Note: This is a continuation in a series on media relations. To start from the beginning, go here


As I said before, it is important to respond to calls right away, or at least to have someone call for you.  The bottom line is to get back to reporters as quickly as you can.  But do so on your terms…

Many people call reporters back only to put themselves on the spot.  The reporter asks questions, acting as if they are in a big hurry with deadlines to meet and makes you feel like you need to answer all of their questions right away.

Don’t.

When you first talk with a reporter about a story (or if you are busy and your assistant makes the call for you) the first conversation should be one where you ask the questions. Then respond to the reporter’s “on the record” questions after you have had a chance to think through your responses.

This simple tip alone can make all of your media relations efforts work far more smoothly.

To return to our narrative, imagine you have a voice mail message from Steve.  He says he needs to talk with you right away about a story he is writing.

Here are some tips for making that call a breeze…

Begin with small talk

For most people, getting calls from the media is a lot like going to the dentist.  But, working with reporters doesn’t have to be painful.

Take a minute at the beginning of the conversation to take control of the call by asking how their day is going, what is making news today, and generally breaking the ice.  It takes the edge off and makes for a much better conversation.

Get background information

Get as much information as you can.  Try to find out exactly what the reporter wants.  Try to get a sense of where the story idea came from.  Ask what you can help them with and when their deadline is.

Are you being quoted?

Ask what they need.  Do they just want background information or do they need a quote?  If they need a quote, tell them you need a few minutes to organize your thoughts and schedule a time to call back.

Any good reporter should have no problem with this.  There are some inexperienced reporters who will want you to answer every question in the world right when they call, but any reporter with experience will understand that their story will be much better if they give you some time to prepare.  Don’t be bullied.

Shape the story

As I briefly mentioned earlier, If you learn from the reporter that the question or the angle of the story is not the one you think is best, offer some suggestions.  Typically, experienced reporters will appreciate this more than inexperienced ones.

I do this often.  If, after learning the angle of the story, I feel that there is a better way for the reporter to address the subject matter, I might say, “You know, getting back to your question, there is another way you might consider looking at this issue,” or, “Here is a way of looking at your questions that might be of even more interest to your readers.”

It is always useful to be an advocate for “the readers.”

When you take responsibility for good news getting out there, you have to think like a reporter.  No reporter has your level of experience in education, so they are sure to find your insight a great gift.

I have had amazing success with this in the past in relation to IDEA and NCLB.  Not only did I end up shaping the stories in the newspaper, but I became a trusted source for very interesting subject matter.

Now that you know exactly what the reporter wants, how do you respond?

Tune in tomorrow for the next post in this series.

Media Relations for School and District Leaders: Handling Media Calls Like A Pro–The Initial Call