Category: Commentary

Media Relations: Not As Painful As You Thought

 

Too often, lawyers and reporters are like oil and water. “No comment” has become the phrase du jour when a microphone is in your face on the steps of the courthouse. But it doesn’t have to be like this. With a good foundation for professional relationships and some basic media relations practice, you can work with the media instead of avoiding them like the plague.

Let’s start with the basic premise that people treat each other better if they have an existing relationship. The worst time to make friends is when you really need them, so make a proactive effort to get to know the reporters who are likely to cover issues related to your clients and your practice areas. This can be as simple as inviting them out for a cup of coffee to introduce yourself. You both have jobs to do, but if you can look for a way to support each other, the relationships may provide you with long-term benefits. Just remember, you’re never really off the record, so be professional.

If a member of the media does ask you for an interview, there are some basic principles you can follow to manage the interview as best you can. Remember – you are never guaranteed full control or positive coverage; however, with good message management, you can dramatically improve how you are portrayed.

First, figure out in advance what your purpose is for the interview. Who are you trying to reach and what do you need to communicate? Having a clear goal will keep you focused, and key messages can improve the probability that your audience will receive clear, consistent and compelling information.

Develop three key messages to serve as the foundation for all communications and to weave into each interview. They should fit on one page: each as two or three sentences in length or 15 to 30 seconds when spoken. Your goal is to introduce and reinforce key messages through supporting information, such as:

  • Facts: Use simple and descriptive statements.
  • Statistics or figures: Put information into easy-to-understand or quantifiable terms.
  • Authorities: Quote credible, relevant third-party experts.
  • Stories: Share a case study, personal experience, anecdote or analogy.

Questions can be the scariest part of an interview, but if you know your subject matter well, you should be able to figure out what you’re likely to be asked. After identifying potential queries, including what you’re afraid of being asked, you can arm yourself with key message-laden responses and practice delivering those answers so you can provide them smoothly when asked by the interviewer.

Practice really is key to delivering a good interview. If you know in advance what you’re likely to be asked, what you want to communicate and how effectively you can communicate, you can prep for any interview just like you would prep for opening or closing statements in the courtroom. Ask someone to evaluate how clearly you speak, whether certain words are difficult for you to enunciate and whether you have any nervous behaviors, such as excessive blinking, strange hand gestures or swaying back and forth. If you’re aware of these behaviors ahead of time, you can practice correcting them.

For TV interviews, projecting confidence is especially critical. When asked a question, pause and think quietly about your next thought. Finish your sentence and wait for the reporter to ask another question – don’t talk just to fill a silence. Be aware of your non-verbal messages, including facial expressions, posture, gestures, etc. And talk to the interviewer, not the camera. Maintain good eye contact, listen and speak with conviction

You may be in a situation where you can’t necessarily plan out when or where you’re asked for an interview, such as on the courthouse steps. However, the preparation method is the same. Think critically about what a reporter might want to cover (or ask your new reporter friends) and plan out the key messages you need to communicate and how you might answer difficult questions. Remember, “No comment” is NOT AN OPTION. At worst, let the reporter know that you can’t address that question at this time. It’s also ok to calmly walk away if a reporter is being unprofessional. What you DON’T want to do is let a reporter provoke you into making reactive or emotional response.

Sometimes, a good media interview can be extremely beneficial to you or your client, and at the very least, minimizing potentially negative coverage is always a good idea. Use this combination of proactive relationship building and practical preparation to begin taking the terror (or distaste) out of your interactions with the media.

Conflict Resolution Through Good Communication

 

From a high level perspective, the entire legal profession is based on conflict. Attorneys deal with various forms of conflict on a regular basis; it’s negotiating a settlement, arguing for your client in court, going point for point with opposing counsel in a brief. But unnecessary conflict can take a heavy toll on lawyers, and conflict resolution is a valuable skill to possess.

Good communication may not be the cure-all for conflict, but it is a critical component for conflict resolution. The key is understanding two elements: how you communicate and how the other person communicates.

