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It is possible for independent HR consultants to gain national exposure and recognition for their services. Consultants will find that working with a public relations (PR) firm or publicist can help, but it is not necessary. In fact, HR consultants are in a perfect position to offer expert commentary about a variety of workplace related issues of national concern.
“HR consultants can be featured in incredible form in the media,” says Elizabeth Robinson, president and CEO of Volume Public Relations in Centennial, Colo. She speaks from experience, as one of her clients received an estimated 270 million “circulation views” in 2007, including an appearance on 60 Minutes. “Even we were surprised by the extent of the coverage,” she says. What might be more impressive is that the consultant’s area of expertise—workplace etiquette and professional appearance—and the message shared was not new, innovative or pegged to major news issues. However, because that consultant had such a large circulation view, it demonstrated that virtually every HR consultant has something of value to say and ample opportunity to find media outlets that will help them say it.
Dedication and Hard Work
Virginia Randall, a business-to-business marketing and PR consultant who specializes in HR and workplace issues, managed to get a client on six magazine covers. While Randall says there is plenty of opportunity for HR consultants to gain national exposure, they must be aware that it is a process requiring focus, dedication and responsiveness. To find out which potential clients are willing to work with Randall to achieve their stated PR goals, she screens client prospects with a series of questions that will gauge how prepared and dedicated prospects are to gaining exposure. HR consultants seeking national exposure should ask themselves the same questions, she says:
• Are you willing to do whatever it takes? A lot of publicity is tied to breaking news, therefore, HR consultants must be willing to invest time to prepare and be ready for media opportunities when they appear.
• How long is your timeline? Be prepared to spend time—at least six months—making appearances on local television and radio shows. That includes appearances on cable shows with names like Silicon Valley Reporter, because such appearances are likely necessary to build momentum for the story the consultant wants told.
• How nimble are you? With the objective being progress, not perfection, consultants need to spend time considering how to make use of media outlets that may not seem to be perfectly aligned with their messages. Those who prefer to wait for a perfect alignment of message and media will lose out on exposure opportunities.
• What is your story? Gaining exposure is not about relationships, it is about having a story to tell. Consultants need to spend time reviewing their “media assets,” which is basically what they have to offer a reporter or broadcast “booker.”
• How much are you willing to invest? PR results require a lot of background work and preparation, a step that cannot be skipped. HR consultants need to be patient and willing to invest money and resources to achieve their PR goals, and they need to remember that if they think PR is expensive, being anonymous will be more expensive.
Tips on Gaining Exposure
Robinson offers a number of tips for HR consultants that can be done without the assistance of a press agent or publicist:
• Start small and leverage local coverage to build national interest. Consultants who appear in their local newspapers increase their chances of attracting a larger publication. The consultant should provide a copy—or clip—of the local newspaper article to other, noncompetitive, media outlets.
• Target local and regional business journals. Business journals are typically hungry for good contributing authors; therefore such journals can be broad-based and cover a regional area, or they can be industry-specific. HR consultants who know what a business journal’s focus is can concentrate on providing niche articles—such as on wages or worker retention—from their areas of expertise.
• Follow editorial calendars. Such calendars can be found online through a publication’s web site and are often included as part of media kits for advertisers, and potential contributors, that provide information about specific topics that will be covered by a magazine.
• Be very familiar with the content of the publications and media outlets being targeted.
For many HR consultants, the fastest road to notoriety is the printing press, so getting published might be the best way to gain exposure and boost credibility for HR consultants. “Those who have captured the national spotlight often have written books,” says T. Shawn Taylor, a writer, media consultant and president of Treetop Consulting, Inc., in Oak Park, Ill. But, if the prospect of writing a book is daunting, there are other ways to become recognized as an industry expert, he says. “HR professionals should submit articles to industry-specific magazines as well as to large, general-interest magazines and newspapers,” he adds.
Speaking engagements are another way to gain exposure. HR consultants should seek opportunities actively to speak individually or on panels, Taylor says. “They should be willing to mediate panels on industry-related topics and to build an audience as invited speakers to discuss workplace and other HR-related topics,” he says.
Once coverage occurs, keep it alive, Robinson says. “Coverage happens once, the article comes out, the phones start ringing, it’s wonderful and exciting,” she says. But, it can stop quickly if the HR consultant does nothing to keep the story alive, she adds. Staying alive can be achieved through the consultancy’s web site and through the firm’s printed marketing materials, she says. Consultants “need to be out there talking about what you have done ‘as seen in…’,” she adds.
For HR consultants the opportunities are big. What it takes is knowledge of the general rules PR specialists follow, and finding a way to present information in a unique and compelling way, Robinson says.
Lin Grensing-Pophal, SPHR, is a Wisconsin-based business journalist with HR consulting experience in employee communication, training and management issues. She is the author of Human Resource Essentials: Your Guide to Starting and Running the HR Function (SHRM, 2002).
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