Many corporate spokespeople struggle with what to say in media interviews. As if dealing with one's nerves while speaking publicly isn't enough, there is the constant concern that something said in an interview could be taken out of context.
But sometimes financial professionals may spend time with a journalist only to be frustrated when they find that the finished article does not include their comments at all.
The key to being quoted accurately -- and more often -- can be summed up in two words: sound bites. Developing the ability to speak and write in sound bites is essential; here are a few tips that have worked for my clients and for others.
Tip #1: Keep it short.
Many experts feel that they have to say everything they know about a subject; but the trick is to say just enough to get the journalist hooked and wanting to learn more. When creating your "lead" statement, say what you have to say in one to two sentences, no more. Lead with the bottom line then fill in the details as the Q & A with the journalist unfolds.
Tip #2: Be specific and vivid.
In an interview with a retail media outlet, one of my clients, Rob Wyrick of MFA Capital was asked to comment on what to do if an investor has a low cost basis in their 401(k). His reply was clear and memorable: "Having low cost basis stock in your 401(k) might just put you in a position to take advantage of one of the biggest tax strategies of your life, if you play your cards right."
Notice the use of "play your cards right" -- this is a common phrase that everyone can relate to (it draws a mental picture in the mind, helping the reader instantly get the point).
Tip #3: Have a strong point of view.
Some press requests require a strong POV. When that acronym pops up, pay attention. Experts who have a strong opinion and are not afraid to voice it should jump right in. Look at this excerpt from an opinion piece by some of my other clients, Dan Kern and co-writer Gerard Cronin, both with asset management firm Advisor Partners:
"The departure of Bill Gross from Pimco may provide the most interesting industry gossip we've seen since the acrimonious departure of Jeffrey Gundlach from TCW. The headlines surrounding Mr. Gross are less lurid than those surrounding Mr. Gundlach, though we are amused by reports that Mr. Gross compared himself to Kobe Bryant and Mr. Gundlach to LeBron James in their discussions about creating a "Dream Team" of bond legends.
"We'll save debate over whether we should anoint Dan Fuss as the Michael Jordan or Magic Johnson of the bond market for a later date. All jokes aside, we think this is a momentous transition given the prominence of Mr. Gross and Pimco in the fixed income markets as well as the continuing debate about whether mutual funds should be considered systemically important financial institutions."
Tip #4: Repeat the same word (or make them rhyme).
Repeating words (or making them rhyme) can make the point succinctly and create a stickier sound bite. Warren Buffett, the famous Oracle of Omaha, when giving advice about investing, said, "Be fearful when others are greedy and greedy when others are fearful." Or oft-quoted professor Robert Thompson's remark on Paris Hilton: "She's the nonstory that keeps on being a nonstory."
Tip #5: Make a comparison to something else that everyone knows about.
Consider this comment published by a personal finance magazine. Rather than try to explain a complex topic to a mainstream reporter, the expert relied on a more colorful analogy:
"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 will make the dish."
Tip #6: Use stories.
People love stories and real life examples. While statistics can be compelling when used in the right way, stories draw us in and make things real. Just make sure the stories you use are succinct. Which of the two statements is more appealing?
[A] Janice and Paul Smith have big plans this year: Buy a new house, sock away more money in savings, and possibly even start a family.
[B] 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.
Tip #7: Speak in metaphors.
In the opening paragraph of a recent feature magazine article, another client of mine, Alex Potts -- CEO of asset management firm Loring Ward -- conjured an unusual image to explain why financial advisors should have a conversation about risk with their clients well ahead of market downturns:
"When I think about the next downturn, I think about rats.
"We recently had a leading neuroendocrinologist, Dr. Robert Sapolsky, speak at our national educational conference. He detailed a classic 1970 study that found when rats were given a warning before getting a small electrical shock, they experienced significantly diminished stress levels compared to rats that received no warning. The latter group apparently lived in an unpredictable world of stress. Sapolsky noted that having another rat in the cage also helped minimize stress.
"While I don't want to compare financial advisors and their clients to rats, this research has important implications for how we prepare clients for the next down market."
Tip #8: Say it out loud.
Media-savvy professionals will try saying their comments out loud to find the best inflection. Practice keeping each sound bite to 10 seconds so that in an interview situation (especially on television) all key points can be quickly made.
Rehearsing talking points orally can help the speaker sound more natural and spontaneous. Once internalized, take a deep breath and deliver the statements with energy and passion.
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