Remember the mantra of all media training in the 1980s and 1990s?
“Just get your three Key Messages out. You’ve got a live microphone, a TV camera and an audience. Never mind what the reporter’s question is!” Some PR agencies still stick to this dated mantra. The result of these “conversations” on-air was predictable: disjointed and confusing!
Frustrated anchors and reporters at all the major US and Canadian networks are pushing back on over media-trained corporate executives. Increasingly, I’m hearing: “That’s fine Mr. X or Ms. Y, but you didn’t answer my question. My question once again is ….” Viewers, too were annoyed.
Here are the 6 new rules of media relations for lawyers:
- Just answer the question.
Answer the question that was asked by the reporter. Don’t deflect. Don’t fudge. Don’t obfuscate. Otherwise, you risk alienating the reporter and, in some ways, insulting viewers. Have a conversation that makes sense.This means more work for media relations professionals. They need to figure out what the likely questions will be, then figure out what the firm and its lawyers are prepared to say on those subjects.
If you find that you won’t be able to answer most of a reporter’s questions, it is better to pass on the interview.
- Reporters live and die by their SmartPhones.
This meansseveral things. You can reach reporters directly much, much faster today than sending a news release on traditional wire services. But it also means that you (or someone in your organization) has to manage everyone’s e-mail addresses. Your message is only as good as your updated lists!It means that you can get your message out right away: more and more, reporters are reading responses to issues live on-air. So, short-and-punchy is better than droning on.
- You can run, but you can’t hide.
To a large degree, media relations is like a bank account: you make regular deposits to the Bank of Goodwill. This allows you to make withdrawals occasionally, if the law firm goes through difficult times. The media might cut you some slack, but only for a short while.
- Your three Key Messages are still important.
Work your Key Messages into the conversation; don’t have your lawyers blurt them out at the earliest opportunity. Again, this means more skill for media relations practitioners and more skill for company executives.Ultimately, it means more rehearsals to weave Key Messages at opportune moments so they look and feel natural, not disjointed.
- Return phone calls faster than ever before.
E-mail and cell phones make it easier than ever for a reporter to get a source—and sometimes any source will do. There is always someone who is only too happy to take your place in the limelight. But the question is: will that help or hurt your firm’s position? If you want to be quoted, be available.
- Relationships, relationships, relationships.
The paradox of the Internet, Google, e-mail, social media, and SmartPhones is that one-on-one relationships among media relations professionals, lawyers and reporters are more important than ever. The flood of mass communication and easy access means that it is critical to cultivate relationships with reporters, editors, and producers that follow the legal industry.