I still have the first contacts book I had as a journalist: a blue Filofax stuffed with names and phone numbers.
As well as the usual lists of councillors, fire officers, police officers, MPs and anyone else a local reporter was likely to come into contact with, it also had whole pages dedicated to experts such random topics as cults, country music, drug rehabilitation and even meat (including the Association of British Abbatoir Owners, the Bacon and Meat Manufacturing Assoc and various organic butchers).
All the result of diligent research on a whole range of stories that I’ve covered in my time, and precious because they meant that next time I worked on a similar story, I already had the names and numbers of potential interviewees that I knew were good, were experts in their field, were happy to talk and were generally available.
Recognise any of these?
If you watch or listen to the news, I bet you’ve heard and seen them all dozens of times.
Camilla is the founder of the Kids Company. She’s the media’s go-to expert on deprived children.
Shami is the director of Liberty, and is constantly being interviewed about human rights issues.
Simon is the travel editor of the Independent. He is continually interviewed on TV and radio about transport and travel issues.
Not to take anything away from these three fine people, but you can’t tell me they’re the only experts in their field.
They’re always contacted because journalists know they’ve got credibility, they know they’ll give a good interview, they know they’ll be available, and that they know the game.
And in general, journalists don’t have a great deal of time. They want to look in their contacts book (or nowadays their contacts file in Outlook) and find someone they can rely on – fast.
And you can be pretty sure these three know very well the value for their organisation of appearing regularly in the media.
If you’re the ‘go-to’ interviewee in your field, the media exposure gives you multiple opportunities to get your name in the paper, on the radio, and on TV, providing your learned and expert opinion and in the process, promoting your brand, your key messages and your company.
You can’t tell me Kids Company has benefitted hugely from the media profile of it’s founder.
You can’t tell me that most people who watch or listen to the news haven’t heard of Liberty, when there are any number of other organisations also campaigning on behalf of civil liberties.
And you can’t tell me that Simon Calder’s career hasn’t been boosted massively by his reputation as a good interviewee – for one thing he was on the judging panel of two programmes I worked on, UKs Worst Hotels and UKs Worst Holiday Accommodation – surely making him the envy of every other travel editor!
And if you’re an expert in your field, whether it is holistic medicine, branding and marketing, social media or health and safety, there is no reason why you can’t become the media’s favourite interviewee.
The key is to make yourself known and ensure that you’re readily available, and you can prove your expertise, and that when you give interviews they add value, are entertaining and interesting. That way the journalist will want to ask you back!