Communication Styles

The good news is that there are five main communication styles, so with a little practice you can hone your own skills and better identify the styles around you. While many of us may use different styles in different situations, most will fall back on one particular style, so it’s good to know your default.

  1. The Assertive Style: This communication style is founded in confidence; assertive communicators are able to clearly express themselves without being overbearing or overly submissive. Assertive communication is the most effective style as well as the healthiest.
  1. The Aggressive Style: Aggressive communicators value their needs above others; people often miss the message because they are turned off by the delivery.
  1. The Passive Aggressive Style: These communicators often leave people feeling confused or misdirected because while they may seem supportive, they are subtly undermining or acting out their aggression behind the scenes.
  1. The Submissive Style: People who communicate with a submissive style put others needs above theirs to avoid conflict, but may end up deeply resentful. This is a highly ineffective form of communication in many circumstances.
  1. The Manipulative Style: This communication style is destructive. Manipulative communicators often have their own agenda and control situations to achieve it, sometimes without the other person knowing.

Good communication skills require a high level of self-awareness. Once you understand your own communication style, you’ll be able to practice more assertive communication.

Communication is a Two-Way Street

Understanding the communication styles of those around you is also beneficial. It’s like having a cheat sheet; you’ll be able to quickly recognize how a difficult person is communicating and you’ll know how to respond to diffuse further conflict.

Ultimately, the person communicating is responsible for how his or her audience receives the message. Different communications styles can impede or even block messages altogether, which is why learning to communicate effectively can stop unnecessary conflict even before it starts.

Need help practicing effective communication? Bulldog Strategy Group can help. Talk to us today to get started.

Move Over PR Daily — 5 Ways to REALLY Use a Press Release

by Kathleen Haughney

Scrolling through my Twitter feed last month, I noticed a PR Daily tweet on “Unconventional ways of distributing press releases (and a few you know)” followed by a link to a 2014 post on ways to use releases.

My reply to PR Daily? Those thoughts were hardly unconventional. (Also, were they really so low on good tips that they had to recycle from 2014?)

The suggestions were pretty standard — pitch the release, put it on social media, post it to your company/institution/group’s website, use a wire service and share it with your sales team.

If you’re not already pitching your release and posting it on social media and your website, you’re doing it wrong. I was #thoroughlyunimpressed. Plus, communications pros around the world often work on a shoestring budget, so using an expensive paid distribution service may not even be an option.

So, here’s my take on how to make your press release go that extra mile.

Try SlideShare.

Use bullet points and/or quotes from your release to make a SlideShare presentation to share on various social media platforms. It’s a great way to work graphics and photos in with your text while getting the main points across. Let’s be honest. You may be the next Ernest Hemingway, but some people still won’t read your full release. This tactic lets you communicate the main takeaways in a quick and dirty fashion. Extra points if you make it pretty with photos or graphics.

Share the love.

PR Daily suggests sharing your release with your sales team. I say share it with EVERYBODY.

Crash through those silos that may separate communications from other areas of your company/organization/group. Why? Glad you asked. First, everyone needs to know what messages, priorities and initiatives are being communicated to the general public. Second, your non-communications colleagues may have some creative ideas of how to further your message. That feedback and creative partnership is especially important if you’re a one-man shop. And third, your release might be particularly interesting to a stakeholder/constituent/friend of someone else in the organization. This could translate into new business, partnerships, contacts or other opportunities down the line, but everyone on your team has to know about it first.

Leverage your networks.

Posting your release on your institution’s social media accounts and website is a given, so what’s next? Communicators build relationships at every turn, whether they’re directly related to your organization or for personal development. Use those people. Re-post your news releases or links to them on your own social media pages. Make sure your business cards, Twitter bio and Facebook page have the web address to your organization’s news page so your friends and contacts can check it out. Know a friend or professional contact (doesn’t have to be a reporter!) who might have an interest in your release? Ask if they’d consider posting your release on their pages.

Don’t forget about radio.

