Our attention spans are growing shorter and competing with multiple devices – often simultaneously. So in order to express an idea that gets noticed and shared, you need to trim your critical points into sound bites.
Most seasoned financial professionals have received media inquiries – commonly called “press requests” – from journalists who are working on a story and looking for sources. Responding quickly, concisely and compellingly is essential if you want to stand out from other professionals who may be vying for attention. Journalists will often send the same press request to a number of organizations as well as their go-to list of contacts, so being quick to reply and hitting the bull’s eye is key.
How does the journalist or producer decide whether to interview you or another expert? Certainly, part of who gets chosen (and who doesn’t) may be based upon who responds fastest. But it also heavily depends on who provides the best sound bites. Put yourself in the journalist’s place: he or she has a limited amount of time or space to convey their story; the most concise and memorable response can not only capture the attention of their audience but keep them reading or watching.
Developing the ability to speak and write in sound bites is not always easy, but you’re more likely to master the art of capturing the journalist’s attention if you incorporate the following tips into your media responses.
1. THINK AND SPEAK IN TWEETS
How many people take ten sentences to say what could be said in one or two? Don’t be that person. Twitter allows 140 characters to say what you want to say. Use that as your guide to develop the ultimate sound bite. Your response should be no more than one to two sentences long.
Here are some good examples:
“Defining wealth by what you see can be very misleading. I've found that Ferrari owners can struggle to make payments, and multimillionaires may choose to ride their bike to work.” – Brian Parker, CFP®, co-founder of EP Wealth Advisors in a WSJ.com article on money and the perception of wealth
“To understand someone’s financial DNA is to understand the financial demons they may deal with. For example, do you think about money from a history of abundance or scarcity?” – Wayne von Borstel, CLU, ChFC, CFP®, founder of Von Borstel & Associates in a WSJ.com article on financial planning basics
2. BE SPECIFIC AND COLORFUL
In an interview with Business Week, an analyst for Avondale Partners, LLC, was talking about the stocks of two railroad companies: Union Pacific and Burlington Northern. Here’s the language he used to turn an otherwise boring statistical trend into something truly memorable:
"It's one thing if you steal dirt from my front yard, and it's another if you break into my house and take my sterling silver. For six quarters, Union Pacific's been walking around Burlington Northern's house and taking as much silver, jewels and flat-screen TVs they can get their hands on."
His comments are colorful and specific. Of all the analysts who could have been quoted, Donald Broughton’s fluent use of sound bites earned a place in the article.
3. HAVE A DEFINITIVE POINT OF VIEW
Many people prefer to appear neutral in order to avoid offending anyone with an opposing viewpoint (or worry their compliance department will go nuts). But remember that journalists are looking for clearly expressed opinions. Besides, are you really contributing anything if what you say never elicits commentary or debate?
Sheryl Garrett, CFP, founder of the Garrett Planning Network, rarely shies away from a strong opinion. She was quoted in an article in The New York Times:
“I think very few people need a full-time financial planner,” said Ms. Garrett, whose network includes a group of approximately 300 certified financial planners who charge hourly or flat fees. “There are people who do, like the proverbial little old lady from Peoria whose deceased husband took care of all the finances, or maybe you’re a very busy individual who doesn’t want to be bothered.”
Garrett explained she wasn’t opposed to the idea of paying a certified financial planner a percentage of your total assets - often 1 percentage point for comprehensive financial planning. “I just think it’s being way oversold, and the price is pretty steep.”
Garrett tries to tell it like it is, at least as it occurs to her. That’s one of the reasons she is quoted so frequently in top-tier media outlets and has become a go-to resource for dozens of journalist across the country.
4. REPEAT OR RHYME
“Be fearful when others are greedy and greedy when others are fearful,” advised Warren Buffett when discussing investment strategy.
Jonny Cochran famously told a jury, “If the glove don’t fit, you must acquit.” The phrase, while certainly controversial in many circles, became an unforgettable sound bite for the media.
Repeating one or two words (or making them rhyme) can make the point succinctly and create a stickier sound bite.
5: MAKE RELATABLE COMPARISONS
Donald Patrick, CFP, founder of Integrated Financial Group, was asked to comment on alternative investments and asset allocation. Rather than droning on about the complexities of the topic to a mainstream reporter, he said something like this:
“Building a good investment portfolio is like cooking a big pot of soup. You fill the pot with fresh vegetables and a little meat, season the soup and simmer. You might add a pinch of cayenne. By itself, the cayenne will kill you. But a pinch can make the dish.”
Guess who was quoted in the article? It wasn’t the advisor who provided a two-page essay explaining everything there is to know about risk tolerance and asset allocation.
6.TELL A SHORT STORY
People love stories and real life examples – especially journalists. Lead with a short example such as, “In my work with clients who are concerned about outliving their money…” or “I met recently with a couple of clients who are worried about outliving their retirement income…”
Statistics can be striking, but stories draw us in and hold our attention. Which of the following opening statements do you think will attract the most readers?
[A] A new survey by Pew Research found that 48% of middle-aged adults with grown children gave them financial support in 2012. Some 21% with a parent age 65 or older gave financially.
[B] Des Moines, Iowa-based couple Suzie and Tom Hansen are, according to a new survey by Pew Research, like most (48%) middle-aged adults with grown children. Because of the continued recession, they provided some form of financial support to help their adult children weather the storm. Their son, Jimmy Hansen, and his wife Mary have been struggling to make ends meet due to a new baby and layouts at the GM factory.”
The study is in itself compelling (and perhaps disheartening for those middle-aged adults), but the statistics alone die on the page. Instead, add details that bring the story to life and make it personal for the reader. Just make sure your stories aren’t verbose. Get to the point!
7. USE METAPHORS
A meaningful comparison can often take a complex concept and sum it up more concisely. So try making your point by creating a colorful parallel that resonates with your audience – something anybody can understand.
When talking about the Wall Street scandals in 2008-09, Deena Katz, CFP, chairman of Evensky & Katz, said: “There have been some very bad incidents in past years (Madoff and Stanford most recently) which have shaken the trust and confidence that people had in advisors. This is a two-sided problem. Many people do not have the education to recognize if something is not right; some are looking for investment opportunities that are just too good to be true. A little greed and a little vice make a big mess. I always tell people ‘Never let anyone care more about your money than you do.’”
Katz makes her point in a way that gets the media to pay attention and quote her, rather than another expert.
8. SAY IT OUT LOUD
Speak your comments out loud. Repeat them over and over to find the best inflection. Give yourself points if you can keep each sound bite to ten seconds. If you end up in an interview situation (especially on television), you want to be sure to get in all of your points. Make sure you can say each one succinctly.
Rehearsing mentally is helpful. But rehearsing your talking points out loud is essential in helping you sound more natural and spontaneous. Each time you rehearse, act as if you are saying the sound bites for the first time. With each attempt, subtle differences will emerge until it simply rolls off your tongue.
9. KEEP IT FRESH
Your sound bites should evolve as you do. if your analogies sound outdated or your stories are no longer relatable, it’s time to refresh. Most importantly, make sure that your news releases, press request replies and pitch emails include at least one unforgettable sound bite that is so pithy and relevant that the journalist decides his or her story won't be the same without it.
Marie Swift (@marieswift on Twitter) and her team at Impact Communications have been working with independent financial advisors and allied institutions for twenty years. While the tools have changed, the communication essentials never do. Learn more at www.ImpactCommunications.org.