A few years ago, I was interviewing a vice president of a company at a very busy trade show. I left the interview pleased with the results and happy with the story I was going to be able to write. Within 24 hours following the interview, that vice president called my answering machine and left several messages saying that he wasn't supposed to tell me any of what he had told me. If I printed any of it, he would be fired.
The reporter's not happy, the company's not happy, and my editors certainly weren't happy. The vice president certainly wasn't happy because he told me everything on the record; I had it taped, and I had every right to use it.
That incident is history, but it's a crucial lesson. Does your company train executives on how to deal with the media? The past few weeks for me have been sprinkled with situations that have convinced me that many companies do not. I can illustrate several other scenarios, but I'm limited on space, so there are just a few points I'd like to highlight:
* If it's in a court document, it's public record. The same applies when your company applies for tax breaks, abatements or zoning changes. Once it's public record, it's not a secret.
* Be aware of deadlines. We strive for accuracy, and we want your side of the story. But we report news daily for our Web site, so we're moving fast.
* University A is working with Company B on a specific project. Officials at the university agree to give a reporter a tour of the facility where said work is happening, and they also grant an interview. The reporter shows up at the university, conducts that work, then follows up with the company. The company declines an interview request. The reporter still has the right to write the story.
Media training is a necessity. Any of your employees or top officials can be approached while traveling (for instance, at trade shows), or a reporter will one day reach them in their office. I can tell you from my own experience that any employee who is reachable by phone is fair game when I'm working on deadline.
I used to work in the communications department of a corporation before my reporting life, so I understand both sides. During my time there, we went through three downsizings and two buyouts. Reporters wanted our story.
We were trained in what to say to reporters. It's critical that all other employees know to say, “I'm not authorized to talk to reporters, but I will put you in touch with Joe or Jane, who can help you.” I do not recommend that the employee or official hang up on the reporter or get defensive.
We compete with daily newspapers and news wires around the globe — and we even compete with your own public relations department. We're trained to believe that if there's a press release that you're sending to our competitors, we've been beat. We have a staff of reporters trained in daily newspaper reporting and eagle-eye editors who scour national, local and international news sources for all things related to plastics.
A little media training can go a long way.
DeRosa is a staff reporter based in Oklahoma City.