Reputation management and media relations

Got an Unexpected Call from a Reporter? Don’t Panic – Do This Instead

Have you ever gotten an unexpected call or email from a reporter? What did you do first?

If you answered, “Panic!” – you’re not unlike many clients I’ve encountered.

Reputation management is all about proactively handling media requests, whether or not they were anticipated.

Why is our first response to a media inquiry to panic? And how can we calm down and marshal our resources to answer their questions?

Why Do We Panic When Faced with Talking to the Media?

There’s something about an unexpected media request that strikes fear in people. It may be because we’ve all seen those “gotcha” segments on the news – stories in which a company or its spokesperson looks like the bad guy. When a reporter gets in touch unexpectedly, it can make a business feel it’s being put on the spot, and a spokesperson may worry they’ll say the wrong thing. 
Even working as a consultant in B2B PR, in industries that aren’t fraught with scandals, there are times when ANY business can find itself in the position of responding to a media inquiry they didn’t know was coming their way.
Here’s an example. I was once working with a new small business PR client when they got a call from a local TV news reporter about a story they were going to be featured in. The story was, let’s say, not necessarily casting those featured in a favorable light – but it was based on some research that some in the industry considered biased.

The company had ignored the first couple of attempts the reporter had made to contact them – but she was now on deadline, attempting one last time to contact them for a comment.

They had a decision to make—should they participate and explain their side of the story, or should they allow the story to air without their statement?

Instead of panicking, the client and I put our heads together to strategize. We decided it was in the best interest of their reputation management to respond. I quickly wrote a statement to send to the reporter. They reviewed it, adding their edits, and I was able to get it to the reporter in time to be included.

The story aired that night on the local evening news. The reporter read a portion of our statement. Then, she mentioned that they’d attempted to get a competing business featured in the story to comment. The company declined, which cast them in a less-than-favorable light.

Unexpectedly Contacted by the Media? Four Things to Keep In Mind

What reputation management lessons can we take away from the example above?

1) If asked to comment on a news story about your company, it’s always wise to take advantage of the opportunity to present your side. Otherwise, the story will air or be published without your input, which might be even more harmful than not commenting.

It’s better to be transparent, even if the news is less than favorable for your small business. The longer you put off commenting, the worse the blowback could be.

2) If a reporter contacts you, you should respond as promptly as possible. You may think ignoring them will make them go away, but that’s rarely the case.

Make sure you have a contact listed on your site who monitors messages daily for media inquiries.

Acknowledging the reporter’s message in a timely fashion makes it clear you have nothing to hide and gives you time to formulate a response.

In the example I mentioned above, the client didn’t even know what the reporter was going to ask. When the call came in, the client panicked and then ignored it. Without responding, how would you know if the query falls into the crisis PR category?

When I contacted the journalist on their behalf, she explained what information she would be referencing and asked if they had a comment. Once we had that knowledge, everyone calmed down. We now understood the objective and could put together a response that answered the question while explaining steps the client was taking to ensure fairness for all parties involved.

3) Invest in media training so you and your team are ready in the event of an unexpected media inquiry. It’s like buying insurance—you never know when you might need it. Be sure to revisit it from time to time.

Also, prepare a crisis communications plan, especially if you work in an industry that may be high risk in some way. As part of that, prepare a holding statement, which is a template to keep on hand in case your business faces a crisis.

4) No time for media training? No B2B PR consultant to call? Here are some quick tips to help in the moment: 

  • Prepare for the interview by researching the reporter. Look at their social media profiles to see what type of stories they usually produce.
  • Determine what your key message is for this particular interview or story. Then, you’ll want to bring every question back to that.
  • Know when to stop talking. When someone is nervous or under pressure, they may tend to ramble, which can result in saying something they may not want on the record. Answer the question – then stop. 
  • Be ready to provide whatever the reporter may need – whether it’s following up on a question they asked (you may need to double-check a number, for example, if they asked about financials or timing), B-roll footage, or a logo.
  • Ask when the story or piece will appear so you can watch and review how your message came across. That way, you can make any adjustments for the next opportunity.

Effective Reputation Management Requires Staying Prepared to Respond to Reporters’ Inquiries

Preparing to handle media requests with the care they deserve can help you avoid panicking and pay off in building your reputation as a trustworthy company.

If you need help, consider hiring a PR consultant to handle media requests and responses – and counsel you as needed.

Are you a small business in need of help fielding media inquiries? Contact me to discuss a B2B PR plan.

Learn more about my PR consulting services here. Book a no-obligation call to talk about your needs here.

About the author: Michelle Garrett is a B2B PR consultant and author of B2B PR That Gets Results. She helps companies create content, earn media coverage, and position themselves as thought leaders in their industry. Michelle’s articles have been featured by Entrepreneur, Content Marketing Institute, Muck Rack and Ragan’s PR Daily, among others. She’s a frequent speaker on public relations and content. Michelle has been repeatedly ranked among the top ten most influential PR professionals.

100% of this blog post was written by me, the human.

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