Set forth below is the text of a post that I recently put to the Suckers Buy It! forum:
I’ve never asked for a testimonial. That’s the sort of thing that would work with marketers but would send journalists running.
Marketers understand the need for testimonials. They have a “you help me and I’ll help you” attitude. Journalists tend to have an anti-marketing perspective. They certainly help each other out. But they often look down on marketers (I’m not saying that they should, just that they do). So I would avoid anything that in any way suggests a marketing motivation.
My e-mails to reporters are always focused on substance. The first one that I contacted was Scott Burns, with the Dallas Morning News. Scott had gained some fame writing about the retirement studies that were in error. So I knew that he had an interest in the topic. So I just wrote telling him about my findings. I wasn’t expecting a reply. But he wrote right back saying that he thought I was right.
I’m now in the process of sending lots of e-mails to academic researchers. I send them a link to an article I wrote about the Wade Pfau research. The response rate is EXTREMELY low. But some of the responses I receive are just off-the-charts super. That’s how I got my endorsement from Rob Arnott. Rob is a very big name. He was the editor of the Financial Analysts Journal. He responded because he is interested in the subject and he saw that I had done something new. Also, he has similar views to mine and he has experienced some of the hostility that I have experienced.
I have zero problem with approaching a journalist cold. But I would never include any sell. They take pride in sniffing that sort of thing out. But they won’t have a problem if they are interested in the substance of what you are saying. Your best bet is if they feel that you can help them understand something they want to understand. Then it becomes possible to develop a long-term relationship.
Think of this as long odds/big payoff stuff. An article in the New York Times could cause you to get discovered by a site like Lifehacker and an article in Lifehacker could move your site to a whole new level. It might take 6 months to get the article in the Times and still pay off.
I’ve give one concrete example. I have a link to a seven-minute interview with ABC News at the top right-hand side of my blog pages. That was really with a division called “ABC News Now” but the backdrop says “ABC News” and the interview was indeed conducted on the premises of ABC News. I got that because they were looking for someone to interview on “Unconventional Saving Tips” and I had a page with that title that had been linked to from a top site that gave it good Google juice. I guess the tip there was not to fight for “Saving Tips” but for a variation for which I could rank first. And of course you need to drop everything to take care of an interview like that or you lose it.
The pitfall into which I have fallen is that my stuff is just too darn controversial. My stuff has solid peer-reviewed research supporting it. So my view is that people should feel comfortable promoting it. But journalists are taken in by conventional thinking just like all the rest of us. Their worst nightmare is that they will say something about a money issue that will reveal them as stupid. Quoting Jack Bogle is like buying IBM (in the old days). Lots of them are scared to quote Rob Bennett on an investing issue. If it was something other than a money issue, I would be quoted a lot more frequently.
I’m in the strange situation where I would benefit from more competition. If there were more people saying what I am saying, people would feel there was less risk in quoting me and I would get more coverage. That’s my biggest problem. It’s good to be somewhat unique. But it’s a mistake to overdo it. I’ve taken the unique thing farther than it is a good idea to take it (not by choice — that’s just the way things turned out).