Many PSLs are responsible for their department’s knowledge-based marketing, which often focuses on written articles about technical aspects of the law, but should you be improving your relationship with journalists? If so, how do you know what they want from you so that you can be the first lawyer they call?
With a fortnight to go before our Bristol KN-UK session on being a media-savvy lawyer, I asked Tony Coll, media expert, why lawyers should invest in improving their understanding of the media and how they can get over their nerves to become a go-to expert for journalists on their area of expertise.
Firstly, Tony, why are lawyers shy of engaging with journalists and why should they change their ways?
What do you think of the media? Do you have a mental image of bright, shiny young people, asking inane questions on a sofa at some ridiculous hour of the morning? Fierce and tireless investigators with rapier minds? Or a sleazy old hack in a green eyeshade, unshaven and reeking of booze as he bashes out scandal on his old Remington..?
These stereotypes live on, firstly because they contain a grain of truth, but just as importantly, because most people don’t meet all that many journalists, so old ideas from movies and TV tend to stick.
This means that most of us are understandably wary of talking to journalists. We think we’ll be tricked, or mocked, or have our private lives plastered all over News at Ten.
Lawyers are particularly mistrustful of the Fourth Estate. You know that you would suffer very serious consequences if your words caused a journalist to make a factual error, breach a confidence or report something that was sub judice. So you tend to be wary of speaking to journalists.
But try looking at it from their point of view.
When a reporter asks a lawyer for a comment, s/he will often get ‘no comment’ or an answer so hedged around with qualifications and circumlocutions that s/he grasps either the wrong end of the stick or no end at all. And the comment will often be delivered in such a dry and dispassionate way as to drain the story of all emotional content.
So no lawyers do this particularly well? How can we improve?
That was the bad news.
The good news is that there is a HUGE demand for lawyers who communicate well in the media and there is a great opportunity to improve individual lawyers’ profiles and the profile of their law firm.
Journalists know that the law affects all of our lives, but tend not to understand it.
You, as a lawyer, know how your legal specialism touches lives, but probably don’t know how to explain it in a media-friendly way.
The solution is to take a media coaching or training session in which you learn to think like a journalist, learning the elements of news – what makes or doesn’t make a story. (Spoiler alert: the first letters of the elements of news spell the word ‘chortle’.)
You can then practise potentially difficult situations until you’re confident in your ability not only to avoid the pitfalls but to spot opportunities for positive media coverage.
Media training is a very effective way to teach you how to
• Talk generally in the media about your specialist field
• Speak effectively to the media on behalf of a client at the end of a trial
• Put the case for clients preparing for a class action
• Make effective, professional in-house videos on any of the above for your company website
What’s more, you’ll go into journalists’ contacts books (if you want to!) and get called upon whenever a comment or explanation is required from your branch of the law.
Becoming a media-savvy lawyer will heighten both your company’s profile, and your own profile within the company.
If you are interested in improving your understanding of the needs of journalists, so that you can become the go-to expert in your field of expertise, come along to our Bristol training on 27th April. More info here.