Media interest is likely to come in waves – long periods when you are virtually ignored, followed by short periods when you get lots of telephone calls and requests for interviews.
Once your press releases begin to have an impact, you will be in more demand. You will need to build and maintain your reputation as a reliable resource, always available to talk and not taking offence if a journalist gets it wrong.
This means treating journalists with respect, always returning a call, and, in circumstances where it is really impossible for you to talk or make a broadcast appearance, finding a colleague who can.
Responding to a media enquiry
The way and the speed in which you respond to media enquiries will influence the media’s perception of you and your institution – and therefore the kind of coverage you get.
- take full details of the enquiry including the journalist’s name, contact details, publication and deadline
- respond to the journalist in full by their deadline. If this is not possible, give a holding statement until a full response is available
- be helpful, polite and positive
- make sure you or an appropriate colleague is available for interview and fully briefed
- never send out a release and then go on leave without cover
- build up a folder of facts and figures and background information for big stories or recurring enquiries
- stick to the facts and do not speculate
- avoid going off the record, as what you say can still be used, even if it is not directly attributed to you
- monitor response times and press cuttings to evaluate how effectively the enquiry has been dealt with.
A small proportion of media enquiries will be hostile, and these need to be handled especially carefully to limit potential damage to you and the research. Ensure any statements to hostile enquiries are cleared within your organisation, and send them in writing.
If you are dealing with a bad news story you should:
- act quickly – a speedy response and good statement will help limit the damage and sometimes kill off an inaccurate story altogether
- never say ‘no comment’ – if there is not enough factual information to give out, or if there are reasons to keep the information confidential, give a holding statement that puts the story in context
- be honest and open
- not try to deceive the journalist – they will usually find out and it will make the story twice as hard to deal with
- if there has been a genuine mistake, apologise swiftly and sincerely and explain what you are doing to put it right.
If it’s not you who will be dealing with it, make sure the appropriate spokespeople are available for interview and are fully briefed.