One of my best friends is a public radio reporter, and she constantly gripes about PR people catering to print outlets. She needs sound whenever possible, so think about ways you could provide some high quality audio. Maybe you could record your spokesperson/president/CEO reading a snippet of the release — that could give you some extra options when trying to pitch a story or position to reporters and your CEO can’t do interviews.

Make it a full story.

OK, hear me out on this one. Many practitioners think your release should be a one-pager. This concept is generally true, but consider this: The media landscape is changing, and some outlets print the releases when they don’t have time to do the story. Many businesses are hiring journalists to create content that reads more like news stories to fill the gap in news coverage. It may be worth your time to lengthen that press release by throwing in some background, statistics or any other supporting material that gets your point across.

Let’s be honest. Some stories are easier to sell than others, but if you don’t move beyond standard practices, your chances are pretty slim. Even getting it in front of a few more eyeballs can be worth the extra time and energy in the end.

Happy writing!

Kathleen Haughney is the Research Media and Content Specialist for Florida State University, which means she spends her days promoting discoveries by FSU faculty members and their students. She is a former reporter for the Sun Sentinel and News Service of Florida and a proud graduate of Penn State University.

Press conference with media microphones held in front of business man, spokesman or politician

Attorneys: Know Your PR Rights

As an attorney, you’re trained to focus on the case inside the courtroom – to develop a winning legal strategy and implement it for judge and jury. But what happens when you also need a win in the court of public opinion? Let’s talk about a few basic public relations skills that can help you (and your clients) when relationships with the public matter most.

1. Build relationships early. The worst time to make friends is when you really need them. Get to know the people whose opinions have weight in the community – these are people you may need to speak on your behalf (or stay strategically silent) when things heat up. It also doesn’t hurt to get to know the reporters who cover the courts, because you want them to see you as a person and not just a source. Relationships matter immensely.

2. Take time to listen and evaluate before responding. It’s easy to rush to respond, especially in the heat of the battle. But take care to make sure you’re not being baited. Sometimes silence really is deafening. And if a response is warranted, be thoughtful and deliberate. Try not to repeat the negatives – focus on your message and what you need people to hear.

3. Pick your battles. It’s ok to go to the mattresses when it really matters, but don’t be the attorney who takes offense at the smallest slight. People will eventually learn not to pay attention. If you are strategic, people will listen when something matters to you.

4. Be memorable for the right reasons. Whether you’re interacting with the public or the press, avoid these rookie mistakes:

  • Don’t get belligerent. It’s not your job to fix stupid.
  • Stay on message. Don’t get pulled down a rabbit hole.
  • Project confidence. You’re the expert.
  • For TV, don’t wear loud colors or tiny prints or stripes.

5. Avoid saying “No comment.” It’s comfortable and safe, but it usually doesn’t do anyone any good. If you need help framing a message, get in touch with an expert who understands litigation communications, a specialty area of public relations for attorneys and their clients.

When you boil it all down, public relations is about understanding what people around you care about and how you can build relationships to influence that environment. Start small and let it build as your get comfortable. You and your clients will benefit!

White dog in front of brick wall

And… here we go!

Florida Public Relations Pro Launches New Firm
~ It’s not just another PR firm – promise. ~

Tallahassee, FL – Veteran Florida public relations professional Sandi Poreda, APR, today announced the launch of her new communications firm, Bulldog Strategy Group. The firm is headquartered in Florida’s capital city and specializes in the under-served field of litigation communication, as well as crisis communication training and response.

“I’m excited to plant a small but meaningful flag in the landscape of the public relations industry,” Poreda said. “Bulldog Strategy Group strives to be exactly what our profession needs – smart, honest and tough.”

A nationally accredited public relations professional, Poreda has more than a decade of providing strategic communications counsel to organizations and clients. As communications director for former Attorney General Bill McCollum, Poreda was directly responsible for the communication of complex and sensitive legal issues to the media and public at large.

So often, public relations takes a back seat when a legal case is in process, and if a client wins a lawsuit but damages its reputation in the process, the damage may be irreparable. Litigation communication can help a client protect their reputation, brand and audience relationships in tandem with a successful legal strategy.

