Before you think about crafting a response to a reporter’s inquiry, take a few minutes to do some of your own research into who the journalist is, and where they work. These pieces of information will help you when you prepare your message and decide on how to deliver it to the audience. Information gathering begins with the first point of contact whether it’s a phone call, email, or social media message. Who is the reporter? For what news outlet do they work? What is their contact information? When is their deadline? Why have they called? These are all important first pieces in the messaging puzzle.
Once you’ve gathered these preliminary tidbits, search for previous stories by the reporter. Get to know their work and style. Are they an investigative reporter? A columnist? A general assignment reporter? Try to gauge their knowledge of the topic. A seasoned healthcare reporter will have a lot of background knowledge about how a hospital operates, for example, than a general assignment reporter who’s fresh out of school. Your message should be tailored to the reporter. Perhaps a longer conversation on background or off the record is warranted.
After gathering some information about the reporter, try to learn about the publication or news outlet that they work for. This will give you insight into who the final audience will be. There are traditional mainstream outlets that cover the daily news, some of them with dedicated beat reporters, and there are a seemingly endless number of industry news outlets, podcasts and blogs, many of them focusing on narrow niches like state or local government, courts, healthcare, business, politics and much more. Knowing the audience of the particular organization will also help when you craft your message.
Responding to the media shouldn’t be done in the dark. Knowing your audience will help illuminate the path to clearly deliver your story with the most effect.