What to Say When the Media Calls You

A reporter may call you in response to your news release or pitch letter.  Or, the organization you represent is making news, and the media wants to follow up. You, the PR or marketing pro, look forward to media coverage, but when it happens, are you ready for prime time?

Sometimes media interest occurs spontaneously when “bumping” into a reporter during a meeting or program. Or, you receive a call or email in response to your follow-up. However it occurs, think ahead.

In his book, Public Relations Made Easy, journalist Roscoe Barnes lll offers “15 Tips for Handling the Press Interview.” In short:

1. Be prepared.  Make sure your notes, resources and information are easily accessible so you’re prepared when the call comes. Be knowledgeable about your subject. Develop messages and “sound bites around your theme….Anticipate questions, and create a list of questions for the media (especially TV and radio).”

2. Be reachable. “Provide the press with all of your contact information. Include home phone, work phone, cell phone, fax, and email address.”

3. Be flexible. “Today, many reporters use e-mail for their interviews. Surprisingly, however, some people insist on face-to-face interviews….Be accommodating, and you may enjoy better publicity.”

4. Be efficient. When the interview is in person, bring copies of your resources, and be ready to offer referrals to experts or others who can add to your feature.

5. Be honest. “Be honest and truthful in every way. If you don’t know something or are unsure, simply say so. The reporter will appreciate your honesty and save you from embarrassing moments down the road.”

6. Be yourself. “Avoid ‘acting’ and pretending to be what you are not. Good reporters can see through the façade.”

7. Be patient. “Some reporters use tape recorders, but most use only their pen and notebook.”

8. Be clear. “If a reporter speaks about anything you don’t understand, feel free to say you don’t understand.”

9. Be firm. “If a reporter asks you hard questions, or you cannot address these questions, just say so and be firm even if the reporter persists, which smart ones often do. No means no.”

10. Be colorful. “Reporters love a good story. When answering questions, try to include a few interesting stories or anecdotes to support your point of view. Cite a quotation, mention a poem, reference a popular movie, or share a personal story. It can be funny or serious as long as it sheds light on your comments” and the subject.

11. Be thorough. Avoid yes or no answers….Don’t worry about talking too much because reporters know how to edit.

12. Be professional. Barnes offers some don’ts.  “Don’t ask to read the story before it goes to press. Don’t insult reporters by telling them how to do their job. Don’t engage in name-calling. Don’t criticize the messenger or the media. Don’t go off track.”

13. Be personable. “When a reporter comes to your place for an interview, make him or her feel right at home, and don’t underestimate the power of a compliment. … Avoid being stiff and formal, and send a thank you note after the interview.”

14. Be generous. “If you do what you can to make the reporter’s job easy, you’ll stand a greater chance of getting the publicity you need.” For example, offer news that may be related to your story and other relevant resources and contacts.

15. Be reliable. “Strive to be a source that reporters can trust – a source that they call on anytime they need a quote or an industry resource.”

After your media interview,  Barnes reminds you to “build on the experience.” Encourage the reporter to contact you with questions or the need for more information. When your feature is published, send the reporter a thank you note. Throughout the year, if you learn of something that could become a major story, mention it to the reporter.

“When these suggestions become a normal part of your promotional campaign, you will be overwhelmed with the media coverage and publicity you’ll receive.”




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