How to Be a Media Darling

Think you have media presence? Then it's time for your moment of fame. By Derrick Lilly | October 2016

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You probably haven’t heard of “media expert” as an area of specialization, but just because there isn’t a degree or certification for it doesn’t make the role any less important. In fact, media experts are playing a significant role in promoting a positive, up-to-date image of CPAs and increasing public awareness of the profession’s significance.

“A media expert is someone who has expertise in a particular issue or field and also has the ability to translate that expertise into simple words for the public,” explains Linda Forman, CPA/P.C., a long-time media expert for the Illinois CPA Society (ICPAS). “The only people who really understand what a CPA is are other people in similar professions. Being a media expert helps people understand how to use a CPA, and it helps people understand our expertise.”

From complex business tax matters to personal finance Q&As, CPA media experts are highly sought after by reporters and media outlets to provide professional feedback and analysis on a wide range of financial matters, including personal credit, stock market fluctuations, recession issues, fraud, corporate bankruptcies, government regulations and economic stimulus efforts.

Of course, finding the opportunities to put your expertise out there—and building your reputation—may take some work. “If you’re going to try doing this sort of thing, don’t do it only once and quit. When somebody presents you with an opportunity take advantage of it,” advises Geoffrey J. Harlow CPA/MST/MBA, partner at Kessler Orlean Silver and Company, P.C. in Deerfield, Ill. Harlow, an ICPAS member, has appeared on Fox Television’s Good Day Chicago, Forbes, CBS2  and the Your Money Show with Bill Moller on WGN Radio.

“If you want to be in the media, look for the opportunities,” says Forman. “Trade publications are always dying for articles. Try coming up with a specific issue and write to a media outlet to tell them you want people to be aware of it.”

Opportunities to participate in local presentations or speaking engagements at conferences and other professional events are also great platforms for networking with media pros and gaining more media exposure. Check with national and state CPA societies (including ICPAS) to see if they have connections with the media, whether print, radio or television.

Before you decide to offer up your expertise, though, be objective about your potential as a spokesperson for the profession; in other words, ask yourself, “Do I have media ‘presence?’”

“There are a lot of people in our profession who are absolutely brilliant when it comes to accounting and tax issues. They do incredible work for their clients, but if you put them in front of a room, or heaven forbid if you put them on the radio or television, they would either put people to sleep or you would see eyes glassing over in the audience,” says Harlow. “You have to realize a great conversation for a client or a staff person may not always be a great conversation when you’re on the air.

“If you’re just your normal conservative self you end up coming across like Ben Stein in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” he continues. “You really have to ratchet it up and use a lot more enthusiasm in your language, because if you don’t, quite honestly all you’re doing is enforcing the stereotypes.

“From a professional standpoint,” he adds, “if it’s something you’re interested in, think you might be good at, or think it sounds like fun, then I think being a media expert can definitely make you stand out and separate you from your peers. And in terms of practice, it really enhances your aura in the eyes of your clients and others, and obviously that can pay benefits down the road.”

How the Pros Do It

Be flexible: “You have to understand that reporters are under deadlines,” says Forman. “You have to be ready for the media on their schedule...not yours.”

Don’t overdo it: “If I spend a lot of time studying I want to get into the details too much. When I rely more on my general knowledge I give more of a big picture answer. That’s what people really want, and it’s a little more personable,” says Harlow.

Be brief: “You have to understand the media isn’t looking for thesis statements,” explains Forman. “Have your thoughts available and outline the most important parts.”

Get into character: “Try to be enthusiastic and extremely energetic,” advises Harlow. “Over deliver, have good ideas and do what you can to make the media person come out looking great.”

Don’t try to sell yourself: “The purpose behind being a media expert is to educate the public,” Forman explains. “If you’re doing it just to get business it will show.”

Be respectful: “If you’re in the media you’re going to get calls that aren’t appropriate. If you don’t treat those people like respectable, nice human beings it gets back to the media. Media reps have to know that they’re not going to get bad feedback,” says Forman.

To learn more about becoming a media expert for the Illinois CPA Society, contact Communications and Media Manager Eric Scott.