If your organization uses receptionists or interns to answer the phone, you should train them in the special requirements of taking a call from a journalist, especially one who is not used to working with you.
Handled right, fielding a journalist’s call can only enhance your group’s reputation for accessibility and responsiveness. Handle it wrong, and you might never hear from that reporter again.
As a general rule, reporters prefer to quote people high up in an organization, usually the busiest people in the office. To the extent possible, top staff should carve out time as needed to work with the press, even in cases where a staffer who is lower on the organizational chart has the technical expertise. This is a balancing act for your group’s leadership to work out.
No matter who responds, the key issue is time. Journalists are often on a tight deadline, and simply routing them to voicemail runs the risk that the call will not get answered in time.
The good news is that journalists usually identify themselves as being journalists. It’s an ethical standard in their profession, and can help to expedite a reply. But often a reporter will neglect to mention a specific deadline, or fail to leave detail on the nature of the query.
Your reception desk should:
- Determine the purpose of the call, and the deadline for getting a call back. The reporter should get the sense that the call is being treated as a priority.
- Take the journalist’s phone and e-mail information. The person taking the information should repeat the phone number to the reporter to avoid any mistakes.
- Route the call to communications staff or someone who is immediately available to respond to the call or pass it to the right person. Depending on the situation, communications staff should contact the journalist to let them know they are on the case.
- Make sure the baton is not dropped at this point with staffers passing the request back and forth or sitting on it.
- Getting back to a reporter in a timely and professional manner does not guarantee that your spokesperson’s quote will get used in the story. But failing to do so guarantees that it will not.