The media wants your written commentary: Now what?
The next time your financial services firm engages in a media interview, it might not be via phone. Reporters across a wide variety of outlets are increasingly relying on written source commentary versus the traditional phone or – seldom, yet valuable – in-person interview.
We know what you’re thinking: “No phone interview? No problem! I write presentations, research papers and newsletters all the time.” The truth is, these compositions have a much different writing style than news media and in order to have your written commentary quoted in an article, it must be in a media-ready format.
As a leading financial services PR firm, Gregory FCA has made it a point to incorporate ongoing interview training with clients so your firm is prepared to share your story and establish yourselves as subject matter experts. That’s why we went right to the horse’s mouth for some tips on what the media looks for in written responses.
What makes for great written source commentary?
Coryanne Hicks, investing reporter with U.S. News & World Report, said it’s all about quality over quantity. “Writing style and a strong voice are far more important than length,” she related. Additionally, being able to discuss the subject matter without getting too in the weeds is a plus. “If you have a unique way of explaining something, go for it. I love metaphors and similes. Make it relatable to everyday experiences or tangible things,” Hicks continued.
We also spoke with Michael Foster, lead research strategist at CEF Insider, who frequently contributes to financial news sites like Kiplinger and Forbes. “When you write a response, try to make it as short as possible,” Foster said. “In all likelihood, if you write a five-paragraph answer, only one sentence of that may be used. It’s optimal to give short enough answers so there’s a higher likelihood of getting quoted.”
Katie Kuehner-Hebert, freelance journalist for a variety of industry publications including Financial Planning and BenefitsPRO, said the more thought leadership, the better. “Every single comment you make doesn’t have to tie directly back to your company,” she noted. Additionally, specific details, anecdotes and factoids always pique her interest.
On the flipside, what makes for unsavory comments? Why would you omit something from a story?
When asking our sources, we heard a number of reasons why commentary might be omitted from an article, ranging from heavy-handed company promotion to the content itself.
“Self promotion is a no-no,” said Foster. “It’s understandable that you want to promote yourself, but there’s a limit. Being too self-congratulatory is an issue.”
Kuehner-Hebert agreed. “It shouldn’t sound like an advertorial,” she said.
Another key mistake financial firms make when submitting responses for media opportunities is focusing too much on the competition. While it’s tempting to talk down other firms’ competing products or services, more often than not it ends up reflecting poorly on you. Not to mention the fact you are giving them free press!
When asked about calling out the competition, Kuehner-Hebert expressed it’s best to take the high road. “I think it’s perfectly fine if companies want to distinguish themselves from competitors, but you should never take a negative spin on a competitor,” she noted. “Instead, focus on your strength.”
Lastly, when it comes to RIAs and advisors specifically, Foster mentioned there’s an unfortunate tendency to repeat the same key brand messages, even if they don’t necessarily make sense for the reporter’s audience. “For example, ‘low-cost index funds are the solution to every investment problem.’ While it’s true this is appropriate for the average income earner, it isn’t so for the mid-income earner with low-income net worth in their 50s or someone investing for a five-year time horizon,” he said. “RIAs have been trained to assume everyone in their audience has the same financial needs and to give the same blanket advice.”
Hicks shared similar feedback. “Our readers are coming to articles because they want to learn something,” she said. “Think about the reader’s intent. I’m looking for something unique, not common knowledge.”
So, why all of a sudden is there a demand for written commentary?
For Foster, it boils down to accommodating for time zone differences, keeping a record of the insight and increasing the quality of the contribution. “When a source gives a written response, it tends to be a much better thought-out and more accurate representation of what the source thinks. On the phone you might throw out a half-baked idea, whereas writing it down typically produces a much higher-quality response.”
Hicks agreed. “The advantage to email is better clarity and sentence structure.”
How can expert sources ultimately improve the quality of their written responses?
According to Kuehner-Hebert, full sentences are key. “While bullet points are an effective way to outline processes or steps, they should not be the framework for your commentary,” she said. “If I have to rework bullet points into sentences, it’s a tad unethical and there’s a greater risk of losing the original context of your thought.”
Kuehner-Hebert advised reciting the commentary either out loud or in your head before submitting. “Make it sound like a conversation you’re having with someone sitting across the table,” she said.
The ultimate purpose of journalism is to provide objective information; however, Foster said bias leaks into interviews whether you try to avoid it or not. “The best thing to do is recognize you have a bias and when you’re writing responses, not only express your own view but present the counterargument and make it abundantly clear why you disagree with it,” he said.
Also keep in mind what we at Gregory FCA call the first rule of communications. “Largely, make sure you know who your audience is. You’re not writing this for the journalist, you’re writing it for the journalist’s readers,” said Hicks.
Submitting written commentary for an interview is certainly different than speaking over the phone, but there are ways that you as the expert can stand out and provide meaningful insight in any format.