The phone rings. It’s a journalist. What should you do? What should you say? What shouldn’t you say? How do you deal with them?
As companies look to spread the word about their activities, many understandably want to get their story out to a wider public via the media. Being featured in local, regional and national media can do wonders for your profile and in the best cases can really boost your bottom line.
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However, working with the media effectively requires careful handling in a range of different areas.
Here, we look at how to deal when the media comes knocking at your door – or rather, ringing on your phone.
So, what is it that journalists actually want when they pick up the phone – and how should you respond?
They want more information
If you have already sent out a press release or a pitch to a journalist, it should include all the relevant information. However, there’s a limited amount of material that can be included in a story while keeping it newsworthy and relevant.
As a result, there may be instances when a journalist wants further details on a particular subject they’re unfamiliar with, or they want to angle the story slightly differently and need further quotes/comments. It’s important to be on hand to answer any questions they may have, or to be able to quickly find out if you don’t have the information they’re after.
It is also worth considering your timings when you are thinking about sending out a press release to media. What’s the best time for journalists to receive a story so that it doesn’t get buried or lost? Do you have people around who can answer any questions which come in? Having former journalists on our team at Cool Blue means we know what works best – and what times to avoid.
They want to verify a story
As much as you can plan your communications, there are instances when you need to react – and quickly. Perhaps a journalist has heard negative information about your business and they want you to verify or comment on the story.
For example, an incident may have taken place or is imminent, someone may have raised a health and safety issue, or they’ve heard a complaint from a disgruntled customer/member of staff.
In the best-case scenario, you’d already know about the issue or concern and have a plan in place on how to deal with it and communicate it. However, this isn’t always the case.
That’s why it’s so important to have a crisis communications plan in place. The plan will set off protocols for everyone in the business, ensuring that no matter who takes the initial call, PR agency or those at the coal face of a business/service, all the correct measures are taken, and the enquiry is referred to the right person for a speedy, effective response.
In these instances, time is everything – after all, your reputation could be on the line. A crisis communications plan should be comprehensive and shared with the wider team. Make sure they’re fully briefed and aware of the processes.
At Cool Blue, we regularly work with clients to establish and disseminate crisis communications policies and we’re always available to step in and help navigate a way through the crisis.
They’re after an expert comment
Expert comments are a great way to demonstrate authority on a particular topic, and journalists are more likely to come to you, over a competitor, if you’ve built a good relationship with them. They trust you and know they can rely on you.
At Cool Blue, we draft expert comments on behalf of our clients on a range of topics – from breaking political news to lifestyle and consumer trend pieces and everything in between.
We recently helped to craft a number of expert comment pieces for our client North P&I, on freeports and on the issue of decarbonisation in the shipping sector.
In these instances, it’s important to be knowledgeable on the topic, the publication you’re writing for and its audience. Be sure to ask the publication for a wordcount and a deadline. Among many other pressures, journalists typically work to tight deadlines – especially for breaking news stories – so ensuring your response is timely should be a priority.
It’s also worth agreeing who the comment will come from. The more senior the person the better. This will show gravitas when representing the business/brand. It’s also more effective if the spokesperson is especially passionate about the topic they’re talking about.
They’re requesting an interview
As well as written expert comments, journalists may also request face-to-face interviews – this may be on the back of a press release they think would translate well on TV or radio, at a media event they’re attending, or as part of a news story they’re working on – for example, on recent Levelling Up announcements.
Just as you would with written comments, you should have a spokesperson in mind for each story. You should agree 2 – 3 senior members of the team who could comment on a number of different topics and have a clear understanding of their availability.
Speaking to the media can be daunting, so we’d always recommend carrying out practice interviews with the agreed spokesperson/people on a regular basis. This will help them feel confident and well prepared, while giving you a sense of what they’re passionate about and can speak at length on. At Cool Blue, we regularly give formal and informal media training sessions to our clients to ensure they are well prepared for speaking with a journalist.
It’s also worth having briefing notes on hand, for both the journalist and the spokesperson, which can be shared ahead of the interview. For the journalist, it will give them wider context to the business and story and for the spokesperson, it’ll help them feel more comfortable – although this shouldn’t be read from like a script.
Despite your best efforts, sometimes interviews can’t go ahead due to circumstances outside of your control. In these instances, we’d always recommend offering an alternative time/spokesperson to the journalist to keep the channels of communications open.
This is why having ready-prepared spokespeople can be so effective for your PR strategy, as it means you can seize those media opportunities as soon as they arise.
How we can help
At Cool Blue, we use the right words to talk to the right people at the right time – and if things go wrong for clients, our crisis management expertise can provide prompt and calm advice when you need it most.
We can help you:
Develop your communications strategy – refining your key messages, identifying your primary channels, and understanding the needs of your audience
Deliver a proactive PR campaign – making sure your audiences know about your business or organisation and that you’re making headlines for the right reasons
Develop your crisis communications protocols – covering the escalation process, actions, key contacts and pre-drafted responses
Manage your press office – coordinating inbound enquires and crafting timely responses to ensure your reputation remains intact
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