What to do when reporters call

When reporters call, it’s a great chance for you to build name recognition and positive branding for your firm. To make the most of the opportunity, follow these tips to create strong relationships with reporters and generate valuable media impressions.

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Respond quickly. Call back within an hour if possible, and definitely within the same day. Reporters are usually working against a deadline, and it may be tight. If you call back too late, you’ll miss the chance to shape the story and promote yourself and the firm. Worse, you’ll show reporters that you’re unresponsive and they won’t call again.

Ask about deadlines. If you can’t respond immediately or need time to track down information and prepare, ask the reporter when her deadline is and let her know when you can respond, so she can plan accordingly.

Try not to say no. If you don’t feel knowledgeable enough to comment on the subject, don’t just say, “sorry.” Take the reporter’s name and number and tell him that you’ll try to find the information he needs, even if you can’t provide it. Then, try to find a colleague, client, or referral source who can do an interview and who will call the reporter back. Your marketing department can help. Just be sure to give the reporter something he can use. If you leave him with nothing, he has no reason to ever call you again.

Be prepared. When you talk to the reporter, ask what the story is about. Then, ask if you can call back in about a half-hour after you’ve prepared. To prepare, set an agenda—decide on your key messages, the positive points you want to make in the interview, how you’ll fit in mentions of the firm in the conversation, and what client examples or research you may need to back up your responses. Your marketing department can help prepare key message points and can compile research and stats for you to use.

Stay positive and objective. When talking with the reporter, focus on the positives of the situation and stay away from negative or subjective opinions. Avoid commenting on specific competitors or on companies. More importantly, shed light on what the subject means for your clients and prospects. Use it as an opportunity to demonstrate that you understand and anticipate the concerns of your client base.

Be quotable. Answer questions clearly, concisely, and directly, in 30 seconds or less. Since your answers will probably be edited, state your conclusion first and then back it up with facts. Avoid jargon and use simple terms, personal anecdotes, and vivid analogies to explain situations.

Treat reporters with respect. Reporters are bright, inquisitive people, but that doesn’t mean they understand everything about our industry or our clients’ industries. They’re often thrown onto stories with little background information and have to figure out for themselves what the story is about. So, be patient with their fumbling and questions if they appear not to “get it.” Treat them like you would a client: take the time to explain things, be patient and never adversarial. However, understand that they’re not your friends, either.

Be yourself. Reporters appreciate people who are honest and who aren’t afraid to take a stand. Try to follow these suggestions, but don’t let them make you an uptight bureaucrat. Let your humor and personality shine through — that’s what sets you apart from other sources.

Offer future help. End the interview by asking the reporter if he has everything he needs. Offer to help find other sources or more information. Thank him or her for using you as a resource and tell him you’d be happy to help again in the future. After the story runs, if your quote appears, send the reporter a thank you note with your business card or send an e-mail thanking him for using you as a resource.

Don't...

Micromanage. Don’t ask to review a story before it appears in print, or to have your quotes read back to you. The request comes off as an effort to control the reporter and you’ll sound insulting. Instead, offer to be available if the reporter has further questions or wants to check details for accuracy.

Change your mind. After a conversation is over, don’t call back later and ask to have your comments removed or changed. This undoes the work the reporter has finished, and undermines your own credibility. The reporter also has no obligation to comply with your request.

Be unresponsive. Don’t make the reporter miss a deadline. Call back within the hour, if you can. Reporters live and die by deadlines. If you promise information by a certain time, make sure it arrives on time.

Be a jerk. Don’t get belligerent, argue or “fence” with the reporter. Remember, the reporter or editor has the final “cut,” and can make you look foolish through placement and context-setting. Furthermore, if you say angry or argumentative things, it will reflect badly on you in print.

Stonewall. Finally, if you have to say “no comment,” at least offer a reason, such as client confidentiality, explaining why you can’t respond. Newspaper readers take “no comment” as an admission of guilt, because it sounds evasive and uncooperative.

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