I just got an investigative inquiry from a reporter. Now what?
It’s been an interesting time to be a PR pro in many industries recently. Many reputations -- both those of companies and individuals -- have been built or lost at an accelerating pace.
Can you imagine being on the receiving line of an investigative inquiry from a reporter? Veteran PR pros may have already been on the front lines of the beginning of crises (or have even prevented them!), but sometimes the email or call is placed to someone who hasn’t been through that experience.
So, what do you do?
If you receive an investigative inquiry from a reporter, here’s what to do.
First, before you even get to this point, make sure you have a seat at the table or have a trusted relationship with your client so you’re one of the first to know about a situation or issue at the company. It’s the only way to ensure that you stay in the know about possible developments.
Now, back to that moment in time...
The immediate reaction might be: OMG WHAT DO I DO?? Answer: breath.
In these situations, it’s best to stay calm and remember everything you learned in Public Relations 101. PR pros are known to persevere and achieve results in the best interest of companies and their stakeholders and you can’t do that when your judgment is cloudy.
Depending on the context and the content, ask for a deadline so you have all the details or acknowledge receipt. Remember that you want to keep open lines of communication instead of shutting down completely (which will only make you look bad).
Determine the severity of the issue
Is it a pesky rumor that keeps surfacing? You probably know how to handle that. Is it a larger issue that’s been making headlines the past few months? You may want to escalate it.
Alert the right people
This can range from just an “FYI on this” to a high priority (!) email sent to senior leaders or clients or even a call. Depending on the details, timing might be everything in this situation.
Check your information channels
Consult your intranet, social media and other places where you get information to see what else is out there. Make sure you’re monitoring extensively.
Work together to solve it at the appropriate scale
Collaboration and grit are two stand-out characteristics of colleagues who are successful at working through an issue and working in PR in the long-term. Whether the outcome leads to an email response to the reporter or full crisis management mode, the way in which you handle it is as important as the the way you solve it.
Live and learn for next time
Any issue or crisis is a learning opportunity for the next one (and there will be a next time!). Each one teaches you something different and with practice, you’ll develop a toolkit to manage issues efficiently and effectively.
Julia Sahin works in financial communications at one of the largest PR firms in New York and is a monthly contributor to Muck Rack. She plans on doing big things. Connect with her on Twitter. All opinions should be seen as her own and do not reflect her employer’s.
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