Media Relations: 10 Things You Must Never Say to a Reporter
1) No comment!...(abruptly)
2) Off the record…(naively)
3) I want approval before you print it…(imperiously)
4) Don’t say I told you but...(quietly)
5) He/she/it’s lying…(boldly)
6) You didn’t write that down, did you?...(hopefully)
7) Look, I’m offering you an exclusive here!...(indignantly)
8) You’ll just have to wait…(arrogantly)
9) It was an accident…(apologetically)
10) Some people just like to complain…(wearily)
Handling a press enquiry seems easy when you are talking to them about something positive for your company; an event, a happy client, a charity donation, a new product. However, you still need to keep a calm head on your shoulders and ensure that you are putting across the message you want to put across, while at the same time giving them a good story. Things are harder when they are calling you about something negative that has happened. A wise company has a PR crisis management policy in place, ready to roll out automatically if something happens, to minimise damage to the company and even stop a negative story appearing altogether. Think about the situations your company has faced in the past and could possibly face in future that might attract the wrong sort of press attention. Could an unhappy customer complain to the local paper - or worse still - BBC's Watchdog! Is yours a dangerous industry with accidents a common risk? So many things can feasibly go wrong and bad publicity can kill a company stone dead - just ask Ratner's after their CE's comments about their 'crap' products.
So, be prepared. Make sure that there is one person with the authority and know-how to deal with any initial contact from journalists and that all of your staff know who to put any journalists through to. Make sure that all staff know that they cannot comment (ok that breaks rule number 1, but it is different when they say 'Sorry, you have to speak to Joe Bloggs about that. A company as a whole should never refuse to comment). My ten points all sound like a joke but actually, DON'T ever say any of those things to a journalist. Keep in mind that nothing is off the record, they have no sense of humour, and will take everything you say down word for word. Think about how a careless comment or 'throw-away' phrase could sound when quoted out of context, or without your jokey tone of voice to soften it.
Written by Fiona Bailey of Pebble Communications. pebblecommunications.co.uk We offer fixed price public relations and copywriting for SMEs - including creating crisis procedures and training your staff, of all levels from reception to Directors, in responding appropriately to journalists' enquiries and negative publicity.