Public Relations Basics: Working With Reporters

For the uninitiated, the prospect of talking with a reporter can be daunting. Even trade reporters in esoteric industries can materially influence a company’s brand or reputation. With a few basic, public relations guidelines, however, you can greatly increase the odds that your work with a reporter will be a positive contribution to your cause. Indeed, these are important to follow no matter your public relations experience.

#1 Research the reporter before you speak with her.

The more you understand a reporter, the more you’ll understand the editorial judgements they’re likely to make about you. Thus, before speaking with a reporter, you should know what interests them most and what their takes or biases are on your and related issues. This information is yours for the taking – simply read their prior articles and their Twitter feed. Once you’ve reviewed this material, you’ll have a far better chance of interesting them in the news you’re pitching while avoiding danger spots.

#2 Set the ground rules before you talk.

Before saying anything of substance to a reporter, you should be sure to establish on what basis you are talking. Are you prepared for everything you say to be quoted and attributed to you in the story? Are you okay with being quoted on some basis other than under your name? Are you sharing information about a competitor and don’t want to be identified as the source at all? If you don’t establish the ground rules in the beginning, the working rule is that everything you say can be quoted and attributed to you – it’ll be on the record.

Critically, it is public relations 101 to define your ground rules with reporters rather than rely on short-hand because different reporters have different definitions. “On background” may mean that a reporter can quote you as a company spokesperson, or it might mean they can’t attribute what you say to the company at all. “Off the record” may mean that the reporter can’t use what you say at all, or it could mean they can use what you say if they get it confirmed elsewhere, and it could mean many other things. Specify what you mean and you’ll never be sorry.

#3 Listen as much as you talk.

Don’t view conversations with reporters as one-way streets – all give and no receive. That’s terrible public relations practice for two reasons. First, reporters will undoubtedly know substantial amounts of information that would interest you – about your market, your industry, your competitors, and even your own company. Unless you engage the reporter as someone who can educate you, you’ll miss out on lots of valuable information. Second, you’re trying to build a relationship based on credibility, trust, and value. If all you do is speak and not listen, you’ll fail every time in that objective.

#4 Don’t end the discussion after the immediate work is done.

Whether the reporter writes the potential story or doesn’t, keep in touch with the reporter regularly. Again, public relations is about building relationships with reporters and you don’t build those overnight. They require time and commitment. And, as with many relationships, the more you put in, the more you get out.

Stick to these guidelines and your public relations efforts will be based on a solid foundation that best positions you going forward.