"Hi. Josh Turner here, from the Tawa Herald. I'd like to ask you a few questions about... "
I've spoken to many who find that first media call difficult. The way you handle it can make or break the way you're treated. Here are a few tips.
You need time to prepare
First, get rid of any idea that you must give an interview during that first call just because the reporter wants it then. Reporters know very well that it's unreasonable to expect you to have all the facts at your fingertips exactly when they call. Even for positive stories, you need time to prepare. And that's easy to manage. What follows is a guideline evolved from hundreds of media training workshops.
A couple of cautions first. Make sure that your tone is friendly and helpful - no matter how tough the situation. Never, ever, sound defensive or you might as well throw up your hands and surrender. Also, what follows is a guideline only - it needs flexibility because one list cannot cover all situations.
What to say to the reporter during that first call
1. Record the reporter's contact details. Interrupt if necessary, to get them.
2. Say, "I can't do an interview now, I'll need to / get the facts in front of me / talk to comms /..., when's your deadline? (That last phrase is very important because it signals your willingness to work with them.)
3. Get the reporter's perspective. Say, "I'll need to ask you a few questions." Now choose from the following:
- What type of interview will it be? (news? feature?)
- What will your question line be? (you're after the gist here, don't ask for a list of questions.)
- Have you talked to anyone in our comms team? Have you talked to anyone else in (your organisation).
- Who else have you talked to? What's their feeling about it? What were their words? What am I replying to? (For tough topics you may need all of the last four questions.)
- Are there any other issues I should know about?
4. Finally, check your understanding of the situation. Say, "So, if I've understood you..."
In our workshops we issue a small card with that list on it and participants keep it by their phones.
But be flexible
It should be obvious now just how flexible you'll have to be. For example, if a reporter calls just asking for a single fact for an article not directly related to you, then it would be truly bizarre to subject him or her to all those questions.