PRN Media How-To: 6 Tips for Choosing a Subject Matter Expert

PRN Media How To Work with Subject Matter Experts

This month marks the first anniversary of the new PR Newswire for Journalists.  As part of this anniversary celebration, we’re introducing a new monthly series to Beyond Bylines, highlighting tips for making the most of PR Newswire’s free media tools. Our first how-to features ProfNet best practices.

 Want to try these tools out for yourself? Members of the media can sign up at or check out our anniversary release to learn about our most recent enhancements. 

“I need 1,500 words on the topic with three sources, and I need it by 4 p.m. today.”

All journalists have been on the other end of this type of call at one time or another. The easy part is researching and putting together information on the topic. The hard part is coming up with quotable sources who can explain things in terms readers can understand.

ProfNet, one of PR Newswire’s free media services, can help you find the sources, of course. Just fill out a quick and easy query form and watch the responses roll in.

But, once you find them, how do you work with them to get what you need?  Here are six tips that ProfNet media users have shared with us.

Choosing the Right Experts

You’ve received several responses to your ProfNet query. How do you navigate through the replies to identify the right ones for your story?

1. Google them. We’ve all done it. When you want to know more about someone or something, the best place to start is Google. This will help you identify where the expert has been quoted, which will help you gauge their media experience. You’ll also find out if they have a website where you can get more information about them.

If you really want to do your homework, Google the expert’s name in conjunction with the publication you’re writing for. Some publications don’t want to use an expert more than once. By searching both their name and the publication name, you’ll find whether the expert already has been quoted in that outlet.

2. Check out their website. Almost all sites will feature the expert’s bio. The site also may include links to any media interviews or sample Q&As, their education, any committees they’re on, whether they’ve written on the topic, etc. You don’t have to spend hours on this step, but you really do need to do it to get a better idea of their expertise.

3. Review their ProfNet expert profile. Most experts in the ProfNet network also have an online profile via our ProfNet Connect site. Profiles typically include a summary of expertise, any blogs/websites, white papers/research, books and articles published, awards and association memberships, educational background, photos and videos, and more. If you need help searching, we can help. Email us at [email protected].

Working With a Difficult Expert

Canned answers, hard-to-understand technical language, wordy responses — they’ve all happened at one time or another. Here’s how to handle it.

4. Be as specific as you can about the scope of the article. The more the expert understands about the end goal, the better their responses will be. Also, try to get them off their talking points. Ask questions in different ways to get different responses. You also can use this tried-and-true method and ask: “How would you explain this to your grandmother?”

5. If possible, consider the expert’s communication preference. Some experts might be more comfortable responding via email; others might prefer to talk by phone. If you can, let them choose which one they’re more comfortable with. You’ll get better answers if they’re at ease.

Of course, there still will be conversations that will not go anywhere – but those can still be useful because you’ll learn about the topic, especially if it’s one with which you’re unfamiliar.

How to Handle Approval Requests

Sometimes an expert will ask to review the article before it goes to print — a big no-no for most publications.

6. Offer a quote review instead.  Many times, experts merely want to make sure they are not misquoted, and that what they said makes sense. They don’t want to “sound stupid.”

To bypass a full article review, let them read only their quotes. This will set their mind at ease — and they might even catch an error if the information is overly technical.

So, what are your best practices for working with subject-matter experts? Share your tips in the comments below.

Maria Perez is director of online community relations at ProfNet, a free service that connects journalists with quotable experts.

Are you looking for expert sources? Just fill out the ProfNet query form to get started. You can filter the request by institution type and geographic region, and can cloak the publication name and email address if you choose. We can even post your query on our social media platforms if you’re in a rush (though we won’t without your approval). Whatever you need, we’re here to help.

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