When the opportunity to work with the media arises, you need to be well prepared and media trained to ensure that the interview runs smoothly. I encourage every firm, no matter how big or small, to have a written media policy. Simply put, law firms and their attorneys can and should control all messages provided to the media for reasons of message management, ethics and, in the cases of trial publicity, to protect the clients’ best interests.
Lawyers are often asked to comment on legal matters. Knowing some of the rules of engagement will make your interviews more effective.
Never say “no comment”: An attorney should never say “no comment” because it is perceived as an attempt to hide something or avoid telling the truth. If something is confidential, then tell the interviewer that you cannot provide confidential information. Alternatives include:
- It is more accurate for me to explain…
- I don’t have all the facts to answer that question, but I can say…
- Actually, that relates to a more important concern…
- I wouldn’t use that choice of words. If you are asking (rephrase), I can tell you that…
Nothing is “off the record”: If you don’t have a long-standing relationship with the journalist, there is no such thing as “off the record.” If you don’t want it repeated, simply don’t say it.
Know the outlet and reporter’s style: Before agreeing to an interview, review other stories produced by the journalist. It is important to know the reporter’s style and interests before agreeing to an interview.
Focus on your objective: Speak briefly, directly and to the point. Correct any misstatements or misperceptions. Prepare key messages before speaking to the media.
Pace yourself: When recording a message for radio or television, pace your delivery. Practice makes perfect so take time to record what you plan to say and listen to it in advance of your interview. Listen to how each word sounds. For example, does the word “our” sound like “are” or “hour?” Be sure to enunciate. Make sure your words don’t run together. Have someone else listen and provide you with feedback – then tweak the message as necessary.
Remember to say your firm name: When you are first introduced for television or radio, the reporter will generally mention your name. It is important for you to mention your firm’s name when it is appropriate and comes naturally so the viewing audience will remember it.
Speak in plain English: Speaking in plain English will ensure that your message gets across to the general populace. Avoid legal jargon. Words such as “litigant,” “defendant,” and “plaintiff” should be avoided. It is important to speak in layman’s terms so the audience understands you and so that your messages are clear.
Speak in short sound bites: Practice your topic in sound bites. Media interviews are great for short, quick sound bites that the audience can remember. Reporters are also looking for short, to-the-point nuggets. Think headlines.
Save the details for online, print and radio talk shows: Most television and radio stories run for less than 90 seconds. Most broadcast reporters aren’t looking for hours of drawn-out details. Be concise and get to your point. If you are being interviewed, count for two seconds before answering. The slight pause before you answer will make your responses sound fresh and thoughtful.
The bottom line is that you should provide everyone in your firm with the rules and tools for media relations success.
Gina F. Rubel, Esq., is the owner of Furia Rubel Communications, Inc., a strategic marketing and public relations agency with a niche in legal marketing. A former trial attorney, Gina is the author of Everyday Public Relations for Lawyers. Gina and her agency have won many awards for legal communications, PR, media relations, website and graphic design, strategic planning, corporate philanthropy and leadership. She maintains a blog at www.ThePRLawyer.com, is a contributor to National Law Review, The Legal Intelligencer Blog, AVVO Lawyernomics and The Huffington Post. You can find her on LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/ginafuriarubel or follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/ginarubel. For more information, go to www.FuriaRubel.com.