What to Do When a Reporter Calls

Yes, there are still a few traditional media outlets out there that actually matter, and yes, sometimes reporters call you out of the blue. Are you prepared?

Whether you’re a solo who answers his/her own phone or a small- to mid-sized firm with the good fortune (and good sense) to have a marketing and communications professional on staff, following a few simple steps will help you manage media interactions with less stress and greater effectiveness.

  1. Have a single point of contact for media. Unless the reporter is a personal friend and everyone who answers phones knows that, all media calls should be directed to one or two designated spokespeople for vetting and disposition.
  2. Don’t panic. When an unsolicited media call comes in, don’t automatically treat it as urgent — even if the caller insists he is “on deadline.” Always vet the caller and the request before  deciding whether to respond at all.
  3. Trust, but verify. If they’re asking to speak with a specific person, always make sure to dig deeper about the nature of what they want to discuss, and what their deadline is. This will help you determine whether and how to respond, and will allow you gather background in advance of the return call or e-mail message.
  4. “Let me call you back.” Whether it’s a favorable opportunity or crisis communications, it’s always best to make time to prepare.
  5. Promise nothing. Unless you’re certain that someone in the firm will want to take part in an interview, indicate you’re taking the inquiry seriously but that you’re not committing to anything (e.g. “I don’t have any information on that right now, but I will look into it and get back to you.”
  6. “No comment” is not an option. “I don’t have any information to share with you right now” or “We do not comment on rumors” make the same point with fewer stonewalling overtones.
  7. Put it in writing. Get both phone and e-mail contact info, and confirm name spellings. You can use that information in Google searches to help you prep. Also, e-mailing your responses reduces the risk of being misquoted or misrepresented, and it cuts down on phone tag.

Comments

  1. Find out who else the reporter has spoken with before you got the call. Chances are pretty good yours will not be the only “voice” in the story.

    • shatterboxvox says:

      Great point, Brad. Thanks for the comment!

      Likewise you might also ask who else they plan to speak with, or even suggest a subject matter expert. Pay it forward 🙂

  2. robyndsekula says:

    One more note: ask the reporter what their deadline is, and be sure to call back well before it. Even if you are calling back to tell them you don’t have anything for them, be reliable and return that call. It ensures you’ll get called again. Not every call is a deadline call, especially this time of year. Reporters are often working ahead on “evergreen” stories that can run during the holidays while everyone is out.

  3. FollowtheLawyer says:

    Agreed. And certainly call them back in advance if you find out you won’t be able to make the deadline. Don’t just let it pass.

    And regardless of whether you’re able to participate in a particular story, always thank them for their interest in your firm.

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