As a former journalist, I’m always amazed at the misconceptions some professionals have about the best way to interact with reporters. Sure, they’re after a good story — but (unless you’re running for president) they’re not bloodsuckers out to humiliate you or extract state secrets. Here are five ways to build positive relationships with reporters — and hopefully win you good coverage for years to come.
1. Respect Their Deadlines. You don’t like it when co-workers stand at your desk, yammering away, when you’re trying to finish a major report. Same goes for reporters. Thanks to the world of blogging, they’re often on deadline multiple times a day, trying to bang out articles and beat the competition. Whenever you call, always make sure your first question is “Are you on deadline? Do you have a minute to talk?”
2. Don’t Bull*#(% Them. Reporters can sniff out obfuscation a mile away. If you don’t know the answer, it’s OK to ‘fess up. (You never want to be in the embarrassing position of calling to retract some statement you made on the fly.) Let them know you’re unsure, but will check on the answer and get back to them in five minutes, or an hour, or whatever’s appropriate based on their deadline. They’d rather have accurate information later than something random you cooked up right now.
3. Always Call Them Back. When a journalist calls (or emails) you, it’s for a reason – because they think you’re an expert, or you know something useful to their story. Even if you don’t want to talk to them — because you’re busy, or you’re in an SEC quiet period, or you just don’t want to comment about your CEO’s womanizing — there’s absolutely no excuse to be rude. Call them back and politely explain you’re not able to comment. You may need the reporter, and that relationship, at some point in the future. You don’t want their abiding memory of you to be “that person who dissed me.”
4. Treat Them Like Human Beings. Yes, it can be dangerous to consider a reporter “your friend.” (It would be hard indeed for them to ignore that story you mentioned over beers about how your company is going to be acquired by Google.) But that doesn’t mean you need to treat them like a pariah, either. If you’ll be dealing with them regularly, invite them out for coffee. Ask about their career path, their kids, their hobbies. You might even discover there’s a person in there somewhere.
5. Toss Them Some Ideas. Every profession has its currency (as a consultant, mine is referrals, and I’m eternally grateful to anyone who sends them my way). For reporters, it’s story ideas. If you’re posting blog updates three times a day, that’s well over a dozen holes you have to fill each week. There’s no way one human can generate that many good ideas -and that’s where you come in. Just as you help your boss by taking his priorities seriously and pitching in, one of the best ways to build goodwill with reporters is to toss them some story ideas — whether or not they’re related to your company. After all, you’re in the field and know what’s going on. Sharing some of your knowledge is a win-win — and grateful reporters may be more likely to “reward” you with coverage down the road.
What are your top tips for building good relationships with the media? Any success stories to share? Or reporter horror stories?
This post originally appeared on the The Huffington Post website on January 23, 2013.
Dorie Clark is CEO of Clark Strategic Communications and the author of Reinventing You: Define Your Brand, Imagine Your Future (Harvard Business Review Press, 2013). She is a strategy consultant who has worked with clients including Google, Yale University, and the Ford Foundation. Listen to her podcasts or follow her on Twitter.