public relations writersWhen your business or organization is in the middle of a serious crisis situation, you may find a need to respond to news reporters. Handling these calls can be a stressful experience, especially if reporters are working on a negative story about your organization.

Working with reporters may be a little different than the professional interactions you have on a daily basis, so you should take note of certain procedures and precautions you should take.

Keep these rules in mind whenever you are in contact with members of the news media:

Rule #1: Return calls as quickly as possible

Do your very best to acknowledge all media calls, even if it means that you have you have your assistant send a message for you. It may depend on the situation, but most reporters work with a same-day deadline of 5 p.m., at the very latest.

Responding to reporters quickly not only helps them do their jobs, but it allows you the opportunity to shape the story. Think of it this way—the more you explain a concept to a reporter, the better the chances that he or she will understand it better and will be able to write a complete and accurate story. By cutting off reporters, you’re not giving them a chance to learn more about the issue.

When you respond quickly, you are taking a proactive stance on media relations, giving yourself every opportunity to have as much influence on a reporter and the story as possible. Instead of simply reacting to reporters’ questions and sitting on your heels, you can then use your expertise to be a trusted source of information.

Rule #2: Always tell the truth—the whole truth

Nothing destroys trust more than lying to or intentionally misleading a reporter. While this is pretty self-explanatory, some business leaders sometimes feel the need to mislead reporters—or even outright lie to them.

These situations always end badly. As you can imagine, once a reporter finds out that he or she has been lied to, it essentially becomes a story in itself. Any bad news you may have been dealing with now has been magnified.

If you’re going to make a mistake during an interview, do not let it be one that hides the truth or misleads the reporter and the public. It’s better to misstep by providing a little too much information than to lie about something. If you are dealing with a potentially negative story, get in front of the media coverage, tell your story and, most importantly, always tell the truth.

Rule #3: Provide as much information as possible

As long as it is appropriate to do so, providing more information to reporters is almost always better than not providing enough. Reporters often don’t know what they need to ask about and end up asking for the wrong information. In addition to providing correct information, always add whatever you feel is important and relevant to the story.

You may often find that reporters are close to getting to the heart of an issue, but aren’t quite there yet. If you find yourself in a situation where you feel that a reporter is asking all the wrong questions, try to answer their questions, but also suggest an alternative question and answer that as well.

This is as simple as rounding out your first answer with something like, “Another question that needs to be answered is this…” or “There’s another way to look at this, which is….”

Giving the reporter some additional information essentially allows you to maintain control of the conversation.

Rule #4: Give context to all information you present

Because business reporters often have a difficult time fully understanding complicated issues, leave nothing to chance. If they want specific information, send it to them, but also send a cover letter that better explains the documents. You may also use additional notes to point out that some information is more important than the rest. Sending information blind often leads to it being used out of context.

Think of it this way: would you expect the average person off the street to come into your office and understand your company’s budget proposal without any explanation? Then why would you expect a reporter to understand complicated documents without any background information?

This also relates back to rule #1 in that when you provide a journalist with information, you should be ready and willing to give context for that information either over the phone or in person. In fact, you should make a follow-up phone call to the reporter after you send the information, and if you need to, walk him or her through any confusing or complicated parts. In this way, you’ll help to ensure that the reporter has everything correct and is ready to write an accurate story.

Rule #5: There is no ‘off the record’

When providing either specific or background information to a reporter, you may have the urge to speak “off the record,” meaning that what you say won’t be attributed to you in the story.

While Hollywood movies make speaking off the record seem like a regular occurrence, in reality there is no such thing. Speaking off the record used to be a method for reporters to gain more information, but it’s not as much of a standard practice in modern journalism.

To a reporter, everything you say is fair game, even if you declare your statements as off the record. Asking for something to be off the record sets off red flags. Reporters will immediately think to themselves, “Why doesn’t he/she want the public to know about this?”

A good rule of thumb, regardless of the type of information you are giving, is to never say anything to a journalist that you wouldn’t want to see in print. This will help keep slip-ups at a minimum and ensure that “off the record” remarks don’t end up making headlines.

There are a lot of misconceptions out there on what makes for good media relations. We advise you to keep these five golden rules in mind whenever you are dealing with a reporter, especially in a crisis situation.

When it comes down to it, working with media is not as simple as giving interviews to reporters whenever they request it. Today’s journalists have a great need for information and filling that need will pay great dividends for you in the future.

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