Lawyers who have done our media training courses for law firms and who have had some experience with the media often mention this to us. They’ve done an interview and then clicked on the outlet’s website to read the article only to find that the journalist they spoke to hasn’t got their message. We’re talking principally here about print interviews which is the format that actually gives the reporter the most scope to diverge from what the interviewee has said. Even today they’re also the most likely media interview scenario for a lawyer or anyone else.
So,what can you as a lawyer do to increase the chances of a journalist quoting you accurately and reporting what you told them?
1.Ensure that your key message is relevant to the article.
We explore what makes a story and what journalists are looking for in our media training courses for law firms but generally just tell us something new and that’s relevant to our audience and we’ll be happy. If you fail to do this, then the journalist is likely to go in search of something else. That means of course, that you as the interviewee are more likely to lose control of the interview and find that a little digression becomes the focus of the story rather than your carefully prepared and honed key messages.
It’s important, therefore, to make sure that your message is sufficiently interesting and relevant so that it will hold the journalist’s attention and reduce the chances of them drawing you into a different subject.
2.Focus on that message.
As we always say during our media coaching sessions for lawyers quite often, after an interview, the journalist will look at their notes and find that they’ve scribbled down such a wealth of facts, figures, stories, messages and insights that they’re not sure which ones to use. What they do decide to include in the article might not coincide with what the lawyer that they spoke to wants them to quote.
So, only tell the journalist what you want them to use. If you find yourself being drawn into another subject area or away from your call message in any way, then stop and come back to it.
3.Flag up that key message as well.
What might seem very important to you and should, you might think, be included in your quote above all else might not appear to be so striking and essential to the journalist at the time.
We suggest that you don’t use the phrase “key message,” as it’s rather clumsy and shows that you’ve been media trained. However, choose a form of words such as “What’s really important here is that…” or, better still, because it sounds natural and human, something along the lines of “What really struck me about this is that…” You could also say: “This is absolutely essential…”
Any phrase that will signal to the journalist that what you’re about to say is particularly important will work here.
4.Send an email afterward the interview confirming your key message.
Once you’ve spoken to the journalist it’s often a good idea to email on confirmation of your main points plus spellings of any names and links to any other useful information that you might not have mentioned during the interview. Always do this through your Comms team or public relations agency if you have one. Again, make sure that you have focused on your key message in the email and write it in a simple, conversational style, rather than using formal, written language, as this will make it easier for the journalist to quote you.
5.Ask to check your quotes.
Now, this is quite controversial among journalists and we are regularly asked during our media training sessions for lawyers and other professionals whether you have the right to see something that a journalist has written before it is published. We work around the world and certainly in some cultures this is quite accepted but, in the UK, most of Europe and the US, it is very unusual.
However, one thing you can do is to ask – and no more than ask – to check your quotes. Offering this as a service is something to which a journalist will probably be more amenable. After all they do want to get it factually correct. Certainly, if you have been giving them information that has a complex technical, scientific or legal nature then accuracy is particularly important, and many journalists will be opened to allowing you to help them get the story right.
As we point out in our media training sessions for law firms you can never have complete control over what a journalist writes or broadcasts (you’ll have to book some advertising space for that) but following these five simple rules will help.
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