This post originally appeared on Newswire.ca
Public relations professionals understand the importance of being prepared for anything. In one moment, you’re writing a good news press release about your latest product and in the next, you’re being asked to share your company’s views on a very contentious issue. Success depends on a thorough understanding of how the media work.
Investigative reporting differs from daily reporting in a multitude of ways, including longer deadlines that give time for evidence-building and in-depth analysis. As our recent Breakfast with the Media series on investigative reporting, Robert Cribb of the Toronto Star discussed his role and shared four ways spokespeople should respond to a call from an investigative reporter.
Return the Call
The 24-hour news cycle has created a demand for immediacy. With that in mind, investigative reporters will still do their best to provide full and fair opportunity for you to comment before running their story. Don’t dread the call, as it’s an opportunity to speak to your audience. Tackling the situation head-on will show attentiveness to the reporter and respect to your audience.
Be open and up front
Your credibility can be undermined by robotic re-telling of your talking points, giant generalizations and any form of evasiveness. While accepting a call is better than not, be open to any and all reporter questions. It’s easy to say a lot of words while providing zero information, but this just does a disservice to the reporter and your audience. Denying obvious facts can likewise do tremendous damage to your credibility, which can be further amplified when your comments become public. The thing to remember about a call from an investigative reporter is this: a good deal of information is already known. It may be factual, it may be incorrect or it may factual but presented far out of context. This is your chance to set the record straight.
Show, don’t tell
If there is an incorrect detail within the reporter’s article, correct the record. If you don’t, it stays on the record that other reporters will reference in future articles. But don’t just tell the reporter that their story is wrong—show them! You may not succeed when it comes to matters of judgment but corrections made to matters of fact should earn you respect with any credible news organization.
Never say “no comment”
It’s the statement that no journalist wants to hear and certainly one that should never be uttered to an investigative reporter. Why? It’s often interpreted as evasive and an admission of guilt. Saying “no comment” can also open the door to an “ambush” interview, where a reporter will show up at company headquarters to get you on the record. Again, this does a disservice to your audience. If you called your bank to dispute a charge, imagine if they told you “no comment?” If you can’t answer the questions for legal or other reasons, say so instead. “I can’t comment on market speculation/on an active police investigation/until I have more information” are all better responses.