One simple trick to get a reporter off the phone so you can enjoy the weekend

In a 24-hour enterprise level organization, an operational issue or emergency can strike at any time. Those of you who handle the media hotline know this more than anyone. When it’s your turn on call, your weekend plans can go out the window.

Many years ago, when I worked for a natural gas company, we got inundated with media calls on a Friday afternoon all because a whole city smelled funny. Everyone assumed the company was responsible for a rotten-egg smelling gas leak. Our dispatch team scrambled technicians across the city with special equipment to investigate. No leaks were detected.

Instead of cancelling my plans so I could respond to media calls all night, I posted all operational updates on Twitter. Whenever a reporter called, I assured them that we were sharing all updates with customers on Twitter as soon as we had news.

This did two things. First, it showed transparency. We had nothing to hide, even if it was us causing the stink. Reporters understood we were trustworthy, which gave us the benefit of the doubt in future scenarios. Second, it made the information accessible to all reporters, which meant there was no exclusive scoop. Reporters knew that no matter how often they called, they’d get the same level of information as their peers.

I was still available to take reporters’ calls, but they knew it would be a slower process than just checking Twitter. They saved time, since they already had to make dozens of calls to find out who was really making the stink. Plus, we got more reporters to follow the company’s Twitter account.

After tagging local news outlets in our tweets that afternoon, I could continue with my Friday evening plans. I still checked in with the 24/7 dispatch team from time to time for new updates. If there were any, I could post them to Twitter directly using my phone.

We never found out what caused the stink that weekend. Some say it was from a pulp mill. Others thought it was a broken sewage line. Despite this mystery, reporters got all the information they needed from my organization — at least to rule out a gas leak — and I got to enjoy my weekend.