“How can we get our quotes in the Financial Times?” law firm partners and their communications teams often ask us during our media training courses for lawyers. One of the skills we teach people in these workshops is knowing what makes a good quote and understanding what will appeal to a journalist.
When you’re being interviewed, the journalist will constantly be asking themselves: “Is this of interest to my audience?” Every now and then, an interviewee will say something that will make the journalist think: “Right, that’s it. That’s my quote.”
So what makes a good quote for a journalist?
What should lawyers bear in mind when being interviewed? We thought it might be interesting to analyse some recent comments quoted in the Financial Times to see why they made the cut.
Under the heading “Sunak unveils post-Brexit City reforms”, the FT reported that the “Chancellor says proposals represent ‘a new chapter for financial services’.” Having summarised these proposals, the reporter then needs some comment and analysis – something that they will often look to lawyers for.
Rob Moulton, the global co-chair of financial regulation at Latham & Watkins, is quoted as saying: “The policy behind the proposals is striking — the UK intends to go in its own direction, uninfluenced by ongoing EU reforms, and unafraid of having non-equivalent rules.” This works well because it’s punchy and straightforward, especially with words such as “striking”. Moulton’s quote then goes on to offer a clear, concise analysis of the Chancellor’s suggestions. You might agree with Moulton’s view or you might not, but at least you know what he thinks.
Here’s another one, this time about efforts to protect the UK’s steel industry against cheap exports. Is this initiative sensible? Will it work? Could there be unintended consequences? The FT’s reporters turned to James Webber, a partner at Shearman & Sterling who described the system as “well designed,” because it will, he believes, allow the UK authorities to “concentrate effort on whether subsidy is the right policy tool — not on compliance with detailed administrative rules”.
Again, there’s a clear general comment followed by some explanation. Perhaps some punchier wording would work well here. Keeping a comment brief with short sentences will increase the chances of the reporter quoting the whole thing. We know that lawyers like to qualify every phrase and add caveats, but journalists don’t like this writing style – we like bold statements.
Obviously, this can pose a risk but, as part of the message testing and development aspect of our media coaching courses for law firms, we look at how lawyers can deliver bold, memorable comments without offending clients or making themselves a hostage to fortune.
Another recent story in the FT featuring a lawyer concerned financier Neil Woodward, with the FCA calling for stricter controls on funds. Here, the final par quotes Karagh Gilliatt of CMS warning that if the FCA demands more resources of authorised fund managers (AFMs) then “the model could quickly become commercially unviable”, with fund managers looking offshore as a way around the problem.
A warning is an excellent way for lawyers to be quoted in the media. A part of our training courses, we look at what makes a media story.
Risks and threats are meat and drink to journalists. Gilliatt does well here to provide one. Adding a brief bit of advice or hinting at a solution completes the picture. You obviously don’t want to say too much and there isn’t the time and space anyway to go into much detail but you can always make it clear that you know what you’re talking about thanks to your direct experience. This will encourage readers to pick up the phone and give you some business.
Finally, another random example concerns cryptos, a subject that also implies risk and huge return and is therefore very newsworthy. This is a good example of the useful solution element in a quote mentioned above. “The digital database that holds the record of all deals is so widely distributed it is impossible to unwind a transaction and restore your funds — unlike in the case of credit card fraud,” explains the FT. So what hope is there for our readers here?
The story goes on: “’ It can be impossible to recover the funds, which I have not seen in other assets. Except shipwrecks,” said Burr Eckstut, a cryptocurrency specialist at Covington, the London law firm.”
This quote has that hint of a solution expressed in simple language. The reference to Eckstut’s own experience is good because it tells us that he has direct knowledge of these issues and he’s working at the coalface every day. The comment about shipwrecks is striking and paints a word picture. It’s also an analogy, which is a good way of making a point and explaining complex issues.
We’ve found many quotes from law firms in the FT and just selected a very few here. There would be many more quotes submitted by the PR consultancies and in house comms teams of law firms that never made it into the piece, they aimed at. Sometimes this is due to a lack of space, sometimes quotes arrive after the deadline.
On other occasions, the journalist will approach three or four firms with the expectation that some won’t reply in time and others will provide something that is turgid, technical and says very little.
We look at all these issues during our media training courses for law firms and suggest ways to overcome the problems. Most of all, though, we look at what makes a story, what journalists are looking for from a lawyer and how law firms can get quoted in the FT and their other target media.
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