by Todd Calongne, Guest Author
Public Affairs Officer, Secretary’s Office of the Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization, U.S. Department of State
I just hung up with Newsweek and read your piece on finessing incoming media calls. It is very good advice.
But I would add one thing…Relax.
Being yourself is the straightest path to gaining a new friend in the media. Feel free to engage in conversation while sussing out how much the journalist knows about the subject or the field of interest, and her slant.
If you feel the reporter is reputable, use an off-the-record description of circumstances when you feel you’re being steered towards a taboo and/or challenging topic. When you do so, the journalist should ask you what he can use, serving as a double check.
For example, I often have to say, “I can talk to you on background, but anything you want on the record just let me know and I’ll see if my boss will allow you to attribute the quote to him.”
After facilitating hundreds of media interviews, I have not been burned by a reporter yet. I think it has to do with being optimistic and confident in what I’m talking about.
Catching a journalist asking something they know crosses the line will yield a chuckle from me as I keep them in bounds. They usually join in and then I give a hypothetical example of a similar circumstance that illustrates why I can’t go into detail on a topic. This goes over far better than a flat out no.
Media relations is really media education. When I was in school my teachers taught me from a text book but they emphasized what was most interesting to engage us students. I use that same strategy to engage the press. It works every time.