Dealing with a Reporter

By Michael J. London

When you email a reporter, there are a few ways to make certain that your email will never be opened.

  • No matter the urgency, don’t use all capital letters in that subject line.  That’s just about a guarantee that the email will end up set aside as spam.  Even if the message that’s all upper case somehow slips into the proper mailbox, use of all capital letters screams unprofessional.
  • The subject line must be short.  Very short.  If you have used 10 words in the subject line, it’s too long — the concluding words are likely to be missing from the recipient’s list of incoming email.  And, the subject line must be an accurate portrayal of the true content of the email text.  Nothing is more aggravating to a reporter than opening what at first looks like it will be an interesting story pitch to find out that the entire email should have gone culled as spam.
  • It is fine to be clever in the subject line – but not misleading.
  • As well, it is a good idea to meet your target reporters well before you are trying to “sell” a story or handle a crisis.
  • Create a fact sheet about your company or organization and send it with a note to introduce yourself and your company, suggesting that you can be a source for future stories about your industry or area of expertise.

Every company should have a crisis communications plan.  Small or large, every business at some point will face the unexpected.  It may be a positive development or it may be negative.  Either way, there should be a communications plan in place for all to follow – to make certain that everyone in the company is singing the same “tune.”

  • Who will speak for the company?
  • Who is the back-up person?
  • Who has to approve statements and news releases?
  • A media list should be quickly accessible – with email addresses, office phone numbers and cell phone numbers.

Some advance media training may very well be in order for the spokesperson.  For example, it is important for the spokesperson to understand that “no comment” is nearly always exactly the wrong comment, regardless of the issue.  It implies you have something to hide.  It suggests that there may very well be some truth to a rumor, to the accusation, the lawsuit or other issue the news media is inquiring about.

Explaining why you can’t comment is critical.  For example, it is certainly acceptable to say, “unfortunately, because of pending litigation, we are unable to discuss the matter although we are confident that our company is going down the right path.”

Does that make sense to you?

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