In PR, we work hard to establish quality relationships between our clients and influential members of the media, and when done well this can lead to big gains in interview and comment requests for a variety of topics and subjects. Occasionally a topic may not be the right fit for a client or may be a subject they’d rather not address on the record. You may have to decline the interview, but doing so doesn’t have to jeopardize the relationship you’ve worked so hard to build. Just make sure you decline the request the right way. By following some basic principles, you can remain on solid footing with your media contact and keep the inbound requests flowing for your clients:
- Always be gracious they brought the request to you: the reporter didn’t have to bring their questions to you, they chose to because they’ve been able to trust you and your client to provide insightful answers to their questions quickly and efficiently. Show them the love for showing you the love.
- Be as honest as possible about the reason you’ve declined: reporters know how to sniff out the B.S. and cut through marketing messages; so be open with them about the reasons behind your decision to decline. The client spokesperson was traveling and couldn’t find a time slot in a packed schedule? Let the reporter know! They’re busy people too, they will understand. Is the subject outside the scope of the client’s expertise? That’s OK too. We can’t all be experts on everything, and most reporters would rather have a knowledgeable source who can provide compelling insights and sound bites on some topics than one who tries to address every request with varying success.
- Offer another source if you’ve got one: maybe the reporter requested to speak to a specific person, but they declined. Now’s the chance to offer up another source from your organization, a partner or another client who can provide the information they need. Providing them with another possible source can save them a lot of legwork and establishes you as great go-to for all sorts of inquiries. Eventually the reporter may come to you with more general opportunities that can work for more one of the spokespeople you represent.
- Reaffirm your interest in assisting with other inquiries: when all else fails, it never hurts to close your conversation with a brief reminder that, while you were unable to assist them with this particular inquiry, you’re still eager to help. You’ve got great expert sources that can hopefully address future requests and a willingness to be a helpful resource going forward.
Considering all the work that goes into establishing and growing relationships with reporters, it’d be a shame to see one go up in smoke by declining an interview request or media inquiry the wrong way. Be polite and honest and take the extra step to assist them, and you’ll keep your relationships on solid footing.