Consider when and how to comment.
Talking to reporters is a risky business.
So is NOT talking to them.
Let’s say a reporter calls you for comment on your business. Or maybe the journalist asks about a trend or best practice in the industry.
Perhaps the reporter knows something about your company that you’re not ready to discuss – yet.
Or they heard a rumor about your work with a former client who is now under investigation for fraud.
Do you answer their questions in the moment?
What happens if you check the caller ID and don’t pick up the phone? You receive a voice message. Will you duck returning the call later?
Here’s what might happen:
- You or your company might not be mentioned in the news story.
- You or your business might be mentioned, but not referred to in a positive light.
- You allow other parties and sources to shape the news story that may name you (or your former client).
People will read Name (Spokesperson) from Company was not available for comment. You (or your former client) appear aloof, disinterested or, worst case scenario, guilty of whatever negative aspect is associated with the situation.
Perhaps a reporter discovers a former employee has filed a lawsuit alleging discrimination. You decide to answer any and all questions with No Comment.
Do you think the reporter will stop looking for a source?
Hardly. You have effectively pushed the reporter out the door to find another person to comment on the situation.
Imagine who the journalist will call:
- A nosy neighbor
- Another disgruntled (ex-)employee
- An unhappy vendor
Do you believe any of these folks see the situation similar to you and will respond favorably to the reporter?
Not at all.
Take the Call
Now, what are the risks of speaking to a reporter:
- Speaking without preparation of key points you wish to convey.
- Being unaware of a newly developed situation. For example, the reporter has heard allegations of a payoff to secure an RFP from the state, but you do not know anything about it.
- Being quoted inaccurately.
Weigh these risks — and outcomes — when a reporter unexpectedly calls you for comment and you have to decide whether or not to respond to their call and what you might say.
This Month’s Tip
When a reporter calls you out of the blue, take the call and reschedule for a time when you are prepared to speak on the topic. The reporter is going to write the story, with or without you, so follow this script or a version that suits your style:
I’d really like to talk with you, but I have someone in my office now. If you would please give me your name and number, I’ll call you back in a half hour. And, in case I need to gather information from someone else, please let me know exactly what you’d like to discuss, so that I can be more helpful to you.
In this scenario, you team up with the reporter and make yourself available. Note, you have given yourself time to gather your thoughts, prepare some examples of your ideas and make them quotable.
Plus, you have 30 minutes to check with someone else who may have more details about the situation. You may wish to consult your attorney for advice.
Of course, you will follow up with the reporter, even if you have to dodge some questions because you don’t have enough information to respond in that moment. You probably may safely say that you are looking carefully at the situation; (you are in touch with your attorney) and you will re-connect with the reporter as more details become available.
While this response may not be quotable, it tells the reporter you are attentive to their interest in the story and will remain accessible for future comment.
Don’t take an unnecessary risk when you get an unexpected call from the media. Contact me at Janet@JanetLFalk.com, set an appointment here or call me at 212.677.5770. Together we’ll customize the above script so that you’ll lower the risk when speaking to a reporter.
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