A guide to: handling media enquiries
9th February 2023 by Kate Logan
The phone rings, or your email pings, and it’s a journalist. Perhaps it’s a call you’ve been dreading or it comes unexpectedly, but no business is immune to media enquiries. And, whether you employ an in-house press office team, an external PR agency or handle questions from the press yourself, they aren’t usually something you can ignore.
Unfortunately, most incoming enquiries from journalists tend to be focussed on negative issues. Rarely do members of the media come to you directly to extol the achievements of your firm – more’s the pity.
When a reporter does come a calling, your management team will be faced with the perennial question – to comment or not to comment?
Our advice generally is that providing a spokesperson or comment, however brief, is better than saying nothing, although there are a few exceptions, which we’ll address later.
Providing a quote, from a named senior employee, shows readers or viewers your company cares about the issues raised, you are committed to taking relevant action and, if an error has been made, you are responsible enough to acknowledge or apologise and will take steps to do better.
If the enquiry comes from broadcast media, a written comment may still be appropriate, unless you have a highly experienced, media-trained spokesperson to handle on-mic or on-camera interviews.
There are generally two sides to every story. While you may feel you have done little wrong, the complainants or wider public may still feel aggrieved. Acknowledging that will often go a long way to forging positive future relationships, both with the media and their audiences.
We also understand that you would rather not have some conversations in a public arena. However, if a journalist feels they have a story, they are likely to run with it whether you accept the opportunity to put your side across or not. A negative article with a “no comment” attributed to your firm, could cause more reputational damage.
Some exceptions to the “always comment” rule:
- When commenting would impact on legal proceeding and your lawyer advises against it. In this scenario you may be able to offer a comment from an unnamed spokesperson to say you are unable to comment while legal proceedings are underway.
- When the query is not yours to answer. Journalists can occasionally get it wrong or have been given the wrong information, for example they may confuse your company with another or the responsibility for the issue may lie with another organisation. In these cases, try to be open with your communication to avoid being pulled into a story that should not involve you.
- When the reporter is ‘fishing’ for information or you sense there is no story without you providing the details requested. In these cases, you can weigh up what facts or opinion, if any, you are happy to place in the public domain and decide whether the timing it right to do this. You may find you can turn the story to your advantage or use this as an opportunity to build a relationship with the journalist and give them a story when you are ready to do so.
Things to remember when you receive a press enquiry:
- Journalists are trained professionals and usually very lovely people (we should know, the team at Active PR were all once on ‘the other side’). Treat them as you would treat any professional. Don’t assume they are out to cause you reputational damage.
- Always be courteous and friendly. Focus on building a relationship as that journalist could help you with positive PR in the future.
- Ask them some questions too. Find out what they know, who they have spoken to, who else they plan to speak to, the angle they are pursuing and their deadline for a response.
- PR is not about spin. Don’t mis-represent facts and be open, honest and heartfelt in any comment you provide.
- Take the action you say you will. If your comment pledges a course of action, such as an investigation or change of procedure, make sure these are followed through on. There’s nothing worse than a follow up enquiry in a few weeks’ time highlighting broken promises.
While media scrutiny is rarely welcomed, it doesn’t have to be feared. Following this advice, you should be able to mitigate negative publicity successfully and move forward. If you would like support with your media relations, we have the expertise you need to navigate press enquiries, generate positive PR and support your business as if we were members of your own team.
Why not give us a call today on 0151 236 2120 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to find out how we could help.