We see experts quoted in newspapers and magazines every day; journalists rely on third-party sources to offer unbiased opinions or to help sort through facts. The most inexperienced journalist can follow a formula and write a story about, say, computer viruses. However, without an expert to validate the subject, the story will ring hollow. Public relations consultants can help position clients as experts through an “expert pitch.” All it takes is a simple email.
Pick a Subject
You can’t be an expert on everything, so choose wisely when it comes to subjects. If it’s a subject your client is not entirely familiar with, there will be others with a stronger foundation; in the end, they’ll come up with the better expert quote.
Strike While the Iron is Hot
An expert pitch is a timely exercise; you need to wait until a story is already circulating in the press. When Comcast announced plans to launch phone service across its network, I was lucky to catch the first report in the Wall Street Journal just after midnight. By 1:00 AM, I had sent out an email blast to about 30 journalists. The end result: quotes in the Los Angeles Times, in an eWeek.com article, and on a well-respected and high-trafficked industry blog named Gigaom.com. That’s a 10 percent success rate, pretty good for an unsolicited email blast.
Show Them You’re an Expert
The most important part of an expert pitch is proving your client’s expertise. Always include a direct quote so that journalists can get an idea of your take on the subject; also include a brief analysis of the subject. A simple email saying you’re an expert and giving your background will not suffice. All three publications who quoted me for their Comcast stories took quotes directly from my email. I spoke to only one journalist on the phone, and he simply wanted to confirm the information I sent. You can’t beat a cut and paste quote — which should remind us that anything you put in your email should be on the record.
Keep It Brief
We’re not pitching a feature story, and you are not going to be the focus of the story. A brief biography, a brief outline of your expert background, and a brief display of said expertise will suffice.
Show Them the Way
When pitching co-workers, clients, or colleagues as experts, give the journalist information on how to contact your co-workers directly, inform your co-workers/clients/colleagues that they may be contacted by a journalist on the subject, and forward them the pitch email. Suggesting that you, as the public relations consultant, will be involved in the contact chain creates an unnecessary communication step. Your expert may be ignored in favor of someone who can be contacted directly. It can also make the whole exercise feel more like a public relations ploy rather than a simple attempt to offer insight.
Don’t Follow Up
Following up with reporters on an expert pitch is not a good idea — and do you really want to follow up with 100 reporters in one day? Let the pitch speak for itself and if the reporter ignores it, so be it.
Do I Call?
My suggestion would be not to try an expert pitch over the phone as it’s a time-consuming effort that will reap few rewards. By the same token, a journalist working on a story might benefit from having an instant expert at their disposal. It’s all about timing, but you’re never going to know when the time is right to call.
Call Where You’re Known
Calling a reporter to offer expert advice makes sense if the reporter’s part of your existing press contacts. This is why it’s important to foster relationships with key journalists who cover your company, sector, subject, etc. In this case, a reporter will most likely defer to the expertise of an existing contact.
Get the Ball Rolling through an Email
One of the best ways to foster press contacts is through emails sent to journalists who cover subjects that interest you. “Nice job on that tax story, here are my quick thoughts”: this simple opening can start a relationship, and also serve as an expert pitch.
Like any public relations campaign, expert pitching will always be hit-or-miss. An email blast to 100 reporters could bring no results; an email blast to 30 reporters could bring three quotes. Don’t be surprised if your initial attempts at an expert pitch fail. Be persistent, refine your pitch, stay timely, and you’ll start getting some quotes.
Depending on your company or client, crafting an expert pitch can be time-consuming. My company provides investment analysis for more than 100 companies across more than a dozen sectors, not to mention that the background of my company’s principals qualifies us to speak on any number of subjects. But all that work is worth it once you start to see the publicity benefits of a well-crafted, well-timed expert pitch.