How PR pros can help clients handle an unexpected media inquiry

Your clients or execs might be surprised, even to the point of distress, by a phone call from a journalist seeking comments or insights. Offer this guidance to help them seize the opportunity.

How to handle unexpected media requests

Why does a reporter’s call petrify us? 

It’s human nature to feel put on the spot when you get a call out of the blue from a newsroom. After all, most of us aren’t used to speaking with journalists every day, especially on the fly, so it might feel unnatural, even disquieting. 

Instead of avoiding the reporter, what can we do to feel more comfortable if caught off guard by a news media inquiry? Try these techniques to prepare yourself, even in a very brief amount of time, to talk with journalists:

1. Breathe. If you get a call or email from a reporter asking for your comments, the first thing to do is take a breath. Don’t feel you have to answer immediately. If the reporter is on deadline, be mindful of that, but you probably have a little time to collect yourself before returning their call. A thoughtful response is always better than a rushed one.

2. Contact your PR team. You’ll want to hop on a call or meet with your PR point person, who can help you prepare to return the reporter’s message.

3. Acknowledge receipt of the message. If the journalist has left you a message, be it via voicemail, email or text, respond to let him or her know you’ve received it and will be back in touch very soon. Then honor that commitment. 

4. Decide on your key messages. Instead of spinning out of control, think about what you really want to say. What messages do you want to convey? Get your thoughts together, and maybe write down a few key points you’d like to make before you reply. Try to include some quotable phrases in your responses. Use imagery to help support your points. Paint a picture with your words.

5. Practice. If you’re calling a journalist back, rehearse what you’re going to say—out loud. Yes, repeat your answers aloud. This will help you sound more confident when you’re speaking with the reporter. Don’t just “wing it” and hope for the best. 

6. Do some research. If needed, take a few minutes to research your answers. Maybe there’s a data point you can cite. (Reporters appreciate statistics.)

7. Speak slowly and clearly. Take another deep breath before you get on the phone with the reporter. When you’re speaking with him or her, speak slowly and clearly. Pause to allow him or her to ask questions. 

8. Say thank you. Before you end the call, thank the reporter for getting in touch. Let him or her know that if they have any further questions, you’d be happy to answer them. Reiterate that you’re available as a source for any upcoming stories they may be working on. 

9. Find out when the piece will be published. Ask when the story will appear. It’s fine to inquire when the piece will be live so that you can share it. 

10. Share the story. When the story does appear, share it on social media and add it to the news area of your website. This increases the value.

A version of this article originally appeared on Muck Rack, a service that enables you to find journalists to pitch, build media lists, get press alerts and create coverage reports with social media data.

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