Four Rules for Talking with Reporters

By: Martin Stein, Pitch PR Powered By TrizCom PR

If your public relations team is good at what they do, you’re eventually going to be talking with reporters. But even with the media training your PR partner has provided (again, if they’re good), you may still feel nervous the first time or two. Here are some basic do’s and don’ts to remember.

1. One Voice

Whenever the media comes knocking, always answer with one voice. Literally. Have one person, and only one person, who is allowed to speak to the press. If a reporter wants to speak to the CEO for a story, that interview request should always be funneled through this one person. If you have a PR firm on retainer, then all media requests—no matter how small or urgent—should be directed there. And always make sure your entire staff knows they are never to speak to members of the media unless they have been authorized by your one key person or PR firm. It’s all too easy for a well-meaning receptionist to suddenly become an official company spokesman, and in doing so, accidentally say something which could be misconstrued or even be false.

2. The Record

We’ve all seen it on TV or in the movies. Some character is talking to a reporter and says, “Off the record…” and the reporter magically stops taking notes. But does it work like that in real life? Well, sometimes. For starters, the “record” is an honor system. There is no law forcing reporters to obey. Secondly, it’s a matter of timing. If you preface your remarks by saying they are off the record—and this is important: the reporter agrees verbally or in writing—then you’re almost always safe. (If you say something like, “Off the record, I killed him,” don’t count on it.) If, however, you ask for something to be off the record AFTER you’ve said it, then you’re out of luck.

Another aspect of the record is asking to only be used for background or deep background. You see people speaking on background all the time in political news. It’s any time that a person divulges something to a reporter but has certain identifying information withheld, such as name, job title, etc. Deep background is similar, but usually means that nothing the person says will see print; it’s only to be used to guide the reporter to information that needs to be corroborated by other people.

This can all be confusing the first few times you talk with the press so just remember this simple rule of thumb: If you don’t think you should say something, don’t.

3. Be Prepared

The Boy Scout motto holds true here as it does everywhere. You’re going to be speaking with someone who is investigating you and your business. It’s only fair for you to do the same. Before you even consent to the interview, ask the reporter several questions:

·         What outlet is the story for? If you work for an oil company, you’ll want to know beforehand if your interview will appear in an environmentalist publication. Is it for print, TV or radio?

·         What is the deadline? Does the reporter need an answer right away or can the interview be scheduled for a later time?

·         What is the story about? Are you being featured or just sought for some extra commentary? Is it an investigative piece or more of a light features story?

·         Time permitting, can you see some of the questions beforehand? While you’ll never be allowed to see a story before it goes to press, asking for the questions ahead of time is fair game and especially helpful if answers will require some research.

In addition to finding out what the reporter is looking for, go an extra step and look up the reporter on Twitter—nearly every media person is on Twitter these days. Find previous stories she has done. Is the reporter new to covering your industry so you’ll have to walk her through some basics? Has the reporter previously done hard-hitting stories on your sector so you’ll need to be prepared for some aggressive questions? Are there any other biases you should be on the lookout for?

Finally, you should always have a set of talking points handy. Talking points are basically statements you want to see in the story, such as your product or service being the best on the market. These should be buttressed by proof points, which are just what you’d guess: the facts to back up your assertion. Your basic points should always be the same, while you swap in some points that are more news-based such as information about a product launch.

If you’re going on TV, commit a few to memory. If you’re on the radio, doing a telephone interview, or even being interviewed in person such as in your office, keep them in front of you. After all, the reporter will have notes to refer to, why shouldn’t you?

4. Stay in Control

If questions lead you off topic or into areas you’d rather not discuss, use your answers to bring the interview back to where you want it. “Bridging” techniques, such as saying “That’s a great question, but let me go back to the main point…” are effective tactics and can be learned by watching top-level politicians being interviewed on the Sunday morning news shows. If the reporter tries to get you to fill silence by saying something, simply wait for the next question. And remember, the interview isn’t over until you’ve hung up the phone or left the studio.

If you keep these four guidelines in mind when talking with the press, the chances of you embarrassing yourself or your business will be remote. Who knows? You may even come to enjoy the whole process.

Martin Stein is vice president of Pitch PR Powered by TrizCom PR

Pitch PR, a division of TrizCom PR, was created in partnership with The Dallas Entrepreneur Center (DEC) to assist startups & small business with their public relations needs. Through a unique partnership with the Dallas Entrepreneur Center (The DEC), Pitch PR is able to shepherd the communications objectives necessary for any PR strategy. Pitch PR admits that they are not one-size-fits-all; they can right-size according to the trajectory of the life in a startup environment. Pitch PR knows that media placement draws new customers as well as garners the attention of influencers, stakeholders and investors. Public Relations can shorten the awareness curve for brands. Pitch PR is geared for companies that have completed their initial funding round and believe in the possibility for high growth driven by powerful messaging in the media. From a simple PR 101 workshop, to a retainer-based strategy and action items to increase a brand’s public exposure, Pitch PR is ready to pitch and win. Ala carte services are available as well. For more information on Pitch PR call 972-247-1369 or  

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