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What to do when a reporter calls

Graphics | January 1, 2008 | By:

Today every business has to be media savvy and know ahead of time what to do when a reporter calls. If you keep in mind a few basic rules, you can get your firm’s views across clearly and effectively.

“When a journalist calls requesting information, the public relations person should always first ask what the reporter’s deadline is,” says William Madaras, a PR professional of 20 years who currently manages PR for IPLocks, a data security software company in San Jose, Calif. “Assure the journalist you will respond in time to meet the deadline, and do it. If you don’t, the reporter will often state in their report that the organization did not respond by the deadline. This creates an image that perhaps the company did not want to respond because they are hiding something. Remember, you don’t have to respond if you have reason not to. If you decline, let the journalist know your reason to avoid any ambiguity.”

Even with a daily newspaper you can have a little time to compose your thoughts. Ask the reporter to e-mail or fax you the questions. If she tells you over the phone, read the questions back so you know you have it right. Before you can answer a question, you have to understand it.

Consider these two answers to the simple question: “Does your company keep any flammable material on site?”

  • Mr. A quickly replies: “Yes, we keep several gallons of cleaning fluid around the shop.”
  • Ms. B takes the time to think and get the answer right. She calls the reporter back and says: “Yes, we keep no more than two gallons (7.6 liters) at any time of XYZ cleaning fluid [spelling out the exact chemical name] in our plant. It is kept in its original container and stored safely. Our plant also has the latest in smoke, heat, and carbon monoxide detectors and a sprinkler system. We also dispose of all used cleaning materials in an approved manner.”

Which comment would you like to read in tomorrow’s newspaper?

If you do not know the answer to the reporter’s question, say so. This rule cannot be stressed enough: Never, ever, fudge it or tell a reporter something you know to be misleading or untrue. It will come back to haunt you!

Invite the reporter to visit your office or plant. Show her around and let the reporter know that you are available for future comments. After all, you never know what business might come out of a reporter’s call.

Roy Katz, M.B.A., is a business journalist based in Las Vegas, Nev. He can be reached at

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