Handling the Media – What to do When a Journalist Contacts You

Maybe you are working on a case where there is a lot of public interest. Most people panic, feeling nervous about how best to handle the call to avoid the wrong thing being said in the media.

But it can be important to develop good relationships with the media, so here are twenty tips for handling journalist calls well:

  1. Consider whether it really is a journalist, or whether they are trying to sell you something
  2. Is it someone you know? If not, take their number and call them back in 10-15 minutes after checking their identity
  3. If you can’t handle the question immediately, offer to call back within an agreed timescale.
  4. Be aware that if you delay calling back, you may not be asked to comment again
  5. Ask what the journalist wants to talk about and ask for sample questions
  6. Is it a news story or a feature? This may affect your response
  7. Consult your colleagues and prepare written notes to minimise the risk of any false words or misunderstandings
  8. Don’t just say ‘no comment’. If possible, explain why you cannot comment and when you might be able to respond
  9. If you don’t know the answer, say so and offer to get back within a set time
  10. Keep your response simple. Don’t wander off the point or try to dazzle the journalist with your technical brilliance
  11. If you don’t like the area of questioning, try to switch to something relevant that you would rather talk about
  12. Volunteer any information you want to come across – don’t wait to be asked
  13. Never be rude about the opposition
  14. Don’t mention clients without their permission
  15. Avoid emotive language
  16. Keep calm, but not smug. Avoid being goaded into an ill-judged reply
  17. The journalist might read back your statement over the phone, but don’t bank on it
  18. If a deadline allows, a technical publication might send you a proof to check, but again, don’t bank on it
  19. Anticipate. If you suspect you, your firm or your client might be in the news, rehearse possible questions and answers and keep your script by the phone
  20. There is no such thing as ‘off the record’, unless you know what you’re doing
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