The 13 Golden Rules of Handling an Angry Journalist


Clients. No industry, business or service sector can do without them. Clients are good, as long as you keep them happy. The issue arises when they aren’t happy and they complain about what you’ve provided – or not provided – them.

To make things worse, some clients are so annoyed they won’t even bother to call you directly and they go straight to a newspaper office to complain. But what happens when the angry client is the journalist himself and he’s on your phone, right now?

  1. Don’t hang up. It doesn’t matter if you’re in a conversation with the president of the country. If you didn’t bother to switch off your mobile before the meeting and you picked it up, you better talk. Otherwise, hanging up will only add to the frustration and anger of the journalist.
  2. Breathe. Take deep breaths that will help you oxygenate your brain and retain self-control during the conversation.
  3. Listen. Let the journalist tell you the whole story before you jump to conclusions.
  4. Don’t lose your temper. Ask questions with a calm voice and try to get all the information the journalist has. This will help you put the situation in a better picture.
  5. Don’t jump into anything. Apologies, the blame game, revealing information to make the journalist feel less angry – don’t. Just try to evaluate the whole situation and its impact in cold blood and get yourself ready for the next steps.
  6. Ask for a solution. Ask the journalist what solution for the problem he would see as satisfactory. Many times you will have a surprise that people will ask for far less that you were ready to offer to fix the damage.
  7. Gain time. Tell the journalist: “Ok. I understand. Would you give me half an hour to discuss this with the people in charge to see how this mistake occurred? Then let me get back to you with an answer and a solution.”
  8. Get the PR involved. Call in your PR advisors and let them take a look at the situation. It’s important to analyze the media the journalist represents and its target group – tabloid versus high quality economic reporting. The outcome of a poorly managed crisis situation can be anything, including a huge scandal that could kneel down your business. Maybe your PR advisors know the journalist personally and can tell you what works to pacify him or her. While some journalists just want things fixed with a chance they won’t repeat again, some others take it personally and make a crusade against a business case. You might want to know whom you’re dealing with before you call back. For that, an intelligent PR advisor is more needed than ever in this type of situation.
  9. Reach a solution. For the journalist like any other client who suffered because of your services, find a solution that works. Define the solution, find ways to deliver it, add a bit of something to compensate for the annoyance and then return the call.
  10. Call back with a sincere apology. The client is always right. This might sound a bit too American for the quality-fragile Czech service market, but it’s the truth. Call back the journalist and offer a sincere apology. Sincere. Then tell him what solution you reached and how you plan to deliver it.
  11. Invite the journalist in. Why don’t you use this crisis situation as an opportunity to get the journalist familiar with your business? Say: “Look, I’m sorry this happened, but maybe if you come over and take a look at our facilities and processes, you could get a different feeling about what happened. I’ll be happy to explain all that to you tomorrow morning.” Push for a direct meeting that could take place as soon as possible. Like this, you gain time and an extra-safety belt that the journalist won’t actually run a story before meeting you personally.
  12. Manage the meeting. Explain your company processes and put a light on the spots that might have led to the mistake. Then, add something for the journalist – some news, maybe something on an incoming acquisition or company expansion plans. That ‘something’ will make the journalist write a story on a different tone. Even though some negative accents might still get into the story, they will be nicely counterbalanced by your positive news.
  13. Be pro-active and care. Journalists have long memories – they don’t forget sources that lied to them instead of treating them with respect. So, take things into your own hands. Treat the journalist as if he was your most lucrative client. If you offer respect and consideration, you have a higher chance of getting the same in return. If you manage this crisis communication well, you’ll sleep better at night. For many years, as many years as your business will keep on prospering and not going bust on some ridiculous oversight.
I focus on strategic communications, emotional and systemic intelligence and personal and organization leadership. I help leaders and future leaders to develop their strategic communication skills, to build reputable personal brands and to boost their team and organizational leadership. I support individuals, teams and organizations through advisory, training, coaching and mentoring services.

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