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How Do You Respond When the Media Calls?

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More often than not, my posts have focused on the best ways to contact the media when pitching a story idea.

But what should you do when the media contacts you?

How you respond is critical. It doesn’t matter if a reporter is calling out of the blue or whether the communication is the results of a developing news story or something you pitched previously.

The most important thing to do is respond promptly. Too often, public relations practitioners take their time getting back to journalists.

Big mistake! You’ll likely annoy the reporter (which could make coverage less favorable). Or, if the story isn’t specific to your utility, the journalist might find someone else to feature.

Even worse, if the story the reporter is working on is one that might not be favorable to you, you’re running the risk of letting someone else control the narrative on the issue — and there’s the possibility misleading or flat-out incorrect information is being disseminated.

Remember that the news cycle is now constant. In the “olden days” it might take hours (or even a day) before the news made into onto a broadcast or in a newspaper. Today, the news may be online in literally moments.

By responding quickly, you’ll find out what the journalist wants. Sometimes you can answer the questions immediately; other times, it’ll take some research.

It’s OK to say “I don’t know” (assuming you really don’t know), especially in cases where the utility may be placed in an unflattering light; you’re buying yourself a little time. Get the right information and get back to the reporter rather than provide material that may be inaccurate. Of course, if you promise to get back to a journalist, get back to them.

Do note that “no comment” is not the same thing as “I don’t know.” Avoid “no comment” at all costs because it makes you look as if you’re hiding something

When you say you’ll get back to a reporter, you can do so in a couple steps. The first time, provide any basic information you have. From there, work to answer the question in depth by gathering facts, figures, charts, video and so on. Too much information is better than not enough.

Meantime, if there’s someone at the utility the reporter wants to interview, move mountains to make it happen, especially if it’s a major outlet. Yeah, I know C-level executives will often beg off from interviews, so this can be a challenge. If you can’t get the desired person, find an equally high-level substitute.

Yes, that may be difficult, too, but nobody ever said working in PR was easy.

Finally, follow up with the journalist, both later in the day and after the story appears. Be sure to thank them and point out things you like about the story — and avoid nitpicking about things you don’t like unless something is flat-out wrong.

Andy Gotlieb's picture

Thank Andy for the Post!

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