Do you want to be an authority? To be known as an expert in your field? Are you keen to demonstrate thought leadership? Then read on.
When I started copywriting 13 years ago I didn’t appreciate the amount of time I would spend hunting for expert opinion. Writing a feature for a trade magazine, B2B title or membership publication is often the result of a protracted search to identify and interview appropriate, credible, respected industry professionals and sector specialists. One day, surely, I will be passed the Directory of Experts, the authorised and accredited book of contact details for the great and good of academia, industry and commerce. In the meantime, here’s what I’ve learnt:
- Be available. The most widely quoted experts are often not the ‘best’, but the people who are available. Becoming an expert is difficult when the writer can’t get past the gatekeeper. How can an industry body join the debate when emails aren’t answered and the follow up phone call is met with ‘the person who checks the email was off yesterday, can you send it again? Are you a member? I can put you through to membership services…’. Tell the people around you how you’d like them to respond to journalist queries. I’m constantly impressed by the stellar leaders in their field who do make the time to talk. The joy of this job is often being given extraordinary access and licence to ask questions. Which leads me on nicely to…
- Don’t confuse ‘expert status’ with ‘status’. The downside of writing for business magazines is that many entrepreneurs and corporate leaders have decent-sized egos. Remember, that while you may hold high status in your organisation it doesn’t automatically translate into quotes for articles. Simple comment is preferable to hot air. Expect to have your opinion challenged, and don’t take it personally.
- Be brief. Understand the constraints of the deadline and format. A 15-min phone interview may be enough to go away and draft a 500 word piece. Most writers will have prepared the groundwork, done their research and have honed their interview skills to make effective use of your – and their – time. Rein in the impulse to give a pre-prepared hour long lecture. Consider a couple of key messages that others in your field would be interested to hear. Think deep and narrow.
- Be generous. Do you know more about the subject than your colleagues? If not, don’t be afraid to bring other specialists into the interview. Space allowing, you’ll often still be credited with a quote or two. Share the love. Similarly, if you use references and case studies to establish credibility, supply the interviewer with details. Bless the Professor who follows up by firing across the latest Economist special report, when he could so easily convince of his superior knowledge. Curse the business leader who quotes extensively from the latest best-selling book. Remember, it’s easy to fact-check so don’t pretend to be something you’re not.
But what do you think? Tell me…