintaining media relationships. We were also happy to see that we had, unknowingly, been following several of his maxims. During our recent TV appearances, for example, we provided the reporters with talking points as well as content to post to their news Web sites.

Have you made a strong connection with someone in the media?  Have you found it to be helpful to your practice?  Feel free to write to us at DC@garnetgroup.com and tell us about your experience.

In next month's column we will discuss how centers of influence can help your practice.

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