Never Call Reporters Back By Their Deadlines

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on August 25, 2010 – 7:35 AM

Many media trainers offer their clients this straightforward tip for interacting with journalists: “Return a reporter’s call before his deadline.”

It’s terrible advice.

Let’s say a reporter calls you at 9 a.m. He tells you he’s working on a story about your organization for tomorrow’s paper and needs a quote by 4 p.m. today.

If you return his call at 3:50 p.m., he’s likely already written most of the story. In fact, 95 percent of his story is probably completed, and he’ll just drop your quote into the article to make sure you were represented in the piece.

But you’ve done absolutely nothing to help shape his story angle, increase his understanding of your issues, or refer him to your allies (and less vehement opponents) for their comments. As a result, the story will be comprised of the reporter’s perspective and that of everyone else he’s spoken to – and your quote will have minimal impact.

Instead, tell the reporter you’ll call him back by 10 a.m. Since he knows he’ll get a comment from you early in the day, he won’t feel as compelled to scramble for alternate sources.

Spend that hour drafting a few talking points, and support them with compelling stories and statistics. You may even have have time to develop a sound bite that summarizes your main point in a memorable phrase.

Calling him back by 10 a.m means you’ve probably reached him before he’s written the article’s first word, which gives you a terrific opportunity to help shape his perspective and influence his final story into one that more fully represents your viewpoints.

Returning his call early in the day may also change the questions the reporter asks other sources later in the day. He’ll ask them to react to your quotes, meaning they’re talking about your issues through your perspective, not theirs.

Finally, returning the reporter’s call early allows you to offer a follow-up phone call later in the day to react to what he learned throughout his reporting. Many journalists will take you up on that, meaning you get two bites at the apple instead of one inconsequential nibble.

Here’s the correct advice: “Return a reporter’s call as quickly as possible after his original call, well before his deadline.”

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Comments (11)

  1. By PRWestcoast:

    Great strategic advice.

  2. By Brad Phillips:

    Thank you for the nice words and the support!

  3. By Tracey:

    Great advice, particularly when deadlines are so pressure squeezed these days. Really shows that you understand the reporter’s world. After all, a deadline of 4 pm can suddenly shrink to 12pm if an editor sees a need to go early.

  4. By Steve Bauer:

    When I saw the headline I thought MrMedia was offering terrible advice! But yes, calling early is great strategy. I can tell you as a longtime journalist- when reporters are working on a story the may call several potential sources- The person who returns that call first is almost always going to be included in the story. Reporters don’t have time to wait for you to get clearance from legal, from top management, from your wife. They need you now! You not only get your views presented- reporters will be grateful that you helped out.

  5. By Brad Phillips:

    Thanks, Steve! I took a page out of the book of headline writers when titling that piece: “First get their attention, then make your point.”

  6. By John Landsberg:

    At first I thought you were breaking one of my cardinal rules, but then realized you were offering terrific advice.
    I advise clients to honor reporters’ deadlines because many of them think their deadlines are somehow arbitrary.
    Responding well before deadlines is a great idea.

  7. By David:

    Responding well before the deadline IS responding by the deadline. Yes, your point is well taken. But, after the misleading headline, my question is, “If I don’t get the message until 3:50 p.m., do I just let the ‘deadline’ expire, or, if not, what do I do?”

  8. By Brad Phillips:


    Thanks for commenting. If you miss the deadline accidentally, I’d still get back to the reporter, if for no other reason than to apologize. That will help set you up as a spokesperson the next time the reporter has a story on a similar topic.

    As for the headline, I really believe it’s literally true. Telling people to return a call “by” the reporter’s deadline allows them to wait until the last possible moment, which will technically be within the deadline period – but a missed opportunity.

    Thanks for reading!

  9. By Mag Li:

    Thanks for this. Great reminder. In fact, here in Hong Kong when the competition among different media is so keen it is very true that the sooner you get yourself heard the better.

  10. By Ghk:

    Another vote for your headline being crap, “close to the deadline” is what you mean.

  11. By Brad Phillips:

    Thanks for your kind comment, “Ghk.” My headline might not be to your liking, but there is something to be said for standing behind my work with my real name instead of throwing stones whilst standing behind anonymity.


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