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Missed Your Chance

May 14th, 2005

Dr Petra

Popped out of the office for lunch and arrived back to find a message from a women’s magazine, asking me to call them.

I did so, but the person who left the message wasn’t available.

It didn’t worry me so much; playing phone tag is a familiar part of my work.

About an hour later I called again and this time the journalist answered.

‘Hi’, I said. ‘Petra here, returning your call.’

‘Oh you’re too late’
, they replied. ‘I already found someone.’

No worries, I thought, this often happens, it isn’t a problem.

Clearly the journalist felt otherwise.

‘You’ll have to make more of an effort to get back to me quicker in future if you want the chance to be included in our magazine’, they scolded.

You can see how this mentality is causes problems. Firstly, if someone’s not available, there’s no waiting about, or hearing what someone has to say if they get back to the journalist after their unspoken deadline has passed. They just use the first person that answers their call. Fine for a hectic news desk, but no excuse for any other publication.

The second problem is that many experts aren’t always immediately available. How could they be? Before they’re able to give quotes, they have to see patients, run research, lecture students, or attend meetings. Unfortunately those with fewer time commitments but a product to plug will always be more accessible – even though they may not be the best person to quote.

Thirdly, there’s an issue about who’s doing whom the favour. Sure, if you’re the person who needs the press to promote you, then missing any chance to be quoted is a problem. But if all you’re doing is returning a call so you can provide information or evidence then it’s the media who misses their chance.

I appreciate that most journalists are now working with people, the majority of whom are only speaking to the press because they want publicity. But that isn’t always the case.

There’s a danger that experts who feel they’re somehow being penalised for not replying quickly to journalists, aren’t going to rush to return calls in the future.

They’ll be happy to miss further chances, because they don’t see them as chances at all.

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