Public relations and publicity aren’t the same thing, but they are definitely intertwined. The public must first know you exist before it can have an opinion about you. One of the best ways that professionals can be introduced to a large audience is as an expert in their industry. And for credibility’s sake, it’s best if that introduction comes from an unbiased source … a news media outlet, for example.
If you’ve hired a good PR agency—or a marketing firm that also provides well-coordinated PR services in addition to other promotional strategies—they should discuss setting you up with their media contacts as a resource for news stories covering your industry. But absent professional marketing assistance, there are a three things you can do on your own to position yourself as an expert in your field.
Be visibly active in your community. This boils down to the dreaded ‘networking.’ Join your local Chamber of Commerce or other business organizations and take an active role. Offer thoughtful, well-expressed opinions in friendly discussions when it comes to topics related to your business. Even more importantly, if your industry has a professional organization with a chapter in your area, be sure to join and work to take a leadership role. Then, if a journalist begins asking around for an expert to quote, your name may come up. And certainly, anytime you meet members of the media, give them your card and let them know you are happy to help answer questions relating to your field.
Utilize social media to establish a public presence. Blog, tweet, or have a Facebook page that speaks to issues in your industry (without an overt sales pitch). In addition to being a resource for your customers, delivering information in this way will help set you up as a public expert. First, if a reporter googles an expert to contact, your name may show up in the search results. Secondly, doing these things on a regular basis will force you to pay attention to the latest developments in your industry, so you can speak knowledgeably if an opportunity presents itself. And finally, expressing yourself through social media provides practice organizing your thoughts and speaking on the record.
Share story ideas with the media. Don’t confuse this with a press release for your business. Instead, if you see something happening in your line of work that strikes you as unusual and may be a cause of interest (or alarm) for the general public, contact the news editor of your local paper or TV station and let them know what you’re observing. (For example: You’re a CPA and you see a lot of your clients having trouble with tax information related to Obamacare.) Be concise, to the point and clearly explain why the phenomenon might be worthy of news coverage. Even if you don’t get a bite on that particularly story, there’s a chance your name could be remembered for some other article in the future.
The most important thing in becoming a resource for professional expertise is to be available. When a reporter calls you will need to answer, or if you are just too busy to break away at that moment you must return his call within a few hours at the most. Chances are that journalists will be facing a tight deadline, and they aren’t going to wait around long before moving on to someone else. And if you aren’t there for them when they need you, they’ll be less likely to come back again.
Also, if you are quoted in a story, don’t nitpick over trivial matters regarding your exact words. Yes, if you’re misquoted in a way that makes your published statement substantively incorrect, bring it to the reporter’s attention. However, if her transgression is that you said “fast” and she wrote “quickly,” let it go. And anytime you’re reasonably pleased with a story in which your expert comments appear, send the reporter a note congratulating her on her fine work and letting her know how much you enjoyed participating in their work. This way, reporters will remember you as someone they enjoyed working with.
Keep in mind that you won’t become a media-recognized expert overnight. As you may have noticed, there is a lot of groundwork to lay, and frankly, a good bit of hard work. But the good news is that once you’ve reached “expert” status, opportunities to increase your professional profile will increase exponentially with every public appearance.