How To Handle A Media Phone Call

You’ve thought about your story, written your press release and sent it to just the right person. They were delighted to hear from you and they want to interview you.

OR, you’ve decided that a press release isn’t appropriate and it’s better to call them.

OR, they’ve heard about you and want to chat.

FINDING YOUR CENTRAL MESSAGE

Before you open your mouth to speak to anyone, make sure you know what you want to say.

Think about your story and imagine you only have 20 seconds to make your point.

What would you say?

DO sit down and write a list of your key points. Then be ruthless. Keep crossing off the points until you find your Objective and End Result.

DO keep them at the forefront of your mind throughout all your dealings with the media.

DO remind yourself of your Objective and End Result if you falter in your interview, and you’ll be back on track.

IF YOU’RE CALLING THEM OUT OF THE BLUE

The first and most important thing is to make sure you’ve got the timing right. When phoning, timing is even more important. The time of your call can make all the difference between a friendly chat and a curt exchange.

Daily newspapers often have much shorter deadlines – although even they plan features and supplements way ahead of time. But shorter deadlines mean more intense deadlines. Ring reception and ask what is a good time to call a journalist.

MOST NATIONAL NEWSPAPERS HAVE THEIR MAIN NEWS MEETING AT AROUND 11 AM. IF YOU HAVE A PIECE OF NEWS FOR THE FOLLOWING DAY’S PAPER, CALL THE JOURNALIST BEFORE 11 AM, SO THEY CAN PUT YOUR STORY ON THE MAIN NEWS LIST.

After that, the best time to call is between about 12 noon and 2.30 pm. Later, news journalists tend to come under pressure from deadlines and won’t be so free to talk. Also, the later you leave it, the harder it is to squeeze stories in to the following day’s paper.

Features writers are generally more flexible call any time from around 10 am.

WHATEVER YOU DO, DON’T PHONE WITH NON-URGENT NEWS AROUND 11 am.

DON’T try to engage them in a friendly chat unless they start it.

DON’T fix meetings if you could have told them over the phone or in an email.

DO suggest lunch or a drink and then leave it up to them if you’re keen to set up a relationship.

DO remember that most journalists are being pulled in 1,001 directions.

Get prepared – even if you’ve written a press release, have that in front of you. If you’ve decided not to write one, jot down what you want to say – nerves can often make you stammer, stutter and wander off the subject.

WHAT IF THEY CALL YOU?

James Herring suggests: ‘If you’re planning to phone a journalist, or you are expecting a call from the press, sit down first and write down exactly what you want to get across.

‘But if a journalist calls you, never feel you have to give an immediate response. It’s fine to say you’ll call back. You can ask them to give you all their questions over the phone, and say you’ll call back with your response. The fact that you did will never appear in print and is a perfectly reasonable practice.’

In 99.99 per cent of cases, if a journalist calls you, it will be about something perfectly innocent. However, they might well be up against a deadline and putting pressure on you to answer their questions immediately. If you can, all well and good, but if you feel your personal or business reputation is at stake, you have a right to ask for a few minutes to consider your answer.

Ask the journalist to give you all the questions they’re planning to ask, note them down, then ask them what the deadline is. Collect your thoughts – maybe make a few notes – and call back as soon as you can.

Keep your answers clear and to the point – if they don’t ask you about a point you consider important, don’t forget to bring it up yourself, and explain why it’s so vital. If you are being interviewed for a news story, a journalist will normally take about 10 or 15 minutes to chat to you over the phone.

If a longer feature is planned, the journalist may want to meet you face to face. If they do conduct the interview over the phone, you might be talking for around 45 minutes, although it really depends on the publication and the subject-matter.

HELP!

I’ve got something to hide and I don’t want to talk to any journalists.

If you possibly can, it’s always better to give journalists something, rather than nothing. Saying ‘no comment’ comes across badly. The public view the words suspiciously and wonder what you’ve got to hide.

If the reporter really has hit a raw nerve, or they are questioning you about something that really must remain secret, the best thing to do is to prepare a statement. You already know that you don’t have to answer questions immediately. Take the journalist’s number, find out their deadline and prepare a statement. Keep it brief and unambiguous.

If the subject is legally sensitive, you might want to consult a lawyer before speaking.

‘I regret that, for legal reasons, I am unable to comment on the rumours …’

‘I’m sorry, but it’s company policy not to comment on speculation about financial matters.’

These are both reasonable responses. Look in any newspaper and you’ll see real-life examples.

If you can’t talk about an issue yet, but will be able to later, offer to let the journalist know when you can discuss it.

DON’T agree to call back and then never do so.

DON’T simply make yourself unavailable.

DO ask someone else to call back and read your statement to the journalist. Even if you give a statement, a journalist will still try to wheedle more out of you. If you don’t think you’ll be able to remain strong in the face of such questioning, by all means ask someone else to act as your spokesperson.

And, whatever else you do, DON’T LIE!

Never, ever, ever lie to the media

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