Inside the Media
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To order Winning with the News Media:
Below are excerpts from the Lawyers & Lawsuits chapter of
Winning with the News Media
Copyright © 2005, 2001, 1999, 1996
By Clarence Jones
Lawyers & Lawsuits
In a Media Crisis, Your
When you get to work and find the 60 Minutes crew waiting in your reception area, you know it’s going to be a bad day. The first thing many executives do is call their lawyer. Particularly if they know a lawsuit has been filed — or is about to be filed. Some don’t even bother to call the attorney. They’ve been conditioned to believe that lawsuits automatically mean "no comment."
If you take news media problems to an attorney, you’ll usually get bad advice. My presentation at a symposium sponsored by the American Bar Association was titled: "In a Media Crisis, Conventional Wisdom, Your Reflexes, and Your Lawyer Will Always Be Wrong."
Lawyers Don't Understand
You need to call your lawyer for LEGAL advice. But not for advice about dealing with the news media. All over America, executives in both government and industry have abdicated. In any kind of crunch, they hand over their power to their attorneys. They ask them what to do, and then do it religiously. Even when their high-priced media consultants are telling them to do something entirely different.
Most lawyers do not understand the news media game. This is a different arena. A lawyer’s training and experience — the instincts developed in the courtroom — will often lead to disaster in the media. By following the attorney’s advice, you will probably lose the media battle, and perhaps the war.
And/or the corporation. And/or your job.
You need to hear the attorney’s assessment of the legal problems you may create by talking to a reporter. PLUS the opinion of a skilled, experienced media consultant. THEN you carefully weigh all the risks and benefits in both arenas.
In many cases, critical media coverage will do much more damage to your organization than a jury’s verdict. Even if that verdict costs you millions of dollars. Bad media stories can destroy employee morale and productivity, turn customers away, depress stock prices, and influence future jurors who will go into court already prejudiced against you.
I maintain that it is your job as an executive to listen to both your lawyer and your media consultant, then decide what to do. It is your job and your responsibility to make the final decision, not your lawyer’s.
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Why Do Lawyers Avoid the Media?
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The CEO’s Bias
The CEO carries a bias from personal experience. The CEO socializes with lawyers; plays golf with them; respects their wisdom, skill and loyalty; has invested a lot of money in them. They have walked through a lot of fires together, and emerged victorious. Perhaps built the company together.
Most CEOs have a lot more experience with lawyers than with reporters. When the media fire breaks out, that past experience can lead the CEO to quickly accept the lawyers’ advice, and dismiss the counsel of the public relations expert.
That decision may put the organization in great peril. It is a difficult balancing act. It is easy to turn everything over to the lawyers. It is hard to hear both sides, and then make the tough decisions.
But that’s what bosses are paid to do.