“This specialty service area gives Tallahassee’s legal community the opportunity to provide added value for their clients,” Poreda said. “Traditionally, attorneys and public relations professionals are polar opposites, but we know that good communication and successful cooperation benefits everyone, especially the client.”

In addition to focusing on litigation communication, Bulldog Strategy Group specializes in crisis communication training and response. Poreda has extensive experience managing crisis scenarios, from natural disasters to internal disruptions, and she emphasizes the importance of planning ahead. Crisis communications services include the development of a customized crisis communications plan, scenario-based training, media training, media relations and direct crisis management.

“Sandi’s range and depth of experience will serve our community well,” said Sarah Bascom, president of Bascom Communications and Consulting, LLC.

Poreda’s firm also offers a full range of public relations and marketing services, including target audience identification, message development, copy writing, social media management, media relations and special event coordination. For more information about specific services offered and a range of industry information, please visit http://www.bulldogstrategygroup.com.

Decorative Scales of Justice in the Courtroom

What is Litigation Communication, Really?

Declining to comment during pending litigation is fairly a common, even comfortable response, but it’s a default that may do clients a disservice in the long run. As news cycles move faster and faster, a company’s reputation can be forever altered in an instant, even after a win in court. Sometimes, a loss in the the court of public opinion can be just as damaging for a client, which is why litigation communication is so valuable.

Litigation communication is building a public relations strategy that works in coordination with an ongoing legal strategy. So often, public relations takes a back seat when a legal case is in process, but if a client wins a lawsuit but hurts its reputation in the process, the damage may be irreparable. Litigation communication can help a client protect its reputation, brand and audience relationships in tandem with a successful legal strategy. This field of public relations is almost empty, and clients are suffering for it.

So how does it work?

First, find a public relations firm that has experience working directly with attorneys. These PR people understand the value of playing the long game – it’s not about immediate media hits for them. I can’t remember who said it, but it’s true that the worst time to make a friend is when you really need one. Start looking for a good litigation PR firm now, before you have a client in need, so you have time to get to know the team.

Second, talk to the public relations team about how they set their goals. Firms that focus on measurable results will enable you to demonstrate ROI to your clients. Don’t be fooled by busywork; being busy doesn’t equal being effective.

Third, take the firm for a spin. Get a proposal for working a case and have a conversation about ways they could make a difference for current and future clients. A client shouldn’t have to choose between good PR and good legal work, and if you can make that happen your clients will appreciate your service even more.

Still wondering if litigation communication might work for you and your clients? Give us a call. We’d love to sit down and see how we can help!

commuter waiting for a train on the station platform

This Will Be Our Year

I’m not big on resolutions, because I’ve always thought that if it’s good enough to focus on for a year, it should be a permanent part of your life. But when you’re starting a new year with a new (ad)venture, it seems like the right time to identify a few priorities that will help shape the next 12 months.

  1. Cultivate relationships. This year, I will try to use technology as a tool to support my relationships, instead of using it as a shortcut. Sure, sometimes texting or Facebooking is acceptable, but I want to use these options as a way to start more meaningful conversations. I want to take the time to really talk to people, and listen more. I will stop interjecting before people are done talking
  2. Try things that are scary. I want to really get outside of my comfort zone this year. I like stability a lot, but maybe I’m missing the next big challenge, or opportunity. I want to search out the unexpected and push myself to try new things (start a new company: check.). I’m not talking about setting off on a Wild trip, although my husband does (unfortunately) seem interested in the prospect of hiking several hundred miles at some point. Whatever happens, this will not be the year of normal.
  3. Read more good writing. Iron sharpens iron. I want to read more things that are funny, things that are smart, things I don’t agree with, things that make me think, things that will inform me — anything written well. I want to read with real hunger, and I’m not just saying that because some of my favorite blogs are cooking blogs.
  4. Plan less, do more. I’ve got to spend less time thinking about things I want to do and actually do them. This means less time Pinning. This year I will cook, reorganize, craft, create, decorate. I will pitch fearlessly. I will work with people I care about doing things I think are important. I will learn how to say no to let me say yes to things that really matter.