Subject matter experts (SMEs) nearly guarantee media coverage and improve all B2B marketing efforts. Yep, the value of an in-house SME is that powerful today. This lesser-known secret will increase the chances that reporters, podcasters, industry influencers, partners, conference organizers, prospective customers, and others will pay attention to your company.
This is because audiences learn from SMEs and do not feel like they’re being sold to.
But what often happens at B2B tech companies is the leadership team “Frankensteins” the SME role. Meaning, they randomly borrow the brains of employees across departments like customer success, product, and marketing. That’s not a plan, that’s a Hail Mary.
“Could the head of marketing or customer success do this?”
I get that question a lot from CEOs and Co-founders who don’t have a dedicated SME. My answer:
Why Does This Happen?
Reason number one this happens: acting as an SME is not someone’s focus or responsibility. Oftentimes the following occurs when a team doesn’t have an SME to talk to a reporter or analyst.
A media opportunity is presented by a PR agency to their main point of contact, usually the head of marketing, who says the SME they promised to deliver is unavailable or unable to meet a reporter’s deadline. So, they or someone in a leadership role chooses someone—or anyone with a pulse who responds in Slack—to respond to said media opportunity. And they usually do it because they’re excited to be asked and featured.
But maybe this person didn’t consider the company narrative, a recent customer win to include, or the latest features. Alas, the opportunity wasn’t lost. But it’s the second ask of a stand-in SME where the wheels usually come off.
The standard scenario for media opportunity #2 goes like this. Whoever spoke to the media the first time is asked to do another interview. They typically say, “sure” or “maybe.” Oof, their enthusiasm tanked. But then they get pulled into something and fade. The common result: a disappointed reporter who didn’t get what they needed. What’s extra painful is they quote a competitor in their story.
The second reason a dedicated SME is a gamechanger for B2B PR programs is they have the awareness to not be self-promotional. Most staffers drink the “company juice” and mention company services and features, or worse, sell to reporters. These are not qualities the press wants from their sources.
A third reason is very few staffers are both public-facing and developing educational content. Most employees aren’t hired to work with marketing or PR partners, so they don’t have the necessary skills that an experienced SME does.
Why SMEs Aren’t At More B2B Challenger Brands
In the last 48 months, the concept of having a full-time SME has been trickling down from enterprise companies to primarily venture-backed midsize companies. For decades, giants like IBM have had high-paid, strategic SMEs make the media rounds. They share takeaways from new research they conducted, discuss trends, make predictions (nobody ever checks on a year later), and so on.
Since the pandemic happened, dozens of sharp founders at startups have pegged CTOs or Heads of Content as part-time SMEs. However, for the reasons mentioned above and more, this is a stopgap measure. Also, it’s usually short-lived. Very few emerging B2B businesses have this gap filled the way they should.
This hiring trend is still in the very early stages. We’re not seeing this in full force yet because:
- Few founders know the value of this key hire
- Few companies can afford full-time SMEs
Yet, the value a subject matter expert brings to a growing B2B tech company is at an all-time high. When their roles are clearly established and they’re trusted by a leader to go out to the world to share smarts and evangelize, SMEs are:
- A+ media resources
- Magnets for talent that aid HR efforts
- Often influencing the sales pipeline
- Able to steer and develop valuable content
- The company face at events (e.g. micro events, trade shows, webinars)
- Suited to aid in partnerships
- Reviewing proprietary data to be boxed up and shipped to reporters
- Generally “in the know” (endless wins here)
- Sharing helpful advice for potential customers on industry podcasts, on stages, etc.
By the way, did you know thoughts from SMEs greatly improve the quality of email pitches sent to journalists? When PR pros can get a few minutes with SMEs, pitches to journalists drastically improve.
A version of this article originally appeared in my free Sbustack newsletter, B2B PR Now. Please consider signing up since I post stuff here months after.
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