Things Not to Say to a Reporter: The Response

When I wrote my original post, it wasn't aimed at PIO's or PR people directly, but since the bulk of those comments are made by people who wear those hats, I see why it elicited responses like, "if you're looking for a reason to dislike the media, she provides it."

But that misses the whole point.

I didn't write that post to be adversarial. I wrote it because it's frustrating to hear those things. It's also unnecessary to say them. There are far better ways to get the media off your jock or to tell us something without really telling us something. And it doesn't start with being condescending, rude, standoffish or unavailable. Bullying, intimidation, threats, and long-winded bloviating are also poor tactics. 

Do I think I know everything about the PIO/PR job and how best to do it? Nope. But I do know good a good PR person is worth more than her weight in platinum. And I'm an expert in bad PR moves.

But the number of "Right on, Sister!" responses from people on the media side, the PR side, and in some cases--people who've worked on both sides--gives me confidence my post went beyond touching a nerve. It straight up molested one.

PIO's are "public information officers." Translation: they provide information to the public. One of the most effective ways of doing that is through the media. Surprise!

"Public Relations" professionals are hired to "relate to the public." See how that works?

Be smart enough to be nice, to be personable, to be human, and guess what, the reporters you work with will at least respect you. They may not agree and they may still press for answers, because that's their job. Do yours. Say what you can say, be helpful, be honest, and provide what you can. We understand you're the messenger, and the gatekeeper, and the filter. Your job is to make us walk away without feeling like you're a liar and stonewaller.

If you have to spin, learn to spin skillfully and kindly. I can always recognize a non-answer answer but I won't despise you for doing your job if you're not a jerkwad about it.

It's as simple as, "I really do want to tell you more about this but our chair/chief/boss/CEO is not talking right now. If and when that changes, I will let you know." Of course, that only works if you mean it.

"I'm not the right person to talk to but X is. If you have trouble there, call me back and I will see if there's someone else who can help you." And actually answer your phone and try to direct us to the right person.

"We are doing everything we can to get some answers but for now, this statement is all that I can provide ____________________."

"You know, we're not going on camera, but send me the questions you have and I will get you the information you need."

That last approach is one of the best, because it allows me to report the facts and statements to represent your side, and you don't have to worry about going on camera and being edited to death. I know that's a huge issue and some reporters absolutely take things out of context and your 10 minute interview becomes a 10 second soundbite that totally missed the point. I hate when "The Media" does that too.

And YES, there are idiotic, dumb, horrible reporters out there who taint the profession, but don't base your every interaction with "The Media" on those bad peppercorns. Treat reporters individually, and realize you wield the power to punish the reporters who burn you. Karma can be a beyotch but strive for good karma. Develop a positive relationship with the press because, face it, YOU ARE PAID TO DEAL WITH US. That's why they call you the PRESS CONTACT and your name and number are at the top of the press release.

The often utilized "Ignore and Avoid" technique may work for the short term, but long term, not so much. Why bother? It's like you're a customer service representative who hates customers. Isn't there a better 'work from home opportunity' for you?

The relationship should be symbiotic. We don't have to be BFFs. I will take a frenemy. But I want an effective, direct, deadline-savvy frenemy. Plus, when you have that weekend BBQ fundraiser or that ribbon cutting or that "Look we donated to the community" story, your goodwill just might get you a VO (you know, 30 seconds in the newscast with your smiling boss getting good press.) The backscratching possibilities are endless.

And I try to do my part. I've written several detailed complimentary notes to management, particularly after extremely difficult stories, where the PIO or PR person was UH-mazing. And I slather on the praise when it is deserved. Because those platinum heavyweights should be recognized and commended for doing their jobs well and representing their agencies gracefully. I know it sucks to be the messenger when something bad happens, but when you do it to the best of your ability, honestly and intelligently, it shows. And you gain the respect and appreciation of the reporters you work with.

**As for regular folk who say, "No comment," may the spirit be with you. If you're a civilian and you don't want to talk to the press, you absolutely don't have to. And anyone who's a jerk to you for not commenting on something horrible that has happened to you is just that: a jerk. I don't blame the regular person for not wanting to speak to reporters. It's always nice if people can be human and not totally rude about it, but they're not held to any professional standards. They can ignore, avoid, slam doors, hang up the phone, anything short of physical assault and it's kosher. You don't owe The Media anything. 

However, if you accept a paycheck to deal with the media, and my post made you "dislike the media," re-assess your approach. You'll find honey goes much further than vinegar.

Likewise, if there's a "Things Reporters Really Suck At and Shouldn't Do List" that you want to share in the comments or if you want to call out the media for bad behavior, by all means. I would love to know what peeves you because I know "The Media" has many of its own shortcomings.