Media training tips and insights for accountants

Aug 25, 2020 | Key Business skills, Lead generation, Marketing and promotion

I recently spoke with Guy Clapperton, an old friend, and I thought it was worth sharing his media tips with the accountants who read my blog, and those who receive my weekly ‘Magic of Success‘ emails.

In this short interview you will find your preconceptions challenged by the insights and advice that Guy shares. He is a journalist, broadcaster, podcaster and media trainer.

ML: Most of the accountants I know focus very much on delivering services to their clients. Formal media and corporate communications don’t seem to be a priority. Why is your world relevant to theirs?

GC: Many of those accountancy practices will want to grow. One proven way to make this possible is to get more people talking about them and the accountancy firms need to have a say in how those conversations go.

ML: I take it this about more than referral advertising and marketing?

GC: Essentially you can tell people you are good accountants – that’s advertising – you can get your network to tell people you’re good at accountancy through social media, but the sweet spot is when someone comes up to you and just knows you’re good because they’ve heard it from a number of places. That’s’ the power of the mass media, even now.

ML: OK, but the world of media training can be pretty murky. Accountants are steeped in the world of objective, hard facts and compliance rather than spinning or indeed being generous with the truth.

GC: So are the best journalists and media trainers! There’s the odd one or two who aren’t but we’re not in the business of distorting facts any more than accountants are all about tax dodges. They want their clients, large or small, to pay the right amount of tax, not cheat the system. In the same way, as a media trainer I want to make sure people are fit to go into interviews and make sure they avoid the pitfalls.

ML: But you just said journalists were mostly steeped in hard facts. Why would an interview have pitfalls?

GC: A number of reasons, most of which are rescuable immediately from the interviewee’s side. I did a little research – only among my LinkedIn contacts, nothing scientific – and found that their biggest worry about the press was that they would be misquoted and people would get a false impression of what they do or say.

Let’s step back from that a second. They spend 20 minutes or so briefing a journalist about a business they work in full time, and where they’ve been for years, and they’re surprised the write-up suggests the journalist didn’t grasp every nuance. How was that realistic in the first place?

ML: But they’re not going to hire the journalist for a year or something so they can absorb the company culture. What can they do about it?

GC: The first thing is to set expectations – what can actually be achieved here. The second is to look at an interview and assess your objective from taking part. Only then can you really start to measure whether it’s a worthwhile thing to do and later, whether it’s been successful.

ML: OK, but it’s really irritating when a politician won’t give an answer on TV or radio. You’re not seriously suggesting an accountant should do the same thing?

GC: No, but your accountants aren’t publicly accountable in the same way politicians are. Accountants’ time is valuable and any meetings with the media will be connected with their business. No one should go into any business conversation without an idea of what they want to get out of it, and they don’t let the other side dictate the entire agenda. In press interviews those basics sometimes seem to be forgotten. So it’s always worth going in with firm ideas of what you need to get out of it, just like any other business conversation.

ML: Journalists and podcasters may not like having their questions hijacked.

GC: Tough – you don’t work for them and you’re giving them some of your time free of charge. There has to be some sort of quid pro quo. Also they’re coming to you because of your expertise. You’re probably doing them a massive favour in steering them to more pertinent areas than the ones they’re asking about.

ML: I always enjoyed the experience and the confidence boost that came from being interviewed for radio and TV. I did many of these during my years in practice; now it tends only to be for podcasts (like yours!). But I was always disappointed by the lack of direct business enquiries that followed my media interviews. I suspect it’s quite different for accountants. Do you think it’s really worth the time and effort for them?

GC: Occasionally you might get an increase in business as a direct result of a good media interview but generally it’s best to think of it as part of the marketing mix rather than direct lead generation.

ML: Social media didn’t exist when I used to be on the radio and TV. It’s all very different now – when I’m interviewed these days I can share a recording via Linkedin, Twitter, Facebook and sometimes even YouTube.

GC: Well done Mark. Many people seem unaware that these are all valuable ways to extend the benefit of media coverage. Accountants would also need to have an easy to find website and social media profiles. It’s also worth creating content to supplement the insights you share via the media. Then, when anyone searches for you online, your articles will enhance your reputation. Even better if these are in trusted third party publications or websites, which can act as third party validation. Or maybe the media coverage simply means that your name’s been around so they just think of you when they need your service.

ML: So what are the basics for accountants who want to secure some good media coverage?

GC: First, do your homework or find an agency or freelance PR person to do it for you. Find out who’s publishing or broadcasting to reach your target audience. As ever, the more specific you can be, the easier it gets to stand out and secure coverage. There’s often useful data in media packs from the advertising department. Some PR firms will have all that research under their belt already, too. Then map out some topic areas on which you can comment and formulate some key messages – that you must get into an interview whatever you do, and tailor them so that they give the audience the cue to do whatever you need them to do next.

ML: And they’re likely to respond immediately?

GC: Hah – no, of course not, but it becomes part of the mood music guiding them to do so! Direct mailshots, marketing pushes, none of them get everyone to respond immediately.

ML: So what does a media trainer do other than tell people what you’ve just told me?

GC: The best of us are either current or recent journalists so we’ll focus on the practical – put you in front of a camera and build your confidence and competence up. Preparation techniques and rehearsal are prime among what you should expect.

ML: I rarely rehearse for conversations!

GC: Maybe, but you’ve done major speeches to thousands of people and you’ll have rehearsed for those. Amplify that number by about ten and you’ve got the size of many trade publications’ audiences. Now you probably want to rehearse! Also don’t be too fooled by the idea that it’s a conversation. If you can think of it as a Q and A after a keynote speech you’ll do better. Remember you’re answering the question and speaking to a specific individual but you’re also speaking to a whole audience and wanting to give them something memorable to take away.

ML: I must admit I still recall some of the key media training tips I received over 15 years ago. Good training stays with you, especially when you get the opportunity it put it into practice, like I did. Equally, I shudder sometimes when I see poorly prepared interviewees who embarrass themselves and their companies. So often I wonder what on earth they hoped to achieve and why they didn’t prepare better beforehand.

GC: Effective preparation is key, as is knowing how to deal with unexpected questions. It’s important to understand the angle a publication will need or that the interviewer might take. A website for accountants will speak very differently from one for start-up entrepreneurs, who’d need your services but might not comprehend some of the technicalities that are your speciality.

Overall the media should be part of accountancy firms’ marketing mix but not all of it. You need to go in with measurable objectives and understand your audience – and although media interviews can make people a bit nervous, it can actually be a lot of fun once you’ve settled into it.

ML: Many thanks Guy.

Guy Clapperton runs virtual and live media training sessions in which clients come face to face with him as a current journalist rather than with an ex-practitioner. He facilitates conferences and is an experienced keynote speaker on near future technologies. His website is:

Guy has kindly offered a 20% COVID discount for readers of this blog who quote the code MARKLEE20 when it comes to invoicing.

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