February 20, 2018

Leveraging Expertise Areas for Media Coverage

Casey Whittington

Casey Whittington (caseyw@thiswgroup.com) is a senior vice president at The Whittington Group, a communications strategy agency in San Antonio, Texas, with clients all over the country, helping professional services firms tell their stories.




If a tree falls in a forest with no one around, did it make a sound? The same question applies to leveraging expertise for all kinds of businesses, especially law firms. If you have the best family law attorney in the world working at your practice and no one knows it, does it really matter? Getting the word out about your firm’s knowledge and expertise is critical to growth, as it allows a larger reach than word of mouth and client referrals combined.

One of the fastest ways to get the word out is to leverage expertise into media opportunities, especially when it comes to breaking or trending topics. By becoming a thought leader, your voice and opinion are vetted and blessed by news outlets, building your credibility.

Look at it this way. On your way to work this morning, you either drove past, heard, or saw roughly 500 advertisements (and that is a conservative estimate). But you probably heard or read one story that caught your attention, and maybe you even shared it on a social media channel or sent it to a colleague. We place far more trust and value on news and news outlets than we do on advertising and marketing. By injecting your areas of expertise into breaking news stories, you can capture that same trust and value from the public.


Becoming a Thought Leader

For instance, one of our clients during the downturn in oil was a large, regional accounting firm with many areas of expertise and practices, one of which was working with oil companies (a necessity in south Texas). In summer 2014, while listening to the news, we saw that the data started to show more than just a trimming of oil prices—it was a full market correction. Knowing that our client had some insight into what this might mean going forward, we reached out to every media outlet in the state and said, “Hey, oil is falling off a cliff, and if you need an expert opinion, give us a shout.”

By reaching out to the media during a time of breaking news, we offered something they greatly needed: an expert. It wasn’t long before our phones were ringing, and one of the reporters in the San Antonio area was able to interview one of the practice leaders for her story. Great win for the client, and it took no more than a half-hour of his time.

That story was later picked up by more than 50 publications from coast to coast through the AP newswire, showcasing the firm as an industry-leading thought expert—all based on about an hour’s worth of work.

Another one of our clients, a property tax law firm, had a similar experience. The topic of rising property taxes was a hot issue at the state legislature, meaning every outlet in the state was paying attention. By offering the partners of the firm as experts and submitting an op-ed, we were able to get them into some of the larger newspapers in Texas. Soon after, USA Today picked up the story.

The moral of those two examples is that there will likely be a time in the near future when your firm will have expert knowledge on a trending news story, either local or national, and you are missing out by not leveraging the firm’s expertise areas.


Finding Your Leverage

So, now you know what needs to be done. But how do you go about doing it?

The short answer is research. You need to know exactly where your opportunities are, both internally and externally.

Internally, keep a list of everyone at the firm and what their one or two absolutely expert areas are, and keep that list nearby. Externally, keep a list of reporters or news outlets that have covered the topics corresponding to the internal list. Follow them on Twitter, and learn what kind of story they like to cover. Some reporters are more about the “feel-good” angle, while others rely on “gotcha” stories and tactics. Stay away from the latter. Some are simply “beat” reporters for an industry such as real estate, energy, politics, etc.

The last step requires that you pay attention to the news, both locally and nationally, at least on a weekly basis. Ideally you check the news every day, but we all get busy. When one of the topics or areas of expertise that exists within your firm comes up in the news cycle, gently reach out to the reporter via e-mail or Twitter, and offer to provide background or other information that could be helpful. Sometimes the reporter is going to lean on an expert for research purposes only. Remember, reporters cover hundreds of topics a year, and they cannot possibly be experts at everything. They need your knowledge.

A quick caveat about the last step: Make sure when you send that e-mail or tweet that you have the time to respond. Sometimes the reporter will fire back with something like, “Perfect! Can we talk right now?” So, have your speaking points laid out and carve off ten to 15 minutes before you press “send” with that offer to help.

For instance, let’s say there is a new law in your state regarding insurance claims on car accidents, and you happen to have the knowledge and background that could help a reporter. Odds are, this reporter has little knowledge of the law or how it can alter the everyday life of most people. This is where you come in. Most of the time, you will earn the report’s gratitude for help covering a complex topic, and you can bet the public and the media will turn to you when that topic comes up again.


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Casey Whittington