Getting featured in a great story about your company is one thing, but earning consistent media placements in stories that go far beyond your company’s reach builds influence and branding that reaches much further. Positioning yourself or one of your organization’s leading minds as a regular, trusted source for reporters whose expertise is regularly featured in their news coverage is one of the fastest ways to establish thought leadership. That status is not granted with a single interview or just because someone is already a leader in their field though. It takes work, commitment, consistency and time. Here’s what it takes to become a good source for reporters in your field or your community.

The First to Respond Earns the First and Sometimes Only Interview

While I worked in the CBS Network Radio newsroom, we produced national broadcasts every 30-minutes (every 10-to-20 minutes during breaking news). When we chased breaking news on the economy, for example, we had a long list of names and phone numbers for leading economic minds across the country that we could call for additional insight. That list was not ordered alphabetically or by intelligence or even by reputation. It was in order of 1) who picked up the phone fastest and would agree to an interview and 2) who conveyed complex information clearly enough for a general audience. We would start at the top and work our way down.

If you want to land the interview, you need to respond quickly to requests and be flexible enough to reschedule the rest of your day to speak with a reporter right now. If you don’t, someone else will. I frequently had to turn down interviews with renowned economists for the simple fact that they called back 30-minutes later and we’d already done two other interviews. For those who made themselves available quickly and consistently, we were thankful. They, however, were honest about their reasons. Consistent media coverage led to notoriety, influence, recognition within their organization and additional business inquiries or book deals.

Know Your Business, But Also Know Who You’re Talking To

Being smart is one thing. Communicating clearly is entirely different. If an intelligent and well informed person can also both simplify the insight they’re sharing for a general audience and elevate it for a niche, well informed audience like themselves, that’s where the magic happens for a reporter. While these two gifts rarely appear simultaneously in the same person, luckily one of them can be learned.

Before an interview, prepare for it with your communications team. Sometimes you might have a week to prepare, but other times you may only have five-minutes on the phone. In that time, a good communications professional can identify the two-or-three key points you need to emphasize, prepare you for the unexpected questions likely to come up that you hadn’t even considered and help you amp up or tone down the complexity of your information so that it serves the reporter’s audience best. 

Be Generous and Genuine in Conversations with Reporters

Reporters and editors know you are busy and they appreciate you taking the time out of your day to speak with them. Instead of reminding them that you have to be out the door for another meeting in five minutes, try to show generosity and patience with them. Answer all their questions, check if there’s anything else they’d like to touch on and share something else with them that’s on your mind. Trust us, most of your days are not as busy as theirs, although few if any reporters will ever admit that to you. You also want to be genuine in your conversations and truly try to help them understand or tell a story well. Show that you’re a person, not just a quote machine, and connect with them as a person. 

Conclusion: Thought Leadership Is Built on Relationships

Even the smartest person in the room will rarely get called back for another interview if they made the interview difficult for everyone involved. Thought leadership built on media engagements or interviews is really built on relationships. To build and remain active in that relationship, you need to continue making yourself available, share what you know freely and treat the other person in the relationship with respect. If you can do all of that over time, reporters will continue to seek out your insight when they need it for a story (and without you needing to pitch them). And in this way, both the quality of their reporting and your influence within your field will continue to grow over time.

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