One of the most important yet undervalued tactics in PR is your relationships with subject matter experts (SMEs). While it is crucial to have close relationships with high-profile reporters, landing a client in Forbes starts with uncovering an expert resource and leveraging that relationship to tell compelling stories supported by expert insights and reliable data.

Whether your client team is developing a new pitch, campaign or thought leadership platform, relationships with SMEs are vital to the success of a PR program. Most often, SMEs are sitting on a goldmine of untapped knowledge, and it is critical to unlock those insights through discovery calls and sourcing engagements.

5 Tips for Working with SMEs

  1. Identify goals. Before jumping on the phone or Zoom with an SME, identify clear goals ahead of time to prepare your expert for the outcome. What is the purpose of the call and what are you hoping to accomplish? By thinking through in advance how you can best leverage this resource, you will have a framework to work from as you develop campaigns and creative storylines.
  2. Be prepared. Come ready with questions for discussion. With your goals in mind, develop thoughtful queries that create a flow in conversation. Since these are experts in their fields, it is important to lead questions by framing what they see as best practices and what they recommend.
  3. Do not be afraid to go off-script. Similarly, be prepared to talk beyond prepared questions. This should be a free-flowing conversation. Did your expert mention something that requires additional prodding or follow-up? Is there something else you can find out about the topic? SMEs have vast knowledge and great stories to share, and it is our job to uncover them.
  4. Keep an open mind. You may go into a meeting expecting to develop a new pitch rather than a full-blown campaign idea, and you may come out with more than you need for that pitch alone. Find new ways to leverage the content you have harvested in these conversations elsewhere to be incorporated into broader campaign strategy. As the media landscape changes and hot topics evolve, leverage your insights to inject your client into the conversation.
  5. Build a working relationship. The relationship you grow and build with an SME is just as — if not more important than — any relationship with a reporter. Do not let your communication simmer out after your initial call. Check in to see what they’re currently working on and how it could be leveraged from a communications perspective. Empower your SME to share new findings, results and outlets in which they would like to be featured.

While an initial conversation with an SME may just be surface level, their wealth of knowledge can support your PR strategy in the long run. When coming prepared to the conversation with goals in mind and ready to talk off the cuff, you may hit the jackpot for future stories that can land your client in a top tier outlet. Just remember to build upon your working relationship to benefit everyone, including the reporter you are converting into a friendly.


RH Strategic is a Seattle and D.C.-based communications firm with a nationwide presence and additional global reach via membership in the Worldcom Public Relations Group. We provide strategic public relations for innovators in the technology, government and healthcare markets.