It’s 5 p.m. on a Friday and you get a call from the Houston Chronicle asking for an interview with your client or company. You have two hours before deadline. What do you do?
Ignore the request at your peril, as this can be reported as “so and so had no comment,” which can sound incriminating, albeit unfairly.
To avoid that all-too-common scenario, here are four things you SHOULD do when the media calls:
1. Immediately acknowledge the call, text or email.
This will ensure that as a point of contact for your organization – whether as an in-house executive or as a public relations consultant – the media can count on you to be responsive.
Most importantly, ask when their deadline is. There are times when you might have a few days to provide a response, but many times a journalist will call with only a few hours to spare.
2. Do not delay in letting your client or CEO know about the request.
As a public relations professional, it is your job to arrange an interview and/or put together a statement, but you must do it in partnership with leadership. Your counsel is very important in guiding the CEO on how to respond, but you may not have all the background information needed to direct the response. Working together, you can determine a good course of action.
3. Keep in close contact with the journalist during the process.
Let the journalist know that you will work to get them a response but that you cannot guarantee your client will be available in the requested time. Do not over-promise. Journalists will ‘hold a spot’ for you and, when you do not deliver, they will remember it. Provide frequent status reports as you work through the request. You want to be known as an open and honest broker, even if in the end you cannot deliver on the journalist’s request due to deadlines or other constraints.
Be mindful that there could be a variety of reasons why you may not want to answer a query: your company does not yet have a concerted stance on the issue, it is proprietary information that you are planning to release at a different time or not at all or the issue is not relevant to your company or association.
4. Continue to build a relationship.
If the journalist is willing to accept a written comment (rather than an interview), draw up a draft for your leadership to approve.
If you are going to miss the deadline, even by 15 minutes, immediately inform the journalist. A journalist will sometimes offer to include your comment in an online update (rather than in the original filing of the story).
In the end, if you are unable to give them what they need, your actions showed that you were communicative and did your best, which is a great relationship-building exercise. And it may keep them from reporting that “Company X had no comment when contacted.”
If you follow these four simple rules, you will become a reliable contact in your industry and gain the trust of the journalists who cover it. As an added bonus, this relationship will allow you to reach out to that journalist in the future with relevant messaging – preferably that you have had plenty of time to prepare.