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What to Do When a Reporter Calls

Advance preparation can prevent a panic attack and turn you into a media darling.

Helen Modly and Tommie Monez, 03/08/2012

Do you know how to handle a call from a reporter? Are you prepared, or do you just wing it? Do you know how to control the conversation? Are you solid on the facts?

Some of us are naturally good at interviews and some of us need a lot of help. With just a bit of advance preparation and some practice, a call from a reporter can become a welcome interruption.

You don't need to wait for a call to practice your media skills. Prepare a list of questions on a current topic, and practice answering them out loud. For a more natural delivery, keep your answers conversational as if you are talking to a client, and do whatever it takes to put some energy into the conversation--stand up, walk around, look into a mirror, be happy.

Also, remind your staff to be careful when screening phone calls. It's not unusual for a reporter to be brushed off by efficient assistants who think they are talking to a salesperson.

Taking the Call
When you do get a call, following these simple steps will help things go more smoothly:

1. Ask questions. After the introductions have been made but before the reporter starts asking questions, ask some questions of your own. What is the publication? Where is it published? Who reads it, and when will it be published? (Remember, a niche publication can be as effective as one with a broad readership.) What is the topic, the scope, and the angle of the story? What is the reporter looking for? And most importantly, what is the deadline? Now come up with a plausible excuse to call back in 10 minutes. Do not ad lib.

2. Prepare, then call back. Go into hyper-drive to prepare then call back right away. Refresh yourself on the topic, try to anticipate possible questions (even antagonistic ones), and come up with two or three strong message points. Google the reporter and read recent articles for style and biases. Tailor the comments to the audience and remember that your boss may also be reading your comments. Your advice and information should be actionable, interesting, unique, and quotable. Real life sells--use stories and analogies that will resonate with the reporter and the audience, but be careful to ensure that clients cannot be personally identified.

3. Make the call. Call back within 10 minutes. A reporter's time is precious, so expect only about five minutes to cover the two or three main points. Stay in control of the interview. Know what you want to say and how you want to say it and remember to stay on message. Consider the audience, keep it simple, and don't get carried away with facts and figures. State the conclusion first then fill in with data and explanations to keep the focus on the message. Be positive. If there is a problem, offer a solution. If the issue concerns the past, talk about the present and the future.

The author is a freelance contributor to MorningstarAdvisor.com. The views expressed in this article may or may not reflect the views of Morningstar.

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