Public relations

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Q. How should I handle unexpected calls from reporters?

A. Most people like seeing their name in print or having their 15 minutes of fame on TV. If you're trying to sell a product or you're a celebrity looking to reinvigorate your image, having an unexpected run-in with the press is great. But if you're a trade association, Fortune 500 company or a politician, you want to think twice if not three times before talking to reporters unprepared.

It's the oldest trick in the journalism book: Reporters ambushing people with surprise calls to get off-the-cuff, colorful and often damaging comments to use in their stories. Don't fall into this trap. Just because a reporter calls you unexpectedly, it doesn't mean you have to answer his or her questions right at that moment.

Here are some easy rules to play by that will keep your organization or company's brand or reputation intact. Think before you speak. Tell the reporter you're in the middle of something and can't talk right now but would be happy to answer his questions when you have time. Next ask him to e-mail you what his story is about and what questions he'd like answered so you can get him the information he needs.

When reporters insist on talking to you right then, tell them you're sorry but you'll have to call them back. If the topic of the story is sensitive and you're worried about being misquoted, e-mail back the answers because then the reporter is forced to use your written responses and they can't be misinterpreted. If you agree to a phone interview and want to make sure you stick to your script, go ahead and write answers to the questions and refer to them during the interview.

The results will always be better if you wait before you speak to a reporter. After all, fools rush in.

Crystal Wright is a public relations strategist for Baker Wright Group in Washington, D.C. Reach her at 202-829-0848 or