Bench & Bar of Minnesota is the official publication of the Minnesota State Bar Association.

When a Reporter Calls

  • Move fast. Many reporters have deadlines more demanding than those of lawyers. It could be disastrous to wait a day or even a couple hours to return a reporter’s call.
  • Buy time. Ask about the reporter’s deadline and ask her to respect your schedule. If the deadline is in an hour, ask for 15 minutes so you can work with your client on an initial response. If it’s in four hours, ask for an hour. If an on-camera interview is sought, preparation time is built into the encounter so use it.
  • Be proactive. The reporter or blogger might be onto the story because she was fed documents by a prosecutor or opposing counsel. You or the client might need to contact the reporter yourself to protect the client’s public relations image.
  • Use the phone. Corporations are persons, but nonlawyers don’t buy it. If you represent a client who faces a communications crisis, use the telephone to respond even to email messages.
  • Less is more. Your client’s initial response need not be more than, say, 140 characters, Twitter’s maximum.
  • Get help. Bounce the situation off a colleague or someone more accustomed to dealing with the media or using online technology. If the stakes are high, consider having your client retain a public-relations professional with expertise in crisis communication.
  • Let the client talk. Try to have the client be the source for any interview and prepare her similarly to how you’d prepare her for a deposition. During the interview talk about as much as you would while defending a deposition—in other words, not much.
  • Talk in talking points. Help the client prepare and rehearse four to six talking points. The first point acknowledges the crisis, the next few are part of the client’s master narrative, and the last point says the client has no more to say.
  • Try for face time. If a reporter wants more than a couple quick comments, push for a face-to-face meeting on the client’s turf to humanize the message and control the environment.
  • Suit up. Put on that emergency suit you keep at the office.  Reporters and news consumers expect lawyers to look the part even on a Friday.
  • Convene, don’t control. Meet the reporter and help set ground rules but then stay out of the way. Never terminate an on-camera interview. If the interview is going long or poorly, have your client keep repeating the talking points until the reporter gives up.
  • Set ground rules.  Establish the duration of the interview and clarify whether it’s “on the record.”  If it’s not, confirm in your own words what “off the record” means.

Excerpt from: Crisis Communications & Social Media: The Game Just Got Tougher

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