What to do when a journalist calls you
17 Tips for Working with Journalists
- Find out where the journalist is from – national or local paper, or freelance.
- Always respond when a journalist rings. Ignoring them will NOT work. If you decide not to comment, that’s fine – but tell the journalist. Remember, the journalist is likely to write the story whether you comment or not.
- Be wary of ‘off the record’ conversations. Confusingly, ‘off the record’ can mean different things to different people, so be careful. Some journalists interpret it as if you say something ‘off the record’ the journalist can use the material, but will not attribute it to you.
- Journalists have strict deadlines. Remember this when you promise to call them back.
- Try and be as helpful as you can. You never know when you might want a client or story to be featured in the editorial pages.
- Think visually. Journalists and editors often need photographs to accompany stories. High resolution images can always be emailed if you don’t have time to get the brochure or photographs to them by post. (Remember, PDF’s usually aren’t good enough.)
- Journalists receive a ludicrous amount of mail, faxes and emails. When sending a press release, try to keep it to one side of A4. Anything longer will not be read and is likely to hit the bin with force. Give your release a catchy headline and attach the brochure.
- Try and think ahead to get your company’s name in the press. If interest rates go up, be the first to contact the local papers with a comment from the office head. Far better than expecting the journalist to trawl through the phone directory to find you!
- Develop a relationship with a journalist or even several journalists, particularly if they’re on your patch. Encourage your office head to meet one or two local journalists for the odd drink or spot of lunch. When you meet a journalist, try to have a story to offer them or at least something to discuss.
- Time is money. Whether freelance or staff, all journalists work to demanding deadlines. Therefore, do not expect journalists to take out large chunks of the day to attend press launches.
- Many editors want ‘exclusives’ – especially in the national press. Make sure an exclusive is exclusive. You will tarnish your reputation and will be shunned if you offer an ‘exclusive’ to more than one source.
- Most publications today are very people-based (especially the national press). Favoured stories are those that reflect how people live. A story with some human element attached is easier for your PR department to sell to an editor.
- Deliver what you say you are going to deliver. Do not offer a case study of someone who’s a first-time buyer if they’re actually buying for the third time. Honesty is always the best policy. Do not oversell something.
- ‘No comment’ is not a denial. If you say ‘no comment’ to a question, you are not saying ‘yes’ or ‘no.’
- Be prepared to give out contact numbers. A journalist might have to ring an agent out of hours on an agent’s mobile or at home. If they have your numbers – and not your rival’s – you’ll be quoted.
- Don’t be afraid of the press. Most are normal people like everyone else. Equally, do not be too chummy or patronising. Just be straight-forward and professional.
- Think about online and social networking as a way to get to or respond to the press. But don’t feel you should blog or tweet just because everyone else is.