Packaging yourself or one of your in-house directors as a quotable expert on the Web can bring your facility and services recognition and credibility.
Given that quotable experts are the lifeblood of every news organization on the planet, it's no wonder that thousands of PR outfits work overtime to package their CEO clients as the "go to" source for specific industries. Thanks to the Web, every company can now do the same, however small its PR budget.
“Once you fill a niche and provide a unique perspective on your area of expertise and once people are drawn to what you offer, they continue to return to you, not only because of what you do but also because of who you are and what you bring to the subject,” says Bob Baker, author of Poor Richard’s Branding Yourself Online.
Not surprisingly, cultivating an online image as an authoritative news source demands many of the same qualities necessary for any respected product. According to Baker, building trust, developing a consistent theme and reinforcing your facility owner’s or director’s authoritative image with unrelenting repetition must be part of the package from the very beginning.
Equally important is creating the aura of authority or celebrity. “Successfully pinpointing an online brand identity can mean the difference between attracting patrons and creating fans,” Baker says. “The Republican National Committee has members; Rush Limbaugh has fans. The radio program All Things Considered has listeners; Howard Stern has fans. Entertainment Tonight has viewers; David Letterman has fans.”
Although cultivating an image as a celebrity or an authority on the Web is often a significant investment in an in-house or outsourced publicist, more firms realize they can reach out to editors and reporters by joining “expert stables” on the Web, which specialize in promoting company experts to world media at rock-bottom rates.
Such stables attract droves of editors and reporters by amalgamating a wide spectrum of quotable experts and authorities eager to help the media with articles and stories. Moreover, by leveraging the Web’s digital ubiquity and speed-of-light communications, these stables provide media exposure on a global scale at a fraction of the cost of more traditional PR techniques.
Once you’ve hit on an image package you believe will help catapult your owner or director into the limelight, you can leverage a number of Web tools to give that goal some legs.
Already the home of more than 400 experts representing an array of special interests, About.com is one of the highest-profile expert stables on the Web and a substantial resource for Web surfers.
Signing on as an About.com expert, or “About Guide,” is a major commitment. Essentially, About.com gives each of its experts a home page featuring a generous selection of links related to the area of expertise, ongoing online chats on the subject, at least one newsletter, a bulletin board and an open invitation from the expert to answer e-mail questions on the subject, and, according to About.com’s owners, most experts spend 10 to 20 hours per week to keep their little corners of the Web up to snuff. For example, all of them are strong writers able to crank out 300- to-500-word features on their areas of expertise at least twice a month.
It may sound like a lot of work, but the rewards can be substantial for those willing to log the time (or those who have the PR staff to do it). Long established as one of the most thorough Internet directories, About.com often ranks among the first links returned on virtually all of the Web’s major search engines. Company PR departments who do a really bang-up job on About.com can even generate a little advertising revenue for their companies: Basically, if a company officer’s About.com home page begins driving in significant Web traffic, About.com rewards the home page with a cut of the advertising revenue generated by the page.
Paige Waehner, a certified personal trainer, is an About.com guide on exercise (www.exercise.about.com). “After being visible on the Web, I’ve been on a morning show in Sacramento, participated in a number of interviews for Web sites such as Channel One and had articles published in print newsletters and magazines,” she says. “It has absolutely helped my career. Actually, it has become my career. Because I’m part of a larger network of professionals, I have a new way to market myself. Being visible on the Web also gave me more credibility with my clients.”
Waehner says that she invested probably no more than $1,500 over 4 years to establish herself as an About.com guide. Her investment included outlays for a PC, Web site fee and high-speed Internet connection. “The first year required more time— 4 to 8 hours a day,” she recalls. “Over time, I’ve learned how best to focus my energies and keep my site updated efficiently.”
