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Journalists often divide their sources into two categories: experts and “real people.” Most entrepreneurs are experts in something, and their PR team markets them to the press as such. Experts can be useful to reporters, but real people are often more sought after by the media.
Real people are basically anyone who is relevant to the story but not an expert in the topic. For instance, if the story is about a real estate development, real-people sources might be people who will live or work in the space or nearby. If the story is about a medical condition, real people could be those living with that condition or whose loved ones are.
For a story to work for their editors and audience, journalists often need both types of sources. Since experts tend to have websites and social media, journalists can usually find whatever expert they need online pretty easily. Finding real people who want to talk to the press about their lives without any incentive to do so can be tougher, so savvy PR professionals seek them out to assist the media.
Offering your company’s experts along with real people is a great way to stand out and create meaningful press coverage that shows the impact of your organization. But if journalists have a hard time finding real people, how are you supposed to find them? Here are a few places to start.
Look at the effects of your work
Consider a CPA who functions in a strategic role to help clients optimize their finances. Numbers showing your impact are essential, but what will really help you secure media coverage that fully captures what you do is the voice of a client describing what your work meant for them. Did it help them overcome a challenging period? Hire someone they’ve always wanted to hire? How do they feel about the future of their company as a result?
In addition to speaking in the abstract about your product or service and the need it fills, look for people who exist at the point of that need. While you may have authority on the topic, they can tell a story with dimension. Their story has a beginning (how they found you), middle (their experience of working with you), and an end (what’s next for them as a result of working with you). It also has an emotional component that cuts through the noise of today’s media landscape.
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Think beyond your company and your clients
The real person that will make your story work for the press may not be anyone you would normally talk to. Sometimes you have to go a step further than your company and your clients. This is easy to see with manufacturers, who are often disconnected from the end user because their clients are other manufacturers who use their parts in larger products.
A manufacturer in this situation needs to find a real person who can speak to the role a specific part plays in the product. Does it make it safer? More durable? More reliable? More precise? Who does that matter to, and how does it make their job or life easier? Including this perspective takes the story beyond specs and numbers and gives readers or viewers an experience that resonates.
This same approach applies to all sorts of companies. Architecture firms, for instance, often aren’t engaged by the people who will occupy the space. They’re hired by a developer to design housing or by a government agency to design a school. Connecting the media with students, teachers, residents, etc., will create richer coverage that shows their designs' impact.
One way to find real-people sources is to look for chatter on social media. Asking PR and marketing professionals for help is another. Your clients may have real-people sources they can connect you with, or even be interested in helping you find them. It’s always a good idea for your marketing and PR team to collaborate with their counterparts at your clients and partner organizations.
Turn your experts into real people
Your experts are, of course, people. Sometimes including an aspect of their personal experience in addition to their professional expertise can make their perspective more valuable to the media. For instance, I once coordinated a local TV story about a cyberattack featuring a cybersecurity expert client … who also happened to be a victim of the attack. He described what it felt like to have his family’s medical data compromised and offer insights on how the attack happened or could have been prevented.
You don’t have to wait for coincidence like that to try this approach. All it takes is showing how your expert is living up to the principles that drive their work. One of our partners who helps leaders transform their organizations also transformed himself by going from a non-athlete to a marathon runner in his 40s and losing 60 pounds. His story makes him more than an expert — it makes him an example.
Not just more press — more results
Media campaigns are commonly measured by the number of placements and the audiences they reach. While these metrics are useful, what really matters is if the press coverage helped the business grow or reach other hiring and retention objectives.
Including real-people sources in your press outreach can help open doors that will increase your audience. More importantly, it adds depth to your press coverage. Media coverage that is memorable, compelling and human is what drives the most meaningful results.