7 top tips for lawyers to get quoted by the media
In the fast-paced world of daily news, getting a shot at being quoted by a journalist on deadline means lawyers must be ready to deliver relevant and succinct comments, often on a moment’s notice. Welcome to the whirlwind of public relations for lawyers and law firms!
The opportunity to speak to reporters can be fleeting—they need answers fast and are often juggling more than one story. Making yourself available with insightful remarks could put you in a reporter’s contacts list under “favourites.”
Dollar-for-dollar, public relations wins over advertising, every time: no one reads newspapers and magazines for the advertising. Public relations builds your reputation. Advertising promotes your services. Here are the 7 top tips of The Legal A Team for making sure your news interview is a success:
1. Call back a reporter. Fast!
Taking a few minutes out of your day to give a media interview isn’t a significant time commitment and could go far to promoting you as a subject matter expert in your practice area.
An interview with a major newspaper like The Guardian, The New York Times,The Washington Post, or The Globe and Mail is typically about 15 minutes, over the phone, Zoom, or other video conferencing technology. Everyone can get away for 15 minutes.
For that 15 minutes to pay dividends, you should spend a little time gathering your thoughts so that what you say makes it to the final version of the story, gets published, and positions you as someone knowledgeable in the area. Here’s the reality: reporters typically call 6 to 10 lawyers (or other interview sources) for a story, but interview only the first three people who respond. If you’re Caller Number 4 and subsequent, you will be out of luck. Law firm public relations clients do not always understand that, so one of the things we spend considerable time on in media training is that if you want to play, you need to be fast about returning that media call.
When we do media training with our law firm public relations clients, they don’t fully appreciate the speed of the news cycle. Sometimes, we get pushback from lawyers who say: “Well, I’m busy. I’m at trial, or at a deposition.” That’s fine, but it is not fine to keep a reporter waiting, so either find someone else in your office to handle the media query or let them know you can’t make their deadline.
Not all interviews will need to be done immediately, but you must react quickly to take advantage of the opportunity. Frequently, there is some room to negotiate for the timing of the interview.
2. Be prepared: know what you’re going to say.
Here is what we advise law firm public relations clients going into a media interview: what are the two or three most important pieces of information you can impart to the journalist working on the story? Journalists have the weight of an editor on their shoulders all the time now—they’re responsible for two, three or even four stories a day. If they work in TV, many are also responsible for their own sound and video, too. In a 15-minute phone interview, a reporter might remember 3 things you said—but not the things you wanted to be quoted on.
By actually jotting down the three key points you want the reporter to know—whether it is about family law or commercial real estate in 2020 under COVID-19—you can improve your chances of getting quoted for the right content.
3. Offer up another viewpoint, but always answer the question.
Because many media outlets have discontinued ‘beat’ reporters [experienced reporters who have covered a specific industry, for years], if the journalist hasn’t had time to delve into a particular subject area, s/he might not think of asking a critical question. Savvy lawyers can volunteer information by saying, “That’s a great question, but having been in this practice area for some time now, here’s the most important question around this piece of legislation/trend/issue.”
This handy technique—signaling to the journalist that what you’re about to say is essential to their story—but it’s also critical to listen to the question the reporter has posed. We always advise our law firm public relations clients: you must answer the reporter’s question to be credible.
We have all seen spokespeople on TV who have been uber-media trained and do a brilliant job of not answering a reporter’s questions. It makes for some disjoined, and frustrating, interviews. Worse, you also stand an excellent chance of alienating the reporter and you’ll never be invited back, if that happens.
4. Refrain from technical answers and jargon.
Pretend that you are sitting in your grandmother’s kitchen and trying to explain the problem or situation to her using non-technical language. Impart the information in bite-sized chunks. A reporter is much more likely to understand. Avoid technical terms or anything with numbers. People can’t relate to a barrage of numbers, but they know how big a microwave, a car or a house is, so if you’re citing size examples, use an analogy people can relate to. Here’s a brilliant example, when comparing millions to billions:
1 million seconds is 11.5 days 1 billion seconds is 31.75 years
If you don’t have the answer for something, don’t guess—reporters work on accuracy. Tell them you will get them a response by their deadline.
5. Stay on topic.
Sometimes, a lawyer will either chit-chat a little too much or go down a path the reporter didn’t ask about. Mistakenly, lawyers believe the formal interview is over and they revert to small talk or gossip. The reporter is not your friend—s/he is a professional doing a job.
We tell law firm public relations clients the interview is over when the reporter has left the building (like Elvis!), or you’ve hung up the phone. Most reporters will continue to take notes if they find the information of interest—the interview is still considered to be ‘on the record.’
On occasion, we have had law firm public relations clients say, “I was misquoted.” In our experience, people are rarely misquoted—it’s more likely they said something they didn’t mean to say. Here’s our top-drawer advice: if you don’t want to see it in print, don’t say it.
6. Don’t ask to see your quotes, or a copy of the story, before publication.
We advise our law firm public relations clients that asking a reporter to email you a copy of the story prior to publication is not only a breach of newsroom protocol [it can actually get the reporter fired], it also positions you, the lawyer, as an amateur in media relations. Refrain!
7. Be prepared for the story, or your quotes, to be cut.
We always tell our law firm public relations clients to get excited only when they see the story published online or in hardcopy. Every reporter has an editor. Reporting the news is a fast-moving business.