Dubious Media Inquiries: How Agencies Can Protect Clients

October 9, 2019
Inquiries at Bospar

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:

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.

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About the author

Curtis Sparrer is a principal of Bospar PR. He has represented brands like PayPal, Tetris and the alien hunters of the SETI Institute. He is a member of the Forbes Communications Council and has written for Adweek, Forbes, the Dallas Morning News, and PRWeek. He is an active member of the National Lesbian Gay Journalist Association. Business Insider has twice listed him as one of the Top Fifty in Tech PR.



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