You can love reporters or hate them, but there’s no denying it — you need them.
I’m not talking about their role as the watchdogs of the community. Yes, that is a reporter’s greatest responsibility but this blog post is specifically about your company’s need for reporters:
- Rolling out a new product or service? You want a reporter to help tell the story.
- Dealing with a crisis? You need a reporter to explain your position.
- Wishing people would think of your company as an industry expert? You need a reporter.
We invite reporters into our lives every time we pick up a paper, watch the news on TV or link to a story from Twitter. And yet we know very little about them. Or, more importantly, how they think.
Understand how reporters approach their jobs and the odds of effectively communicating your message improve dramatically.
1. They Always Hear the Clock Ticking
Reporters face a never ending string of deadlines. It used to be the once-a-day deadline for newspapers and three to six newscasts each day for TV. Now everyone is working under a constant deadline to be the first to post a story online. Your business plans 12-24 months into the future. A reporter barely has time to look 24 hours down the road.
The first to respond wins. When the clock is always ticking, you can’t afford to wait around. If company ABC doesn’t return your call in short order, you have no choice but to call company XYZ. First one to say “Sure, I can talk with you today…” wins the interview lottery and potentially thousands of dollars in earned media publicity value.
Short answers get used. In headlines, stories and teasers. Long ones are ignored. A reporter has a few fleeting hours to research, write and edit a story. Don’t make him or her wade through long, convoluted answers. Don’t talk for 20 minutes if you can say it in 20 words.
Be clear. Be brief. Be done.
2. They are young.
Young pups v. old dogs. Yes, every newsroom has standard bearers with decades of experience. But it also has plenty to reporters under the age of 25. Nothing wrong with young pups. They often have energy, enthusiasm and optimism. What they lack is context. Keep reading…
New to the community. Most reporters don’t have the luxury of starting in their home market. As a result they don’t know the history, the backstories, the players. Reporters are quick studies but they need your help. Take time, and make time, to paint some more of the big picture for a young reporter every chance you get. They learn context and you earn chips to cash in down the road.
Different perspectives. Think about your life at 22 or 25 – new career, new city, maybe single, renting v. owning. As a business executive, your stage of life is very different. Don’t assume what’s important to you matters in the same way to that reporter.
3. They Don’t Know Your Business
Expert for the day. There are certainly exceptions (beat reporters who cover a particular area for years) but reporters, especially young ones, are often expected to become an “expert” on a different subject with each new assignment. It’s a daunting challenge! Learn what’s going on, who’s involved and why it matters – and do it NOW.
Good reporters will get there quickly but they still won’t have your years of industry-specific knowledge. Do yourself a favor. Offer background information whenever you can.
Majored in journalism, not business. In big, national newsrooms you’ll find reporters with MBAs or Law degrees. But not in local markets. They went to school to learn how to be a reporter, not how to run a business. Don’t expect them to be experts in PNL or compliance requirements.
Read their eyes. Maybe the reporter is thinking about the next question. Or maybe your answer is too technical. Or too long. Whatever the reason, I bet you can see it in their eyes when the person with the microphone is no longer listening. This is your cue to start answering questions as if you’re speaking to your mother – no jargon, clear, honest and respectful.
Understanding the challenges reporters face will help you build better working relationships with them. So the next time you need a reporter, you’re ready to communicate in a way that makes sense to them and their audience.