Part 1: Getting media savvy – What should you say when a journalist calls?

Do you know what to do if a journalist calls you? What about if you decide that you are tired of seeing your competitor receiving all the great coverage – would you know where to start? Did you know that what might be interesting to many people that you speak with about your business, might not actually be interesting to the media? Some small business owners are lucky enough to be able to pay for help with the daunting task of engaging the media.

Whether you have a PR consultant or the task of spreading the word about your business is yours and yours alone, there are some things that you should know about the media and how they operate.

In this 5-part series we’ll cover some of the basics to improve your media know-how. First we’ll give you some pointers on how to answer the phone when a journalist calls you looking for a quote or to enlist your services as an expert. Then we’ll have a look at media-friendly photographs, good media angles for story ideas, tips for pitching story ideas over the phone and the dos and don’ts of emailing media personnel.

We have given you tips on this blog before about how to approach a journalist, but there are also a number of reasons why a journalist might call you. They might have a story idea in which your business is directly implicated, you might have done something newsworthy (we’ll go through what’s considered newsworthy in Part 3), they might think that you would make a good source or ‘expert’ on a topic, or they might have seen your name pop up in the media landscape and want to get on board!

Successful media interviews all come down to knowing as much as you can before the interview takes place – preparation, preparation, preparation! For this reason, if it’s possible, don’t do the interview on the spot. You want to give yourself a chance to prepare and have notes in front of you. Even if the journalist has a tight deadline and needs answers straight away, propose calling them back in 5 or 10 minutes.

So, what should you say when a journalist dials your digits?

Depending on the deadline and mood of the journalist, and the magnitude of the story (i.e. if they are planning to write a 3000 word feature article on yourself or if they just want a short quote to substantialise a news piece that’s already been written) here are some questions that you can’t afford not to ask:

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  • When would they like to do the interview?
  • Who will be conducting the interview?
  • What publication is it for and which section of the paper/radio/television program/website will it feature in?
  • What’s the topic or reason behind the story, and the ‘bigger picture’?
  • When is the deadline for the story and when is it scheduled to go to print/air?
  • What reasons do they have for selecting you or one of your employees as a source? What are they hoping you can add?
  • Do they have any specific needs?
  • Will they be taking photographs? If so, what are the logistics for a camera crew?
  • Who else will they be interviewing or using as a source?
  • If it’s an interview for radio or television, will it be live or pre-recorded?

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Once you’ve squeezed as much information out of the journalist as possible (without annoying them), you can either pass all of this information on to your PR consultant who will give you tips on what to say during the interview and how to get the most out of it (because, after all, interviews should be mutually beneficial!), or if you’re doing your own PR you can use the information to prepare for the interview and brush up on interview dos and don’ts and how to stay on message.

Bear in mind that there are still ways for you to get media coverage, even if nothing particularly newsworthy is going on with your business and you don’t have any PR initiatives in place. If your phones aren’t running off the hook with media enquiries, sign up for media opportunities on SourceBottle, or you could even try your hand at creating your own news!

Stay tuned for Part 2 in our media savvy series: What makes a photo media friendly?

Have you ever been contacted by a journalist? How did you approach the call?

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6 thoughts on “Part 1: Getting media savvy – What should you say when a journalist calls?”

  1. About those questions you “can’t afford not to ask”.

    Many journalists are so short of time they will have put the phone down and moved on to an easier interview target before getting to the third question on that list. Not only is it time consuming, it tells the journalist they are dealing with a ‘difficult customer’.

    They’ll happily persist if the story is a hard news item – but that’s something that might not show the company concerned in a favourable light. If it’s for a piece of background and they stick around for the grilling (yes I realise that’s rich coming from a journo) then they’ll NEVER return to the source when they’re looking for a future quick quote.

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