Getting a phone call or email from a journalist wanting to ask you some questions is not exactly high on anyone’s list of Fun Ways to Start the Day.
In these days of social media driven virtual mobs looking for their next victim, it’s understandable that most people might fear any sort of publicity that they can’t control.
But hanging up on a reporter, with or without blurting out “no comment”, is hardly likely to simply make the problem go away. In fact, it usually makes things worse.
Having been a journalist pretty much my entire adult life, I can tell you that nothing gets a reporter more fired up about doing a story than a refusal to comment. It just makes you look like you’re trying to hide something, even if you’re not.
There’s nothing the TV news loves to air more than their camera crew chasing some person who is refusing to talk to them down the street. If they try to put their hand over the camera lens as well, they might as well sign a confession to whatever it is they’re being accused of on the spot.
If an issue has arisen and you’re the boss of a major organisation with plenty of resources, you might be inclined to hire a PR consultant. Now that is actually a pretty good idea, these are professionals who can give you excellent advice.
But a friend of mine who works for a PR firm tells me that sometimes they get potential clients approaching them and basically asking “How much money do I need to give you to make this problem go away”?
Which is not how this works. Any PR firm worthy of the name has experts in what’s called Crisis Communications and they will all tell you the same thing. Tell. The. Truth.
If something isn’t right, tell the reporters asking you questions that you’re looking into it, that you’ll have an answer for them by a certain deadline, and then you genuinely look into it, and ensure you respond with something by the deadline.
Here’s the real secret. I can tell you that journalists are basically looking for one thing – a comment from you, something, anything. By and large they are professionals with an interest in getting all sides of a story, and they just want a quote to put in their story so they can submit it to their editor and get home for their dinner.
There may be an occasional journalist who is simply hell bent on making your life miserable for some reason, but in my experience those are very few and far between. The scheming reporter who twists someone’s words to deliberately make them look evil or foolish tends to exist in fiction more than real life.
If you can afford them, there are some great PR firms who do media training and crisis communications who can help you cope with media attention.
If not, I can certainly help get you ready. Yes, cards on the table, here comes the sales pitch, this is my business after all. As a reporter and now as a communications specialist, I have seen this problem from both sides, and can give you the basic tools you need to handle an interview situation.
Things like preparing your talking points, keeping the interview on track, handling unexpected questions, use of body language and how to position yourself in front of a camera so it doesn’t look as if you have a tree growing out of your head are all things I can help you with.
Just remember – saying “No comment” to a reporter usually translates as “I am guilty”. So maybe don’t do that. Drop me a line instead.