The Media Circus
“Don’t hire a publicist, hire an experienced public relations professional” was the kick-off phrase at the Association of Business Trial Lawyers’ “The Media Circus” roundtable. During the discussion, panelists spoke on how to use or defuse PR in connection with litigation or business cases. Panelists included: trial attorney Patricia Glaser with Glaser Weil; CEO and Editor of The Wrap, Sharon Waxman; and Chairman of The Rose Group, Jeffrey Rose.
From national PR disasters and frequently asked questions to PR myths debunked, I’ve listed an overview of key takeaways from the panel.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do relationships matter? For Sharon, relationships with journalists, not publications, are crucial. There are many voices and different perspectives in the media, so it’s important to find someone that understands your point of view.
Do you have a story? Experienced PR professionals will tell the truth on whether you have a PR-worthy story. Journalists won’t listen unless it’s compelling.
Are your conversations with PR professionals privileged? You should never assume your conversations are privileged. Cloak sensitive information as you would with your clients.
No comment? Panelists explained that “No comment” is the worst thing to say, as it sets you up for the defense. “I don’t know” or “I don’t remember” is always better. If you cannot comment, say something to the effect of, “We cannot comment on pending litigation.” Give a reason for the lack of comment. For example, “I don’t want to inappropriately point fingers, but we plan to get to the bottom of things and will comment soon.”
Bloggers v. journalists. In today’s age, everyone has a voice. Public perception can be swung by anyone with access to the Internet. There is a huge difference between news organizations and bloggers; unfortunately, there is no difference in the public’s eye. Bloggers have tarnished others’ reputations without knowing the facts, which is incredibly scary for clients.
Sharon commented, “Social media has undermined the PR process.” It doesn’t matter if you have the truth onyour side – people are busy telling a different narrative. Patricia has been a lawyer for more than 40 years, and last month she filed her first malicious prosecution lawsuit ever. The lawsuit was a result of social media, and filing this lawsuit was the only recourse for her client’s tarnished reputation.
Debunking Some Myths
Throughout the roundtable, panel members debunked some PR myths and gave helpful tips for PR professionals and their clients.
- Honor your word and tell the truth. If you lie once, a reporter will never believe you again. If you promise an exclusive story, then you need to follow through.
- PR can be both offensive and defensive. Sometimes it’s not about how much ink you get for your client, it’s the right kind of ink or, in a crisis, it’s no ink at all. All PR is not always good PR.
- Pick your media spokespeople carefully. Not all lawyers are good at or comfortable with speaking to the media. Offering media tips or preparing communication points can help alleviate client anxiety.
- Reporters will never “kill” a story, so don’t ask. If it’s a negative story about you or your client, reach out to the reporter and offer to relay the facts from your side.
- There is no such thing as “spinning” a story anymore. It’s about positioning your truth.
- Your litigation strategy should align with your PR strategy. It’s very important that your client buy into the PR strategy.
- If you speak off the record, always make sure you trust the interviewer. (Berbay strongly believes that if you don’t want to see it in print the next day, then don’t say it!)
- If you make a mistake, admit it.
- Respond quickly. PR is all about reaction time.
PR Disasters to Learn From
During the discussion, panelists gave examples of PR disasters, including Bill Cosby, the BP Oil Spill and many more. What are the lessons we can learn from these PR disasters?
- Bill Cosby. The Cosby situation all started from his social media team posting something they thought was funny, yet it turned into a disaster. Could a good PR strategy have made a difference in this scenario? Yes, most likely, because what followed was worse. The first few weeks no one made any comments, which led his lawyers to start denying allegations.
- BP Oil spill. The BP Oil spill was similar to the Bill Cosby case. There was too much of a lag time when no one said anything. In PR, you need to deal with situations quickly. It’s all about reaction time. Not commenting will only add to the public’s suspicion and speculation.
- Sony hack. “They were paralyzed for weeks,” said one of the panelists.
When in doubt, contact an experienced PR firm to advise you on the best strategy.