An incoming call from the press — whether a traditional reporter or a blogger — is gold. It’s payback for all your work developing relationships and stories, and you want to make the most of it.
A) Be prepared
o Make sure your group’s positioning statement (two to three sentences outlining your work, impact and value) and key messages — both at the organization (about your group and its focus, work and impact), and issue-specific (on your perspectives on the three top issues you are addressing right now) — are tight and up-to-date.
o Have those messages down cold and keep them easily accessible.
o Develop and know your policy on what data must remain confidential.
o Assign staff roles and responsibilities: A reporter’s impression of each staff member, including whomever answers the phone, affects their impression of your group and that may influence how she reports about you.
* Who will answer the phone?
* What should they say?
* Who are the spokespeople? Have two prepped, in case one is unavailable.
o Train everyone (staff, board, some volunteers) on policies and roles and responsibilities, even if they don’t have a regular assignment. For example, anyone could answer the phone if the person who regularly does that is out.
o Practice, practice, practice.
* Spokespeople should role play the reporter/org conversation with colleagues at least monthly, and fine-tune according to what’s new.
* Consider hiring a media trainer for your key spokespeople.
B) Before the call
(for scheduled calls, and for each person on your top ten press list)
o Research the reporter’s past stories…to see how deep her knowledge of your org’s issues and what angles the stories followed.
o Research who else is reporting on this topic and how that slant matches up with your position. Determine where your prospective audience stands on the issue.
o Customize your key messages accordingly, so there’s a greater chance you can work them into the interview.
o Practice. Mock interviews are a useful tool. Pull a colleague in to help.
o Figure out what the three questions are that would make you extremely nervous, and practice responding to them.
C) During the call
o If you’re expecting the call, block out the 15 minutes prior for a review of key messages. Place your key message cheat sheet directly in front of you.
o Explain to the reporter about your organization and your role, using the prepared positioning statement as you would at the end of a written news release.
Aside from that brief statement, don’t try to promote yourself — just answer the questions.
o Discuss with reporters only what is comfortably in your area of expertise. If something’s outside those boundaries, help the reporter reach an expert source in that arena. Doing so will strengthen your group’s relationship with her.
o Don’t feel pressured to give an immediate answer to any question. Reporters expect professionals like you to be busy, so it’s OK to get answers to reporters through a quick follow-up call (ASAP, based on the deadline).
This gives everyone time to prepare a clear, concise response. Be polite, but don’t be pushed.
o If you cannot answer a question because your group doesn’t work in that arena or it’s not your key focus now, make sure the reporter understands why.
Don’t simply say “no comment” — which may be interpreted as being evasive or uncooperative.
o Take notes on every media conversation you have (but especially unanticipated incoming calls, which you’re bound to be less prepared for) to share with colleagues ASAP. They need to be aware of stories in progress that involve your organization, in the event additional information or clarification is needed.
==> What are your tips for managing incoming calls from the press? Please share your approach with me today by posting a comment below.