Why Your Receptionist Needs Media Training

A few months ago, I wrote an article that listed seven times you should turn down a media interview. That article became the subject of an on-line chat recently, and one of the participants – a journalist – took me to task.

Her point was this: Who cares if executives turn down an interview? She regularly circumvents executives at the beginning of a crisis, and prefers to start by talking to the receptionist.

“She always knows more anyway,” said the reporter.

She raises a good point. Reporters occasionally avoid “official” channels to get more candid and unscripted responses from staffers lower down on the hierarchy chart. And too often, receptionists – notoriously more plugged in to the gossip than most – inadvertently say something to reporters that they shouldn’t.

It’s always a good idea to train your receptionists how to handle media calls, but it’s even more critical to prepare them for an unexpected crisis. Receptionists are often the first people to learn of a crisis, tipped off by a phone call from a reporter, a colleague, or a stranger. There’s little point in investing thousands of dollars to train your executives to manage a crisis if your receptionist says something he or she shouldn’t.

And it’s not just receptionists. You should also prepare security guards who first greet unscheduled camera crews. And spouses of your executives, who may answer their home phone during a burgeoning crisis and say something like, “Yeah, I think there was an explosion or something at the plant. But you just missed Dawn – she already headed down there.”

Oops. Dawn’s husband just became the reporter’s primary source.

You don’t have to enroll your receptionists, security guards, and other support personnel in a formal media training class. Instead, create a policy that articulates the protocol for unexpected contacts with the media and share them with your entire staff. Don’t do it once – they’ll need regular reminders.

And remember: When you have temps staffing your phones along the way, fill them in on your media procedures. Those  “temps” have your company’s reputation in their hands.

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