What Should You Do When Reporters Call?

by Ben Miller

Why do some people get so nervous when they find out a reporter wants to talk to them?

Not everyone in the media profession is a piranha who wants you to tell them where all the bodies are buried.

Some, in fact, are just trying to put together a good story and your contribution to that story could help the reporter, as well as helping out your business.

If a reporter calls you for information, there are some important things to remember so you can get your point across while sounding like an expert, according to Candace BelAir. She’ll be leading a seminar on “Winning media interviews: Fast-track coaching for busy executives” on Oct. 4 at the Washington State Convention & Trade Center in Seattle (info: or BelAir is a public speaking and media relations expert who’s worked locally for KIRO-TV and who lists Microsoft, aQuantive and Starbucks as her clients.

Getting your name and your company’s name in a story where you’re quoted as an expert is a “fabulous opportunity” for free and important publicity, she said.

But why are so many small-business people afraid to talk to the media?

“They don’t want to look foolish; they don’t want to be misquoted,” BelAir said

It’s important to remember three points when talking to a reporter, she said.

The first is to be clear what your message is and then keep to that message. A lot of business owners don’t even know what their message is, or if they do know, they’ll spend too much time talking in an unfocused manner.

BelAir recommends trying to get across only three key points; any more than that and you’ll risk getting left out of the story.

“A big problem is if you talk too much. Don’t talk and talk and talk,” she said.

Once you know your message, stay on the message. Don’t talk about things you’re not comfortable talking about and worst of all, never tell a reporter “no comment.”

“If you do say ‘no comment,’ a reporter will assume you’re hiding something,” BelAir said.

BelAir said there’s a technique to answering a reporter’s question without really answering the question, called “bridging.” That’s when you’re respectful and acknowledge the reporter’s query (“That’s a good question, Bob”), and seamlessly bridge to talk about the topic you want to say (“But I believe that the bigger question, Bob, is …”).

BelAir said if you’re asked to appear on television, there are some easy tips to maintain good body language that looks better on TV. She recommends always making eye contact with the reporter and if you’re sitting down, always maintain good posture.

“Don’t lean back in your chair. Always keep sitting straight,” she said.

She also warned about making sweeping gestures with your hands on TV that may look good at a company board meeting, but that don’t look good at all on television.

It’s not going to be cheap to learn how to talk to reporters (cost for a single registration is $325). But it may lead to the best publicity for your company that money can’t buy.

Contact: • 206-876-5429 © American City Business Journals Inc. All rights reserved. (Used with permission.)

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