Robert Grace, Plastics News' editorial director and associate publisher, put together a flier back in the newspaper's early days to help our readers deal with the media – not just PN, but any newspaper or magazine reporter.
It's been popular with readers, and Bob just updated it at the request someone who'd seen it and wanted to share it with members of his group. So we figured we'd share it with Plastics Blog readers to give it a wider audience:
Dealing with the media – a host of helpful hints
Handling the interview:
• Answer a reporter's telephone call. When a reporter calls you, the reporter has identified you as the best source of information. Don't shuffle the reporter off to a press or public relations person who doesn't have your expertise. And don't force the reporter to work through a PR person. The questions, and answers, can get garbled when filtered through a middleman. Also, you lose the opportunity to answer a follow-up question.
• Establish the ground rules with the reporter up front. Agree on what basis you are being interviewed before the interview begins:
• On the record: As soon as someone says, "I'm a reporter," you are on notice that anything you say can be used in print, quoting you by name, title and company affiliation.
• Not for attribution: If you want to answer a reporter's question, but you don't want to be quoted by name, say so first.
• Background: You won't be quoted directly or on a not-for-attribution basis on what you say, but the reporter can use the information you provide to gather more information or to confirm it with another source.
• Off the record: This often is confused with "not for attribution." Technically, "off the record" means you don't ever want to see in print what you are going to say. Reporters, who are gathering information to report, generally do not consent to off-the-record interviews because they may obtain the information elsewhere. If you wish a certain comment to be off the record, it is vital to say so prior to making the comment – not at the end of the interview. You can go on and off the record, as necessary, but always be clear upfront about your intentions.
• Don't assume expertise on the part of the reporter. Yours is a complicated and technical business. You are the expert; the reporter is gathering the news and your views. Reporters frequently cover a vast number of topics, and usually are not as experienced or as well versed in the intricate details of your particular field as you. So don't talk over the reporter's head by using jargon and acronyms. Explain your answers as fully as possible.
• Presume innocence and competence on the part of the reporter. Reporters take pride in the quality of their work and want to do a fair and accurate story. They are not your adversary. There is nothing to be gained by opening a conversation by calling a reporter's publication a "rag" or by suggesting that all reporters "get it wrong anyway." Most successful business relationships are built on a premise of mutual trust and respect.