When I was a member of the Capitol Press Corps, representing the Tampa Bay Times, we reporters always got a laugh during the annual Legislative Session when groups would schedule “urgent” press conferences …at the Press Center.
“Good luck getting a reporter there,” we would chuckle. “Don’t they know we live at the Capitol, not the Press Center, this time of year?”
Or they would leave voicemails at our Press Center desks, instead of the cell phones we lived by. Or they would wonder why we couldn’t immediately start working on their story … never mind the fact that we needed to be watching three committees at once and then file two stories before day’s end.
The media are increasingly stretched thin – and in Tallahassee, perhaps never more so than during the 60-day Legislative Session that runs through the beginning of May. To say the Capitol Press Corps is busy this time of year is a serious understatement.
If you’re handling media relations or advocacy issues for a client during Session, there are a few big Do’s and Don’ts for working with reporters in a way that respects their time and deadlines while also helping your client.
Build a relationship with reporters long before session begins. When you can’t give a reporter the time of day all year long, and all of a sudden in the last two weeks of session you suddenly want to talk, guess what? You are not on their priority call-back list.
Underestimate the value of helpful information. Reporters are hunting information, facts and data all day long at the Capitol. If you can provide succinct information on an issue that is factual and honest, it will be appreciated. Especially on deadline. I will always remember the lobbyist who took 30 minutes with me at 5:30 pm midway through session to walk through complicated insurance legislation in a way that finally helped me understand the issues at play. That time didn’t immediately advance his client interests. But after that, he moved higher up on my “sources to call back” list.
Respect a reporter’s job. You might not always agree with the tone of their stories or like what they write. But they have a job, and so do you. Dismissing their work as unimportant or trying to portray their coverage as personal is not only disrespectful; it’s just wrong. So find a way to work together with respect. It’s a long session, and guess what? Session comes every year, so odds are this rodeo isn’t going anywhere.
Lie. On your client’s behalf or your own. Just don’t. Reporters inevitably find out. It’s their job. And when they find out, the story will make you look like you don’t know how to do yours.
Have a sense of humor. Reporters can instantly spot someone who takes himself too seriously. And I always avoided those people. Life is short. Session is LONG. If you can’t laugh a little together, that’s an even longer and more miserable road.
Harass a reporter with emails, text messages and calls repeating your ‘spin’ over and over. There is a fine line between trying to explain something or persuade opinion, and just being annoying and obnoxious. Again, time is in short supply during session, so make your case quickly and completely and then leave them alone to do their job.