A significant part of our job at Bospar is to review and evaluate the large number of media requests that come in for our clients. A majority of the requests are legitimate and sincere, originating from media outlets and reporters we know and trust. But occasionally, we receive inquiries or interview requests that are cause for concern.
These requests will often come from “freelancers” without CV or credentials and/or reporters whose history of published work is spotty. The requests are usually short on specifics about a story’s outlet or publication, deadline date and other concrete details that provide us with confidence that we’ll get good – or at least fair – coverage. Tipoffs to suspicious requests include vague queries about corporate data and financial information and a lack specificity in general.
Serious journalists don’t have the time for such antics, and such requests have a potentially large downside: they’re likely work being done for a client’s competitor or a hit piece of some kind. Sourcing content and competitive information using the cover of “journalism” is, unfortunately, a fairly common gambit these days. PR agencies and their clients have an absolute right to know the reasons behind why a reporter is being vague or evasive and to understand the true intentions of a media request.
As gatekeepers, we need to control access to protect our clients. What’s more, phony or vague requests inhibit our ability to adequately prepare our clients for the actual interview. We don’t want anyone surprised by inappropriate questions or to be fooled into giving away strategic or competitive information under an NDA or in an off-the-record conversation.
Checking LinkedIn and media databases is a great first step, but to best manage these suspicious requests, consider applying the following professional practices:
- Review the assignment: legit reporters should be able to share their assignment through a documented company email or present an assignment on letterhead.
- Speak with the editor: any competent editor should readily confirm a freelancer’s identity and assignment, including its focus, via phone or company email.
- Get questions in advance: this will facilitate more effective interview prep and allows for catching and eliminating or changing inappropriate questions.
- Audit the reporter’s work: check out what the reporter has done in the past, not only to review their style but to better understand how they cover a given industry or company and to determine any potential bias.
Carefully examining media requests in this manner means that agencies can more effectively understand a given opportunity and present it fairly to clients. The vast majority of reporters – even freelancers – and their employers in the media are trustworthy partners who adhere to journalistic ethics and professional practices. However, “red flags” sometimes do appear – and if after taking a closer look at the origins of a story request, suspicions remain, rejecting story requests is totally fine. Better to decline a second-tier opportunity than receive negative coverage and/or participate in an opportunity that has unintended consequences. Most requests are legitimate; asking reporters to document their story requests is totally appropriate, and real media professionals understand this. By carefully vetting story requests, we are doing both ourselves and our clients a service by preserving the integrity of the news-gathering process.