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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.

Attorneys: Know Your PR Rights

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!

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 in 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, copywriting, social media management, media relations and special event coordination. For more information about specific services offered and a range of industry information, please visit


TYFBA (Thank you for being awesome)

As we embark on this brave new adventures, there are many thank yous that we owe to our friends and colleagues for their support. We’re blessed to be part of a community that is supportive, talented and kind – without you, this would not have been possible.

A special thank you to Ashley Daniell Photography and TREW Media for the lovely photos featured here on this site, and to LAT Consulting for the graphic design and website design and development.

Thank you to everyone who had coffee, shared advice, made recommendations and poured wine over the last several months. We appreciate each of you immensely. Look what you’ve helped create!

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.