When you’re watching television and you see “experts” giving their opinions on everything from Brexit to Brangelina, do you ever wonder, “Who are these
people? And what makes them qualified to sit in that chair?” Do you also wonder how you might become one of those TV experts?
The fastest and best way to reach
that goal is to hire a good publicist. For a few thousand dollars a month, a well-connected publicist can create a professional video resume of your work, train you in spokesperson techniques, help
build up your reputation (e.g., by positioning you as an expert in your field), and then get you in front of producers with whom he or she has personal relationships.
Can’t afford a publicist? You can take some of these steps on your own. Here’s how to start.
- Be niche. We can’t be all things to all
people, so brand yourself in an area that is specific and manageable. For example, I am an expert on entertainment PR and marketing, not just PR and marketing in the general sense.
- Talk it up. Guest lecture at your local college, participate in industry panels, host your own seminar on your area of expertise. These are all ways to get your
name out there and establish yourself as an authority on your niche topic. It also gives you something impressive to put on your resume.
- Build a website.
Start a website or a blog, and express opinions and provide information that people won’t find anywhere else. I look at Rotten Tomatoes as a good example of a successful expert site. According
to Wikipedia, it was started by Senh Duong, whose goal was to create a site where people could see reviews from a variety of critics in the U.S. The site was an immediate hit, receiving mentions by
Yahoo and USA Today within a week of its launch, and is now regularly quoted in movie ads. A blog that is shared widely can lead to coverage in traditional media outlets and the blogger can
become an “influencer”—love him or hate him, look at Matt Drudge.
- Publish (self-publish if you have to) or perish. My favorite example
is author/TV expert Thomas O’Neil. He researched and wrote a book entitled The Emmys: The Ultimate, Unofficial Guide to the Battle of TV’s Best Shows and Greatest Stars and quickly
became the go-to guy for Emmy lore. While writing the book, O’Neil established great relationships with the publicists at the TV Academy, who then started to refer him to reporters looking for
comments on who was going to win the Emmys in a given year. That eventually led to a regular gig with the Los Angeles Times, and O’Neil is often asked by TV producers to give his
predictions on their shows.
- Reel ’em in. Obviously, TV producers will want to know how you perform on camera before they book you, so you’ll need
a video reel of your work. Tape some video commentaries for your website and/or hire a professional producer and cameraman to record some mock interviews.
- Start small. Send an email pitch with a link to your video reel to the local TV and cable news producers in your market. Make sure you have a succinct yet catchy subject header and
provide your bio as an attachment. Try to find a timely news angle to link your topic to. For example, if you are an expert on James Bond movies or Star Wars trivia, producers may want
to talk with you just before the next film installment comes out.
- Affiliate with a non-profit. TV producers prefer to use experts associated with trade
organizations, colleges, or other non-profits. “Alison Hill, professor of entertainment PR at Cal State Fullerton,” sounds less commercial, and therefore more objective and reliable, than
“Alison Hill, partner at CurrentPR.”
- Be realistic. Becoming a TV expert takes time and determination. And it doesn’t necessarily pay well.
Many experts do interviews for free for the exposure (say, in exchange for the mention of their book); those who do get paid make only a couple hundred dollars for each appearance.
Being a television pundit may look glamorous (they do get hair and make-up services, after all!), but remember that it’s a means to an end, not an end in itself. The visibility and,
if you’re lucky and good, the respect that you earn can certainly enhance your reputation and your standing in your industry, and hopefully will lead to new business. Just don’t give up
your day job.