This one might sound like a no-brainer, but it’s stunning how hard some companies make it to reach a spokesperson.
There are two most common ailments:
Reporters use the web a lot to find a spokesperson. And yet, an embarrassing number of companies make it tough or impossible to find a media number. Make sure a small “Media Info” (or similar wording) link is on every page. Remember that search engines like Google will often take us to a page inside your site – don’t assume we’ve come through the front door. If you don’t have such a link on your site, stop reading now and add one.
On that page, put direct phone numbers to your media contact people, recent news releases if you like, downloadable hi?res photos or videos that visually explain how your product works (not your CEO/talking head, er, talking).
Your window of opportunity to capture a journalist’s attention with your web site and get them to call you (which is, of course, the goal) is measured, literally, in seconds. If I can’t find a phone number on a company’s web site in 15 seconds, I give up and go elsewhere. Usually to that company’s competitor.
And once the media calls, let them speak to your senior executive. I usually won’t include a company in the piece if the only person they’re willing to offer is the marketing manager or the p.r. firm. Nothing against p.r. people (heck, I used to be one!), but our audience feels like they’re being spun a lot more than when the President or CEO is speaking. I’m happy to let the p.r. person give me all the background and arrange all the interview details, but at the end of the day, I want a senior executive on the other end of the camera or microphone.
Headquarteritis is a particular nasty ailment in which very insecure company officials insist that all comment must go through a single person at HQ.
I did a piece on DNTO recently that involved a particular brand of gum. (Oh what the hell, it was Juicy Fruit.?). It was a light? hearted short documentary about how it’s hard to find stick gum any more – that everything is going chicklet/blister pack. So I called Wrigley, wanting to do a short and fun phone interview from their Canadian office (I am a Canadian journalist, after all) about this. It was, as some people might call it, a “sweetheart piece.” The P.R. manager, though, didn’t see any humour in it, was terse, and told me that I was “not allowed” to speak to any of their Canadian officials. Hell, she wouldn’t even give me Wrigley Canada’s phone number (which is in the phone book!) and said she would get them to call me. They didn’t. My guess is she never called them.
But I’m obligated to do the story with or without the company’s input, so I simply reported that happened (that Wrigley wouldn’t even give me the time of day for a nothing story). And I suspect they came off to the more than 500,000 listeners looking much worse than had they simply let me speak to someone locally.
You don’t need to (nor should you, probably) give every employee permission to speak on behalf of the company – there is a healthy compromise. Shaw Cablevision, for instance, won’t even let their p.r. people speak on the record; all comments have to come from either the President or another senior executive. To their credit, though, those people are usually reachable and do indeed return our calls quickly.
Note: This series was originally written and published in 2008.