PR pros are trained communicators, but I think we've all been in a situation in which an important call with a reporter has left us flustered. Needless to say, those in the news media do not follow our PR schedule.
Journalists can call or email when you're least expecting it and may need their information ASAP. It always seems like the most important calls come when you're already drowning in other work.
Drowning or not, when you pick up that phone it's important to remember that every piece of communication from a reporter is an opportunity. If you want success, don't let your stress come across over the phone.
We've covered what PR pros should never say to a journalist. So here's what you should always remember to say:
1. "I'll start on this immediately." In PR, we know that timing is everything. For a reporter, it's almost as if the day is moving in fast forward. Reporters operate with constant urgency and efficiency, and you should, too, if you want any chance at developing a positive working relationship with that person.
If you can swing it, drop everything and start on the reporter's request immediately. Never leave something urgent until tomorrow, even if it is the end of your day.
If you can't fulfill their request quick enough, they will find someone who can. You will never hear a reporter say that a PR person was too responsive or too fast in filling their request. Know the reporter's deadline and adjust your own deadlines accordingly. (Hint: it's at least 90 minutes before theirs.)
2. "Here's an update..." If you're taking longer than expected but you are making good strides toward fulfilling a request, let the reporter know with a quick email. A simple check-in reassures a reporter that you have made their request a priority and are hoping to have what they need soon.
You don't want them to assume, due to lack of communication, that you've failed, prompting them to move on to someone else.
3. "I can coordinate visuals." This step is crucial when working with TV reporters. If the resources are available, you need to help line up B-roll opportunities or provide a "real person" angle to the story. This "one-stop shop" approach will make the reporter's job much easier.
However, do not discount the needs of print and radio outlets. As news media trends keep changing, more and more reporters for these outlets are being asked to bring a number of multimedia elements to the table in order to stay competitive.
Working quickly in the hour after an urgent phone call can pay off big time for a PR pro, but getting a reporter the information they need in a timely manner is not always enough to solidify a positive working relationship.
After you've collaborated, here's the biggest phrase to keep that friendly connection intact:
4. "I liked your coverage of _____." Keeping up with a reporter's work is important to maintaining a positive relationship. Let them know you value their work by watching/reading their stories and making genuine comments about the finished product. Most reporters get only negative viewer/reader comments.
Showing them your appreciation will help you stand out and start a positive, non-urgent conversation. In addition, always use good manners. You should never be too busy to be courteous.
If you use this advice in your daily interactions with journalists, the nature of the newsroom will become much less intimidating. You both win when members of the new media know that you "get it" and that they can count on you to help them tell memorable, accurate, and timely stories.
[Related: 4 things PR pros should never say to reporters]
Lisa Arledge Powell is the president of MediaSource, a multimedia production and media relations company that works with hospitals, health care organizations, and other brands.