Friday, February 17, 2017

What to Do When that Reporter Calls

Communication is written, spoken and in many cases, unspoken (body language). There are ample opportunities to communicate well or poorly, to cast yourself and your business in a positive light or leave the other person wondering "what the hell?"

The one person you don't want scratching a head and wondering what's just happened is a member of the press.

Although I am far from an expert on crisis communications, I do know a thing or two about communicating with members of the press and how to handle a call from a reporter. That call may be in search of your perspective or information about your company (or client, if you are in PR) as it relates to a particular issue in your field or in your community. Or, it could be in response to a negative matter your business was embroiled in for one reason or another. Either way, keep your head on straight, keep your cool, and like the stalwart Joe Friday of "Dragnet" fame, deliver just the facts.

Appoint the right spokesperson
This should (must) be someone who is very articulate, fluid with public speaking, and who thinks on his or her feet. It's important that this person have a nimble mind and stay a step ahead of anticipated conversation or be able to respond quickly (and well) to a question or comment. If the CEO, COO or president is not a great speaker or not necessarily the person the journalist is trying to reach, your marketing manager, community liaison coordinator, or public relations officer is the one to take the call. It needs to be someone who can ...

Stay calm
That's not to say you should be robotic, but communicating with a journalist is not the time to get emotional. This person is writing a story and is requesting your input, not your hysteria or gloominess. Journalists are seeking facts for their stories and dispassionate discourse is a great way to get your point across. You can be friendly and conversational but stay on guard as well. This speaks to the importance of ...

Know your talking points

Be like a Scout and be very prepared in advance with your talking points. Write them down, rehearse them if you need to. Whether you are discussing the positives about your company or organization or the organization's viewpoint about a particular issue, be very clear, concise, and on message. Know your mission statement, think about the "About Us" page on your website and what it says about your company or agency, and know the stance on the issue at hand. If your organization was involved in some way and it was a positive participation, be proud of it and state why. If there was a misstep of any kind, acknowledge it, apologize, and move on with positive points because ...

This is your chance to get free press
And you don't want to blow it! This is an opportunity to show your organization in a good light with the public, stakeholders, or employees. Even one positive quote in a long story is a good thing ... and many times better than one negative quote anywhere! This is also an opportunity to start developing a relationship with the reporter or writer, who might tap you in the future for comments about a news story, which can position you as an expert in your field (more good press). Being truly helpful to the journalist--by staying calm, delivering your talking points well (in a manner that moves the story along a positive path), and engaging the caller in a way that shows you are a partner and not an adversary, you'll drive good media relations for your brand.

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