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Under pressure: How to deal with journalist phone calls

By Rudi Davis 17 March, 2016

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Whatever your thoughts on media and the modern day, it is still the case that those with the power to give your business vital coverage are, in all probability, journalists. Writers, bloggers and vloggers all have access to audiences that you don’t and, unless you’re a Twitter whizz-kid, self promotion on social media is trickier than it looks.

Among the many things that coverage can achieve, such as increased perception of size, boosted search rankings and helping to differentiate your business from competitors, creating a media presence is the most important. Opportunities that allow you as CEO and founder to establish yourself as an industry thought leader will help to boost your business’ social proof, putting it head and shoulders above others in the market. So, heed these tips for when a journalist calls, and you won’t go far wrong:

Be flexible

As a new CEO or MD you might think you’re one of the busiest people on earth. But in the list of people busier than you, journalists will definitely make an appearance. Reporters and writers file several deadlines a day, or even more if they are writing for online. If a journalist rings, there is every chance they will ask you to spare five to 10 minutes there and then. Unless you are absolutely swamped, try and do it. Otherwise, offer them a number of times and dates. It will create a lasting impression, and one which will be remembered in future. If not acted upon, this could be your first – and last – opportunity. Are you really going to miss it because you have a meeting with your feng shui expert?

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Be respectful

As a driven professional starting your own business, you may feel like you know it all. But remember, what you perceive as confidence can come across as brash, or arrogance. To avoid this, remember not to try and sell your product or company. In your interview try and explain what you do, not why you’re the best.

At the end of the day journalists have a job to do and you should not consider them friends. Annoy one in a phone conversation and the version of you that people read about won’t be doing you or your company any favors. Similarly, don’t be annoyed by the questions they put to you. If something controversial has happened in your sector recently, you will be questioned about it and you may feel put on the spot. Just be polite and courteous and try to answer their questions as fully as possible. If the journalist is rude, or aggressive, maintain your composure. Try to avoid open confrontation as things said in anger are just as likely to be quoted as anything else you say.

Prepare in advance

Provided the journalist in question has arranged the phone call in advance, ask them to email across some questions first. Think of it as an exam where having a cheat sheet is not only allowed, but appreciated. Remember, too, that this is your company and your sector – not knowing the answers is embarrassing at best, and unforgivable at worst. However do not write down and then read your answers from a crib sheet, word for word. This will sound too pre-prepared and too boring. Rather, make a few bullet points of things you’d like to respond with to each question.

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Research their work

These days, social media sites are awash with journalists promoting their work. Twitter and Facebook – even LinkedIn – provide platforms that journalists use to share their articles. Finding and reading a few pieces will give you an idea as to the type of piece the journalist who is contacting you will likely try and write. If the writer in question likes writing about exciting new products, center the conversation around what you do. If previous articles include some savage takedowns of business leaders, be prepared for more difficult questions. Either way, researching the journalist you’re dealing with will help you to be more fully prepared when the interview comes.

Don’t have a babysitter

Nothing is more annoying for journalists than having a PR representative sit in on the conversation. The @SmugJourno Twitter account – though extreme – gives an indication of how some writers and reporters view their PR counterparts. Realistically, having someone guide you through the phone call will make it flow less easily. Your answers will be less natural – and less quotable – resulting in a poorer quality article. If you are unsure, ask your PR team to go through any questions a journalist emails in advance. They can help you prepare for the interview ahead of time.

Be composed

Most importantly, don’t stress. All the writer is after is a good story. Brush up on your knowledge and get passionate about your business. Allowing your personality to shine through the interview is a key part of getting good coverage.

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