ComPRehension

Professional development and training blog of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA)
June 16, 2008

5 Tips on Working with Reporters and Top News Stories



1. Timeliness Is Key.

Pretty good answers NOW are a lot more valuable than perfect answers tomorrow. If the story is breaking and the reporter calls now, you need to react quickly. If you have to take 20 minutes to prepare message points and sound bites, do so. But make sure the reporter knows you will absolutely, positively 100 percent call back in 20 minutes or less. And then do it. If a reporter from a major national TV network or newspaper calls you for the first time, give them an interview RIGHT THEN. If you let them off the phone for even five minutes, you might not ever get them back.

2. Be Accessible.

If you want to be a part of breaking news stories, you need to be easy to reach. Public relations counselors hate it when I say this, but I believe that anyone who is seeking news coverage should allow direct access to the media. That means you and your clients should have your cell phone and home phone numbers made accessible on your Web sites, press releases and work voice mails. A reporter working on a deadline after hours does not want to have to call a public relations firm just to get a number of a news source. I have often been a guest on national TV news networks like MSNBC and Fox News Channel on Saturday morning, not because I am a famous big shot. (I’m not.) I got invited on because desperate bookers had my cell phone and home numbers and knew I wouldn’t be mad if they called me at 11:15 p.m. on Friday night or 7:05 Saturday morning.

3. Have Opinionated Sound Bites Ready

If you want to be a part of breaking news stories, you have to be ready to weigh in with strong opinions. Chances are the reporter doesn’t need you for the raw facts. The report needs perspective, analysis and color. So if all you can do is explain the issue with more detail and fact, you are almost useless. You must learn the 10 essential elements that make up sound bites, including analogies, emotions, attacks and pop culture references, if you want to see your ideas quoted.

4. Don’t Be Greedy.

Now is not the time to ask the reporter to reference your new client or give a mini-review of your latest book. The story isn’t about you, it’s about the attorney general being fired an hour ago or Anna Nicole Smith dying today, or the stock market dropping 200 points this morning. In these big, breaking stories, your goal is to get your name spelled correctly and to get one positive message, i.e. the name of your book or your company and a very brief (5 words or less) description of who you are. The payoff is that you get branded an industry expert. Don’t be so greedy that you want to get a full 30 second, 3 part message into the whole story.

5. Track Your Results.

Were you successful? Find the story. Were you quoted? If not, why not? Learn from your mistakes. If you were quoted, learn from your success. Which quotes did the reporter like and use? Make a note to use those and sound bites like those in the future. Maintain a database of reporters who quote you. When you have other story ideas that could be of interest to the reporter who quoted you, give him or her a call — you already have built-in credibility.

By T.J.Walker, president, Media Training Worldwide. He is “the leading media and presentation trainer in the world,” and “the #1 expert for executives seeking guidance on speaking to the public and media,” according to quotes from Viacom and Bloomberg TV. T.J. has trained thousands of executives and government officials over the last 20 years.

Join Walker for his interactive webinar, Interactive Media Training: A New and Unique Way for You to Prepare for Your Next Media Appearance and for his on-site seminar, “Media Training Boot Camp: Control Your Message to Get the Quotes You Want,” on Monday, March 15, 2010 in New York, NY!