Last week, I had doubts about the advice provided by a so-called financial expert on the local prime-time network news program. Offering advice in public is a difficult task to do well. You have to appeal to your audience by suggesting solutions appropriate for the bulk of the listeners, a group that can vary in terms of intelligence, experience, and education.
In many cases, what ends up happening is that the advice is geared to the “lowest common denominator” (in the non-mathematical sense) and those in need of personalized financial advice end up feeling dangerously fulfilled by platitudes, rules of thumb, and averages. But aside from financial guru superstars like Suze Orman, Dave Ramsey, and Robert Kiyosaki, how do producers of local news programs find the experts they use for their economic/human interest pieces?
According to “the Mole,” my favorite undercover financial adviser, radio and television stations contact financial professionals in the community. The stations approach financial advisers to invite them to present “expert opinion.” There is a catch, however. The financial adviser must pay the station to appear.
Previously, I assumed two things. First, if you are interviewed on a television or radio show, you are not paid for your appearance, nor do you have to pay the broadcaster. I’ve been interviewed several times for print and radio, and never once have I been paid nor have I received an invoice. Second, if you are a station or program’s “official financial expert” or “resident financial adviser,” you are paid for your affiliation. The station should be lucky to have an expert like you on “staff.”
This is not the way media works. Radio and television considers your appearances as advertisements for your financial advisory business. Accordingly, you must pay in order to appear. While I have no evidence if that was the case with the financial adviser on the ABC news program I happened to catch, if the Mole is correct (and I generally trust what he has to say), it’s likely she paid ABC in order to be their resident expert and have her name and phone number flash across the screen.
It makes sense from a business standpoint as well. Presumably, the news audience will believe that this financial adviser is reputable for her to be “awarded” the post of resident expert. In turn, some of the audience may become clients. This may make the adviser’s fee worth the price of admission.
As consumers, it’s more evidence that we can’t simply trust appearances.
Taking financial advice from radio gurus, the Mole, Money Magazine, October 1, 2008
Published or updated October 13, 2008.