Fitness guru and nutrition expert Estella Juarez is another About.com guide, listed under bodybuilding (www.bodybuilding.about.com). “Since I’ve been on the Web, I’ve appeared twice on a new weekly bodybuilding radio show, The Iron Show,” she says. “I’ll also be a regular guest on the show two or three times a month to talk about bodybuilding meal preparation.” The About.com gig has also helped establish Juarez as a Web journalist so she can contribute to sites such as davedraper.com and a number of health cooking sites. In addition, a book deal for her Stella’s Kitchen: Creative Cooking for Fun, Flavor and a Lean, Strong Body originated from her Web exposure.
This site is a basic clearinghouse for industry and other authorities and a relatively inexpensive place to post word that your facility leader is ready, willing and able to be quoted. It invests considerable effort in promoting itself online and ensuring that it consistently ranks high in search engine returns when Web surfers search either for experts “in general” or for a specific expert. In exchange, Experts.com charges $250 per listing, which includes a link to the expert’s company Web site.
This Web service is used primarily by radio and TV news editors to forage for interesting guests for on-the-spot interviews. An actively managed site, GuestFinder.com regularly bumps experts with insight on breaking news events to its home page for easy access.
Unlike many other expert sites, GuestFinder.com has a fairly rigorous qualification system. Experts need to have authored at least one book listed by Books in Print. Experts also need to be highly regarded in their fields and considered the primary spokespersons for their companies. A basic listing here costs $249 per year.
You’d be hard-pressed to find a source for quotable experts more authoritative than the National Press Club (npc.press.org/newssources/index.cfm). Because the folks here realize that, it’ll cost you. A basic 100-word listing goes for $480 per year. Half-page ads run at $710 per year. Full-page ads cost $1,055 per year.
Michael G. Davis, CEO of the American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance (www.aahperd.org), is part of the NPC directory, as is Robyn Curtis, PR specialist for the National Strength and Conditioning Association (www.nsca-lift.org). Curtis does not give interviews to the press but steers journalists to fitness experts allied with her association.
Run by PR Newswire, one of the oldest press release creation and distribution service providers, ProfNet (www .profnet.com) is a stable of more than 4,000 experts who have agreed to answer e-mail queries from the media via the Web. Reporters and editors stop by ProfNet and punch in a question, and ProfNet distributes their queries to the appropriate experts four times a day.
PR Newswire has a pretty high profile as a disseminator of press releases, so booking your owner or director here may pay off handsomely. However, it’s not cheap; expert subscribers pay about $1,000 per year for a listing.
SourceNet (www.mediamap.com) is offered by MediaMap, another old hand at corporate public relations. Journalists around the world stop by SourceNet to post questions anonymously to its entire stable of experts. They can also seek a specific expert in SourceNet’s expert database.
You may be familiar with the Yearbook of Experts, established decades ago as a hardcopy book. This Web version of the same service currently lists contact info for about 1,500 authorities. The cost for a basic listing here runs around $149.
Gloria Keeling, fitness guru and founder of Strong, Stretched & Centered (www.mindbodyspeaker.com), is listed at ExpertClick.com. Other fitness experts listed here include Tom Ivicevic, PR director of the Aerobics and Fitness Association of America (www.afaa.com), and Angelina Spector, founder of Mind Body Connection (www.mindbodyfitness.net).
“The Web has enabled me to appear as a more viable business,” Spector says. “Actually, Pura Vida Resort asked me to present a seminar because they saw my Web site. I also receive weekly calls from people who have seen us on the Web.” Spector’s site cost about $2,000 to set up, and she estimates that she spends $200 per month in administrative time to maintain that presence.
Other clearinghouses in which you may want to list your owner or director include Pistco’s Ask An Expert (www .askanexpert.com), ShowIdeas.Com (www.showideas.com) and ExpertFind (www.libraryspot.com/askanexpert.htm).
Ultimately, if you check your puff at the door and provide truly useful articles, you’ll never run out of industry forums in which to place articles featuring your in-house expert. “Good content is hard to find,” Baker says, “but experts on specialized topics are even harder to find.”