Veteran Newsman Provides Tips for Young PR Pros

By Rob Johnson

As I embarked upon my new career as a communications specialist, I can’t tell you how many clients and potential clients have told me, “I just wish we could communicate our message better internally and with the media.” After spending more than 25 years as a TV anchor/reporter, I have seen the good, the bad, and the ugly. It is that vast experience that has now helped me guide those clients on a regular basis, guidance that I am eager to share with young professionals starting out in the PR world.

Here are some dos and don’ts when a reporter or producer comes calling:

  • When you answer a call or email, make sure you have a clear understanding of what that member of the media is asking for, and make sure you get back to them in a timely fashion as they all have deadlines.
  • Determine who will be authorized to speak for your organization, then get clearance from the C-suite, so that your organization crafts one, cohesive message, that everyone can agree upon.
  • No matter what the inquiry is, try to avoid saying “no comment”. It looks like you are avoiding them, and remember these media outlets have airtime and space to fill, so if you don’t help do it, it will get filled, with or without your piece of the narrative.
  • With that in mind there are certain instances where law enforcement is investigating, or a lawsuit has been filed. Instead of “no comment”, you can refer them to whatever agency is investigating, or the actual lawsuit. It is OK to say “this is under investigation and I can’t comment further,” or “because a lawsuit has been filed, I am not authorized to comment.” Most media members are fair and tough, and if they see you are trying to help them, even if you can’t give them much, you will get the benefit of the doubt.
  • Make sure that you understand what is “on-the-record”, or “off-the record.” It is OK to ask that reporter/producer if it is “on-the-record.” If it is, you can expect to have anything you say quoted directly to you. If you are trying to clarify certain aspects of the interview, and don’t want to be quoted, make sure you and your interviewer understand that it “off-the-record.”
  • Don’t ever lie, or make up facts that aren’t accurate. If you don’t know the answer, say you don’t know it and offer to get back to them with the answer. If they feel that you aren’t being earnest, they will look for any reason to doubt every part of your story, and that is a position you don’t want to be in.

As you begin your PR careers, remember that, like the reporters and producers that are calling you, trust is your currency. If you mislead, evade, or treat the media as an adversary your career will be bankrupt. Conversely, if you act in good faith, you will bank that trust in abundance.  Good luck.

Photo: Lori SapioRob Johnson is a former TV Anchor who spent more than 20 years at the ABC and CBS stations in Chicago. He now is President of Rob Johnson Communications, and Partner at TechCXO. You can reach him on Twitter @robjohnsonnews. Photo: Lori Sapio Photography

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