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Advisor Insights

How to Effectively Respond and Pitch to the Media

Helen Modly, CFP, CPWA

Journalists must have credible sources for information in published articles. Some understand their subject matter very well and know which professionals they can rely on for succinct, accurate, and memorable quotes. Others, however, are less knowledgeable about the topic of a given story and solicit responses from a wide variety of sources.

A reporter will send these latter requests, often called "call outs," to the membership of related professional associations, prior sources, and others to elicit information connected to his or her topic. For financial advisors, the Financial Planning Association distributes press requests to its members who have taken media training courses, as does the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors. The journalists making these requests often get hundreds and sometimes a thousand return emails each day.

When you receive a press request, how do you get your response noticed?

Respond Promptly
Reporters have very tight schedules and deadlines relating to their work. If you receive a request by email, take a few minutes to think through the question and identify four or five bullet points you'd like to contribute. If the request surprises you by phone, listen carefully and ask to return the call in 10 minutes so you can clearly identify what you want to say and how you want to say it.

Also, do an online search on the writer and the publication, if possible, so you can glance at other recent work. If the writer routinely slams professional advisors or holds strong biases you cannot support, you may choose not to respond at all.

If you do respond, ask what the deadline is and in what publication or outlet the piece is expected to run.

Briefly introduce yourself and your qualifications. Even better, provide a link to an online resume or bio to which the writer can refer for attribution. If you are responding by phone, be sure to get the journalist's email address for follow up.

Be Brief, Be Smart, Be Gone
If you can determine the writer's angle to the story, you will be better prepared to provide content. You can agree with the writer and submit a few well thought out bullet points with a link or brief description of your sources. Or you can disagree and play the devil's advocate so the writer can compose a balanced piece, again with credible sources.

With phone interviews and especially by email, act as if there is no such thing as "off the record." In other words, if you say it, a reporter can use it. Don't ever assume that you will be given the opportunity to restate or rescind anything you've said. At the most, the writer's organization will use a fact-checking service to verify the accuracy of any statement or information you've provided. Your colorful, offhanded comments are fair game.

If you are not familiar with the topic, refer the reporter to someone who is. Never attempt to just wing it if you don't know the subject matter. You risk appearing ignorant or foolish or both. If you do know the topic, list your possible contributions concisely, and be sure they are relevant. If you receive a call back or further emails to elaborate or expand, do so, but always remember that reporters must have the sources that you are relying upon for your opinion.

Be Yourself, Be Polite, and Be Engaging
Many reporters have a sense of humor, and they don't usually like smugness, arrogance, or condescension from their sources. They have lots of sources to choose from, so be respectful of their time and of whatever grasp they have of the topic. Gently suggest other views if they seem to be missing something, or provide a good, clear, basic resource. If it appears they are addressing a topic in a way you wouldn't, try to suggest another possible point of view or facts that they may have overlooked. They will understand that you are trying to help them, and it will be appreciated. Be sure to act like a real person and not an encyclopedia. Help them to see the real-world implications or application of their topic. If you can provide a practical example, do it.

Use Compelling, Vivid Language and Sound Bites
If you are communicating by email, include one or two pithy quotes or sound bites. A sound bite is a short sentence or two that not only summarizes the main point you are making but is written well enough to be memorable. The use of brief but vivid descriptors and analogies (as if you were describing something visual; "the market was ricocheting around like the steel marble in a pinball machine') and compelling language meant to persuade or convince are the hallmarks of effective sound bites. Two famous examples are President Ronald Reagan's "Trust, but verify" remark about Russia, and President Barack Obama's 2009 warning to Wall Street CEOs, "My administration is the only thing between you and the pitchforks." 

If No Requests Are Coming Your Way, Try to Pitch a Story Instead
If you have worked with certain reporters in the past, try sending a short pitch to them. A pitch is a brief description of an article or story idea. Be sure to put enough of the description in the subject line of the email to elicit interest. Then list three or four story points and why you think the story would be interesting and relevant at this time. This is much more of a long shot with reporters, but every now and again, you could get lucky. As anyone committed to writing a monthly article knows, there are times that any idea is welcome.

Helen Modly, CFP, CPWA, is a wealth advisor with Buckingham Strategic Wealth, a fee-only registered investment advisor. The opinions in this article are the author’s own and may not reflect the opinions of Buckingham Strategic Wealth or Morningstar.com. The author may be reached at nova@bamadvisor.com.