CommonSense Blog

No ‘Upside’ in Turning Down Reporters’ Calls

By Ryan Flinn | Jul 12, 2013

Here’s a scenario I’m guessing happens pretty regularly: a reporter contacts a PR firm to ask a client some questions on a mundane topic, but the company doesn’t see any “upside” in it, so it decides to pass. Groans heard all around the PR firm.

Why is this so hard, people? While reporters expect companies to be hesitant to comment on a sensitive subject, a “no comment” on a non-controversial topic raises alarm bells. All of a sudden, the reporter is trying to guess the motivation behind the decision. Is the company hiding something? Is there a bigger story I’m missing? Who can tell me what the reason is?

Trust me, I was a reporter for a long time – the downside to not talking is that the reporter will talk to other people who will tell your story but perhaps in ways you don’t like. Since there are tons of people who do want to get their name out there – investors, analysts, industry experts, competitors, authors, detractors – finding others to say something about your business isn’t that hard.

Even if the news is terrible, journalists do want to get “both sides” of the story in their article. It not only makes them look good to their bosses, it also makes for a better story. At the very least, answering questions will give you a chance to hear ahead of time what sorts of things are being said about you.

One reason I heard on occasion for withholding interviews was that companies feel a certain reporter or outlet is biased against them. Maybe a previous interview went amiss, or the quotes used didn’t fully flesh out the company’s point of view. I can honestly say I didn’t know any reporters that were out to “get” companies. Sure, we all had our gripes with certain entities – usually because we felt snubbed by them at some point. But this doesn’t mean we were actively trying to make the company look bad.

A little engagement goes a long way to offset this perception – which is why ignoring that call doesn’t help your cause. In fact it’s much better to be proactive in your outreach and regularly schedule meetings and calls just to stay on their radar, say once a quarter. I personally got a lot of feature ideas this way. That mundane subject you rather ignore? It could turn out to be part of a larger story you’re missing out on – so take the call.

  • Joseph Russo

    You nailed it: if we don’t respond, we risk having our story told by someone else who has not lived our experience. But beyond this (and you nailed this as well), in the end it is about the relationship with reporters who are just trying to making a living, more or less like I am. It might benefit you someday to have that relationship. Who knows? Pay it forward as they say.