When a journalist calls, whoever answers the phone, it is important not to give an off-the-cuff, instant reaction, but to give your organisation time to prepare and consider how it ought to respond to the query or request.
Whether you are from the PR team, or answering the phones, the best approach is to be co-operative but firm, promising to call back and making sure that you do so.
These are the key things you need to find out:
1. Who is the interview for?
It could be a local or national newspaper, a trade or specialist magazine, or a local or national broadcaster, and the tenor of the interview and the potential audience, will depend on this. If it is for a radio or TV documentary, find out if the programme is part of a series or strand, when is it being broadcast, what station, who else are they speaking to, what information does the researcher already have, the producer and the presenter. This puts you far more in control of the conversation and gives you an indication about whether it would be wise to co-operate.
2. What is it about?
This seems obvious, and in most cases the reporter will make this clear but just in case there is a hidden agenda, do make sure you clarify what they want
3. Why do they want to speak to you?
Is the journalist doing a piece specifically about your business, so they want to talk to a spokesman, are you being interviewed for your expertise in a particular field, or has something gone wrong that you’re being expected to account for. Whatever the reason for the call, you need to be prepared, think about potential questions and work out what your answers might be.
4. What type of interview does the journalist want?
All the journalist might need is a quick comment to be included as a part the interview, or your spokesman may be the main interviewee, in which case the interview might take longer. And it might be for a news article or for the feature pages, all of which will affect the type of interview they will be expected to give.
Will your organisation be quoted, or simply providing background information for an interview with someone else? In addition, the journalist might simply want an interview to provide editorial balance to an argument.
5. Who else are they speaking to?
Will the report or item include interviews with rivals, ‘victims’, government spokespeople? If it’s a broadcast interview, will they be pitched head to head in a debate.
6. What questions will they ask?
Make sure you ask the questions they would like answered, or at least the areas which will be covered. They may not give you the questions, but in fairness, they should give the latter.
7. How does the journalist want to conduct the interview and how long will it take?
Is it going to take place over the phone, or in person? Do you need to set aside an hour or just a few minutes? If the journalist is from a TV station, will they be coming to you, or do they need the spokesperson to go to a studio. Find out how long it will take – TV interviews invariably take far longer than the producer/reporter predicts.
8. What is the deadline?
This will vary depending on the type of publication, and you don’t want to miss your chance to be quoted – or risk the lines “xyz refused to provide an spokesperson/were unable to comment”.
We are able to give specific media training in how to handle calls from journalists – either for PR teams or other team members such as the switchboard, who might have to field them. Call us on 020 8332 6200 or email on firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.