Answering ‘the’ call

When news media call, who answers?

Every company should think about responding to calls from media and other people off the beaten path. How often might an average company get such calls – once in a blue moon. How often are media calls crucial to the company – every single time.

Much more important than who fields that call is how the recipient handles the call.

Many companies will have experience in taking media calls. Large companies that deal with consumers likely will have public relations staff to whom such calls are directed on a routine basis. Companies that may have more urgent situations – like utility firms, airlines and so on – will have PR people and even crisis managers with their own communications networks.  The rest should have basics in place that enable them to deal appropriately with media callers.

Journalists have good sources and know how to use them. When possible, the journalist will track down the right person to call at a company involved in his or her story. This might be the CEO, PR director or other officers. If the journalist doesn’t have time or a handy source, the reporter may well call the company’s main number and take a chance of being directed to the right party. The recipient, in this case, will be a receptionist who treats every call in the same way. This is not adequate in the event of a media call.

Experienced journalists know how to ask questions and how to get information from unlikely sources and this includes receptionists, janitors, security guards or anyone who answers the phone. Such sources are fair game and may, in fact, deliver very pertinent and usable quotes to reporters. For instance, a receptionist could say, “He’s too busy to take your call right now…” indicating that a company crisis has reached the executive suite. A security guard may say, “We’re in lockdown …” confirming that a workplace crisis is taking place.  A janitor may tell a caller, “I’m on my way out because I can’t get into the warehouse,” pinning down the location of a fire or other emergency at the company.

Companies can list media contacts on their websites under “Contacts”. Companies must train receptionists in how to identify, accept and transfer calls from media.  Companies must instruct other staff in person or through signage near telephones as to how to deal with media calls. Companies must institute a communications chain in which calls are received, categorized, transferred to appropriate people and answered in detail, as well as alternatives when appropriate people are not available.

There is a simple method every receptionist should have in hand. Every company should introduce such a method for the very rare event in which media call.