Media Training: How to Handle Reporter Deadlines

As a busy business-to-business professional, your time is very valuable. No doubt, you’re constantly operating on tight deadlines, as well as trying to find time to meet with potential and existing clients, suppliers, and other professionals you may encounter.

If you’ve hired a B2B public relations specialist, such as Ripley PR, to help get your name out to the public and announce events, product launches, and other important things, at some point you’re going to deal directly with a reporter. It’s easy for other professionals to discount journalists, or view their time as less valuable, but the fact is, reporters have a job to do and strict deadlines to meet just like anyone else. If you learn to respect their deadlines, you’ll build a good working relationship with journalists and get the kind of coverage your business needs.

So what’s the best way to handle and respect a reporter’s deadline? Remember, oftentimes a journalist is looking to get both sides of a story, especially if it’s covering a potentially controversial topic. Consider this: if you put off commenting, or fail to comment at all, are you really representing your side of the story as best you could? What do you think about companies or individuals when you read or hear on radio or TV that they didn’t return calls for comment on a particular story? It may not be the best way to build respect.

In most cases, reporters have one day at most to prepare a story, if they’re writing an article for a paper that comes out the next morning. If they’re preparing a story for the evening news on radio or TV, they may have a matter of just a few hours. That means that they have to get as much information as they can in a very short time, and then write a story, whether they have all of the facts or not.

Some media trainers may offer very generic advice, telling you to return a reporter’s call sometime before his deadline. That’s all well and good, but is it enough? If the reporter calls you in the morning, says he needs a quote by that afternoon, and you return the call and give the quote 10 or 15 minutes before his deadline, your quote might make it into his story. But it will likely be dropped in at the last minute, with very little context and very little thought to make what you had to say meaningful or accurately represent your organization.

That doesn’t mean you have to conduct your interview the moment a reporter calls to request one. You can certainly take some time to prepare what you want to say. Chances are the reporter wants to give you as much time as possible; he probably contacted you as soon as he received his story assignment or tracked down your contact information.

The best thing you can do, then, is show him the same courtesy. If you aren’t able to answer his initial call, return it as soon as you can. Set up a time to talk, either over the phone or in person. Ask him what the story’s about, what kinds of quotes he’s looking for, whether he needs background information, and whether the interview will be live or taped. Then, take some time in the intervening period and prepare what you want to say. Make use of your key messages, and prepare for certain questions the reporter may ask. When the time comes for the interview, keep it on track as much as you can and steer the reporter back to your message if he veers off track. Be sure not to speak off the record. Keep it brief, especially if the interview is for radio or TV; you’re likely to get one or two 15-second snippets on air.

What do you do if a reporter shows up in your office? Don’t be afraid to ask to reschedule the interview. Let him know you’d like a few minutes to prepare so you can give him the best information possible.

Also, remember that the earlier you meet with a reporter, the more you can shape a story. If he’s going to be talking to someone on the other side, but speaks with you first, the questions he asks the next person will be shaped by what you talked about. That can usually work to your advantage.

Finally, don’t be offended if the reporter has to reschedule or cancel your interview in favor of breaking news. That’s the nature of the business and especially in smaller markets, it’s not uncommon for reporters to get reassigned to a breaking story. Be willing to work with them and you’ll maintain a good enough relationship that they’ll come to you again.

It might be hard to work a reporter’s deadline into your own busy schedule, but the more you’re willing to do so, the better represented your company will be in any news story. Just remember that the more you position yourself as an authority in your industry, and the more you work with reporters, the more they’ll be willing to come to you.

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Heather Ripley, Founder/CEO

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