Speak Up

It's not uncommon for our reporters to call up a company involved in litigation for its side of the story only to get stonewalled. The general counsel refuses to give an interview or never returns reporters' calls. I can only assume that the GC hopes that by not giving an interview the story will disappear. That's never the case. The story is published, but often is unbalanced in your adversary's favor.

The challenge that every business faces is how best to communicate its ideas and strategies, both proactively and reactively. The legal department should be intimately involved in corporate communications--from working with the marketing and PR departments to reassuring shareholders and crafting responses to lawsuits. In times of crisis, legal has to be involved in guiding what the company can say and who should say it.

Many PR experts and law firms are creating special training programs not only to help their clients understand the importance of having a solid communications system in place, but also to give them hands-on experience in how to deal with the media. This is the direct result of the backlash that invariably results from a botched response to a crisis.

The keys to having a successful communications strategy involve a few simple tactics. The first is to control the message. If you don't, your adversaries will. Plaintiffs' attorneys are almost always willing to talk to the media and often proactively issue press releases when they file cases. If you refuse to respond to media inquiries, the plaintiff's message is the only one the public will hear.

The second tactic is to identify the right corporate spokesperson. Journalists would rather speak to the CEO than a public relations spokesperson. Work with that person to achieve point number one. The best way to control the message is to identify a spokesperson who knows how to give the journalist what he wants, but also how to extract information from that journalist. A journalist often has already talked to the other side and has spoken to more experts than your company has access to.

So the third strategy is quite simple: ask questions. By finding out the information your interviewer has, you can shape your side of the story and ensure you get the story told that you need to have told.

Let me know what you think by e-mailing me at nat@insidecounsel.com.

Staff Writer

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