The phone rings. A reporter is on the line holding for you. Now, you have that pit in your stomach because the timing’s not the best. (Usually, it’s when you or your business is having trouble.)
There are many reasons why a reporter might call. When good things happen, everyone is eager pick up the phone and tell their story. But bad news might be theonly time a reporter ever calls.
With this in mind, there are a few things to remember if and when something happens in your business that generates media attention.
It’s OK to want to hide. But when you or your business is in a bind, that’s exactly the time to be responsive. Even in the worst of situations, you should never hide from the press. If you won’t talk to them, they will find someone who will — often a disgruntled employee or customer.
If your business is in trouble for some reason, that’s the most important time to make sure the information is correct. So, swallow hard, do your relaxation exercises and pick up that phone. Your gesture and honesty may help make a friend for you in the media.
Here are some tips for dealing with the media:
- Regroup. You get the call, your head is swimming and you don’t know what to say. Just let the reporter know that you’re busy (even if you’re not) and that you will get right back to him/her. You can ask, “Just so I can be prepared, can you tell me why you are calling?” Find out when his/her deadline is and promise to respond in a reasonable time. Then hang up and collect your thoughts. Gather the information you need. Write down three key points you want to get across. Make sure your message points are short and concise. Go over them a few times and call the reporter back.
- Use your resources. If the issue is really difficult, call in a colleague or your PR person/firm, and role-play the questions and answers. You might also have that person sit in on the interview, either as a witness, or just to help you keep your wits and stay on message.
- Make it happen. If you decide to delegate to a staff person who is better able to handle the call, make sure the connection happens. Why? If this is an important story, the reporter will find someone to interview. It might be your adversary.
- Be honest. It’s OK to say, “I can’t answer that, but what I can tell you is…” Always be honest. If the reporter asks for sensitive information, maybe you can answer it later. Or if you can’t ever answer the question, maybe you can refer the reporter to someone who can. In any event, explain why you can’t answer the question.
- “I don’t know.” If you don’t know the answer to a question, say so. Don’t wing it. It’s hard to take something back after it is in print or has been broadcast.
- No “no comment.” “No comment” is not a good thing to say. It implies a lot of things that may not be true about your situation.
- You’re always “on the record.” Assume everything is “on the record.” Nothing is ever off the record. Even if they don’t put your name in the article, a reporter might say, “A company spokesperson stated this.”
- Stay cool. Don’t lose your temper. If you argue with a reporter, you may never get coverage again — especially when times are good and you want them to call.
- Don’t get technical. Avoid highly technical jargon unless you’re talking to a reporter with a trade publication. If you start down a path that’s too technical and the reporter gets lost, they might write down information the way theyunderstand it.
- Don’t criticize. Avoid negative comments and criticizing your competitors. It’s a poor reflection on you.Treat reporters courteously and with respect. Just like any other relationship you establish in life, there are some people you’re going to like and others you won’t. It may take time, effort and several attempts before you build a successful long-term relationship with a reporter or editor. But it’s well worth the effort. Picking up the phone and talking to them is the first step. Vistage member Marlene Olsen is president of Olsen & Associates Public Relations, Inc., based in Reno, Nevada.