Some lawyers deal with the media regularly; many more would like to. But dealing with the media can be a risky proposition, because the media and lawyers speak different languages, and what may be a dramatic turn of phrase to a reporter or blogger can destroy a lawyer’s client, case, practice, or reputation.
I have been fortunate to appear in a variety of media over the last few years, from the evening news on local television to statewide newspapers to national blogs. Sometimes, my clients and I have gotten great coverage; sometimes I have been . . . disappointed. Here are a few ways to get more of the former.
Organize your thoughts
Almost without exception, when I am contacted by someone from the media, I find out why the person is calling—i.e., what they want to know from me—and schedule a call for later in the day or week. No matter how good you are on your feet (I’m looking at you, litigators), talking with a reporter is different than talking with a judge or jury.
Take a few minutes—a few hours, if you can—to organize your thoughts. Decide on the points you want to get across. Write them down. Decide on how you want to frame your message. Especially consider how you will respond to hard questions. Make sure that one-line, last-word zinger is ready to go.
Hit on your talking points
Listen to your favorite politician on a tough issue, and how he or she continually reiterates the same talking points. Don’t do that. If you are stiff, formal, and on script, you will be boring and un-quotable. Politicians only get away with it because they are running things. But do something like that. Use your talking points as a theme for your discussion.
This is not a defensive strategy; it is a way to make sure your message gets through the reporter and into the story. When you are dealing with the media, you have several layers of translation to cope with: from you to the reporter’s notes, from your legal understanding of the issue to the reporter’s reporter-y understanding, from the reporter’s notes to the blog, page, or screen, and from the reporter’s reporter-y understanding to the audience’s understanding. It’s like playing a game of Telephone with people who speak different languages.
That is why you need to have strong, clear talking points. So that your message gets across through all that noise and translation. Plus, if you keep touching on the same things again and again, you will give more options for quoting, which is what you really want, after all.
A reporter once wrote an article about blogging, and half of it was about my blog. My picture was on the front page, my blog was mentioned throughout. It was perfect. Except she got the address of my blog wrong. Instead of sending hundreds of new readers to my consumer law blog, as I hoped, she sent hundreds of people to a worthless landing page with a similar address.
Always follow up. Send an e-mail with the details you discussed. Include website addresses, and if you aren’t sure you got that article-closing zinger just right, include that, too. It will also help the reporter feel comfortable firing off a follow-up question or two to you, which may give you more opportunities for quotable comments.