How to extract their expertise out of their brains and on to the pages of credible media outlets

In one of our recent blogs, we looked at the PR importance of building a credible voice through strong executive profiling, media training, and earned media placements in targeted industry publications – the three campaign pillars to help B2B organizations become trusted brands.

I am prompted to write this blog because yet again we hear agencies say that nowadays you can only get paid placements, no-one takes contributed copy (that poor performance PR agency “nowadays” excuse has apparently been around over 20 years according to our veteran writers!)

But I also write this because of a recent hubbub across Twitter and LinkedIn over a PR agency blurring of paid and earned that’s cropping up in B2B technology PR placements. It has been aptly labelled “coverage for cash”. More of that later.

Journalist appetite for trusted sources is there

Opinion Leading Journalists (OLJs) continue to feel the mounting pressure to swiftly break news and compete with the immediacy of social media, while at the same time they must balance informed comment on industry issues with accuracy. More and more these hard-pressed journalists are becoming reliant on Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) as go-to, reliable resources for breaking news and opinion.

But journalists are able to quickly and decisively distinguish between source and message credibility, and, in the large majority of cases, source credibility takes precedence. If a source seems credible, they essentially trust whatever that source’s message is. So, there are big wins to be gained by correctly positioning your SME.

Here’s a quick guide of do’s and don’ts for marketing managers and what to expect from their PR support when it comes to executive SME thought leadership content creation and media placement.

1. Don’t assume all SMEs are uniform, be a good journalist in your interviewing

A word of warning, not all subject matter experts were created equal! Each will have their own sales messaging priorities, briefing styles, writing preferences, coverage expectations, and more. Translating their knowledge and expertise on to the page requires these three essentials – accurate client storytelling, a good eye for media messaging (knowing what they are looking for), and no small degree of writing skill!

When interviewing subject matter experts a rigid or one-dimensional approach may leave you with little insight. The object is to ask the right questions that winkle out some interesting opinions and ideas from your SME. In other words, use your journalistic skills, not a checklist form.

Yes, some SMEs will take some coaxing, so a good amount of research and questions beforehand will help you out in a tight spot. But some experts prefer to do the talking on their own terms, so be careful not to pigeonhole them with a pre-conceived line of messaging, they may have additional insight that might blow your preparation out the water! Being able to react to this and steer the conversation accordingly will make for a better-quality piece of content – they are the experts after all.

Be confident you have a good peg to hang your story on and are not falling into journalist rejection trap of “well you would say that, wouldn’t you”.

2. Sometimes two bites of the cherry are not better than one

Of course, it’s then the marketing or PR team’s job to take that briefing information and distil into a coherent thought leadership message.

Subject matter experts are busy people – usually high-level executives with limited availability. You may have waited months for this briefing opportunity, so recording and asking for relevant follow up material to inform the content draft now will save time on revisions further down the line. They don’t have the time or inclination to rework the core message of the piece of content being authored, they want to be able to quickly review and give the green light for this to be pitched in their name.

Important note here for all marketing managers – from a budget perspective, multiple rounds of back-and-forth review not only damage the essential message of the story, but can cause problems when your PR agency charges by the hour. Our team have heard stories of the so called “$10,000 thought leadership article”, when time spent factoring in revisions with the SME is eventually billed. FYI, all the more reason to look for an agency that charges by deliverable, not the hour – the onus is on them to get it right first time.

3. Remember your article’s first port of call –  the gatekeeper

Of course, it’s not just the SME to consider in the writing and placement process. The content also needs to attract the interest of recipient journalists. They’re the gatekeepers you have to get through in order for your thought leadership to reach prospects and customers in your chosen media. This means carefully targeting relevant journalists in your selected publications, by technology or industry vertical.

Editors may be pressed for time and looking for relevant content to share with their readership, but they are completely clued-up on what represents true thought leadership and what might be product marketing dressed up as “contributed content”. If you don’t get the tone and message right, you’ll fall at the first hurdle when it comes to getting your SME thought leadership copy placed – and miss out on getting views from your potential prospects that make up the highly targeted audience of tech and trade publications

4. Placement tactics reflect on the SME and the organization they represent

The key to getting your tone right is that it maximizes the chance of placing as earned media – on the merit of its content and the expertise of the bylined SME. But this also requires a little bit of Pitch&Place know-how from the PR Pros outreaching to target journos.

Beware the agency that comes back to its client’s marketing manager and SME author to say they could not find any opportunities without paying to place the copy in question. Paying for copy placement is paid media – it will use more budget and certainly won’t be viewed with the same credibility if it appears as an advertorial in the sponsored content of a magazine website.

We’re back to the $10,000 article again – except this time you pay twice, once for the content creation and reviewing process, and again for the placement! The PR agency’s prize double whammy.

Then there’s the blurring of paid and earned in B2B technology PR placements that I mentioned earlier – coined “coverage for cash”. One London-based agency was recently outed for offering payment to journalists in exchange for press coverage, prompting the PRCA to issue a warning. The resulting social media storm was just as damaging for the agency in question, thankfully the client was not revealed.

Executive profiling in action

Executive profiling is a hugely powerful PR and thought leadership weapon for any B2B organization, and is one of the best ways to generate quality earned media coverage. But beware the pitfalls when extracting their thoughts, drafting the article, and placing it in the right publication!

Jamie Kightley is Head of Client Services at IBA International.

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