Top tips for dealing with media calls

It is likely that initial contact from a journalist is likely to come either via e-mail or over the telephone. Responding to media enquiries is a very important part of reputation management. The first response from an organisation may influence the beliefs and attitude of the journalist towards your organisation and shape the relationship from that point forward. 

Remember, there is no second chance to make a first impression!

Why is the journalist calling? The primary reason is because the journalist sees a story and without a story a journalist is nothing. They are coming to you because they believe you can add to their story.

It is important to the credibility of their article that they have a contribution from your organisation, who after all form a part of their story. Without your contribution it is a poorer story. Balance in a story, a contribution from all parties involved, is important.

It is a truism that often, but not always, the enquiry is because something has gone awry. Your bad news is their copy. It is tempting to put your head in the sand, ignore the enquiry, or don’t treat is as a priority because it is uncomfortable or difficult or because you want to distance yourself from the embarrassment of public criticism. Please don’t. 

You or others may believe that by not responding is somehow going to make the story go away. It won’t.

If a journalist has got as far as contacting you then the story is almost certain to run with or without your contribution. As mentioned earlier balance is important, however if you make it difficult for them to include your side of things or refuse to comment then you cannot complain when you feel the story as presented appears one sided. The contact from the journalist should be regarded as an opportunity to present your case.

The importance of deadlines. The media runs to deadlines, things that need to be completed by set times. The internet and the digital age have blurred a lot of that but nevertheless a journalist will have a deadline and will push for your response to meet it. The journalist (in my experience) will always want something more or less immediately especially if it is a news story.

It is fair to say that journalists are used to being brushed off, not getting answers and not getting return calls. This makes them often dogged and pushy, sometimes to the point of being rude.

They will want to speak to the relevant person however, in their absence will push you, as the person they are talking to, for some kind of response. Resist this. Explain firmly and clearly that you are not the person they need to speak to, and refer to your media policy if you need to (see separate media policy post) as a reason why you, personally, cannot offer information.   However what you must do is explain if they can provide you with some information then you will get the appropriate person to call them back. Say you understand the importance of their call and acknowledge their deadline.

Ask questions. The telephone call should not be a one way street. The enquiry might well be the first you have heard of a situation so it is quite acceptable to say that and ask what the journalist knows or has been told and by whom. Write down what you are told and check this back with the journalist to confirm details. Make a note of the media organisation, their role and their contact details and what it is that the journalist wants. Check all of this back. Close the call by saying what you are going to do next and if appropriate who will be making contact.

Listen! You have two ears and one mouth. Try to use them in that proportion.

The journalist may want to make contact directly and ask for the details of the person that has the information they need so they can speak to them. Whilst this is not the preferred approach it may be necessary. If the story is live and already being dealt with then you can be reasonably sure that the relevant person should have the necessary information available.  A heads up to expect a call on the basis that you have passed on details is always good. If the initial call from the journalist is a new story then it is far preferable for you to get the relevant person to call back once you have provided the details of the situation.

Understand what you are authorised to do.  It may be the case that a reactive media statement has been approved and you are in a position to send it. This is perfectly acceptable, but you must still make sure you have all the details of the caller and their organisation. Have the contact details of anyone that is authorised to deal with media enquiries readily available.

TOP TIPS

·         Be ready; systems that give you early warning of incidents are really valuable, but in any case, expect calls from journalists and have a pen and notepaper always to hand.  If you have done something positive and you want calls from the media in order to tell them more it is unforgiveable if you don’t have that further information ready to go! That is the PR equivalent of missing an open goal.

·         Know the protocol for dealing with media enquiries; know the process and stick to it. Journalists understand that these policies and protocols exist and that you must follow them. They may grumble but most will accept it. Tell the journalist that the protocol exists and you are obliged to follow it.

·         Ask questions, take details, check back;

o    Name

o   Organisation

o   Contact details by phone and e-mail

o   The nature of the enquiry and any background they are prepared to offer

o   What do they want?

o   Their deadline

·         Explain what you are going to do – and if appropriate what may not be possible.

·         Acknowledge their priorities; recognise any deadline they have stated.

·         Act quickly; Always do what you promised to do! If the story is not good news the quicker you get your information or response back to the journalist the greater proportion of that material is likely to be included. The longer you leave it the journalist may well, for fear of having no response, fill that space with other material that is not supportive of your case.



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