Want to be a better communicator? Act like a reporter

All too often, external comms is the last to know. One solution is a change communicators’ mindsets.

By Tom Corfman

A public relations executive for a Fortune 100 company once said with a sigh, “Sometimes, I think I knew more about my company when I was reporter.”

In some companies, the communications process sometimes begins who knows where with somebody’s last-minute, bright idea. After a few bureaucratic twists and turns, the process ends with a surprise—for the very people in charge of crafting and delivering the news.

Changing executives’ views of the importance of comms would fix this problem. While you’re waiting for that to happen, you can take matters into your own hands—or brain—by changing your attitude.

Act like a reporter—on your company.

Acting like a reporter, you will know better what’s coming down the pike, which will cut down those last-minute requests. But this isn’t the only, or most important, advantage. You’ll also be a better writer, a better advisor on communication issues and earn respect throughout the company.

So how do good reporters think? They want to find stuff out and then write about or broadcast it. They don’t wait to be fed. They expect to eat what they kill.

How do you think like reporter? 

Do your homework

What’s the first thing reporters do when they start a story? They read: news clips, SEC filings, financial reports, public records. Do you read everything about your company? It takes time, to be sure.

And what do you do if read something and don’t understand it? Try to overcome any fear of appearing uninformed and ask someone to explain it. You might catch an impatient executive who doesn’t want to be bothered, but most people like talking about their jobs.

Get more out of your interviews

Another way to be a better reporter about your own company is to work on your interview techniques. Getting information from corporate leaders is a skill often overlooked by communicators. In journalism school, they teach that the secret to good interviewing is the two P’s: Preparation and Persistence.

Plan your questions. What do you need to know? What would you like to cover if you have time? Although you want a conversational tone, it’s not a conversation. There’s information you need to have. Keep the subject on point, but be polite. It’s not an interrogation.

Persistence may be required to get the interview. We’ve all had to chase down executives to get the information for a news release. Sometimes even for a release about them!

During an interview, don’t be afraid to prod your subject for the information you need. Repeat the question, rephrase the question or ask the subject to repeat the answer. Push firmly but gently, like a doctor.

Develop sources

Reporters have sources about your company. Why don’t you? Sources are people who share information that’s helpful to your job as a communicator, just like sources help reporters.

Source development is like networking, but different. Source development is building a relationship of trust to encourage the exchange of information.

How do you get people to talk to you? Talk to them. Get out of the comms department. Get off email, get on the phone. Get off the phone and out of your cubical. Ask co-workers about their jobs. Be a sounding board or a shoulder to cry on. Offer to help with a memo or an important email. And stay in regular contact, not just when you need something.

Some communicators love to hate reporters, not without reason. But in a twist, learning from reporters is one way communicators can do their job better.

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