Briefing senior management on dealing with the media
A critical job of in-house lawyers is “risk prevention” – a somewhat nebulous task. You can think about it as maximizing value-creation and minimizing value-destruction. Such risk arises when senior management engages with the media.
Everything from stock price to lawsuit fodder is at stake. In-house lawyers can minimize the risk by providing guidance about likely pitfalls to senior management before they deal with the media, no matter the outlet or the announcement.
Tips for in-house counsel briefing executives
- If it’s a crisis follow the crisis plan.
- Establish a relationship with the corporate communications team before there is a problem and work closely with them when preparing the executive.
- Ensure only authorized executives speak for the company.
- Review and clear any written communication, especially in a crisis.
- Be willing to compromise on language; the wording cannot be overly legalistic. Staying silent is usually not an option.
- Publicly-traded companies must ensure compliance with Regulation FD and any “quiet period” requirements.
- Working with a public relations firm or company communications team may not be covered by the attorney-client privilege.
Tips for executives engaging with the media
- Take any media training offered by the company and follow any media relations policy.
- Know that anything they say to the media is likely “fair game” to make the article or the broadcast.
- They must prepare – “winging it” is a terrible idea.
- Prepare and follow talk-points carefully. Talk to the facts – don’t speculate. Having to correct statements can hurt the company’s reputation and prolong a crisis.
- Remember the audience for any communication is the public, the Board of Directors, your employees, your shareholders, regulators, and plaintiffs’ counsel. There are legal risks tied to any statement made to the media regardless of good intentions. What you say can and will be used against the company.
- Understand that an interview is like a deposition: listen closely to what’s being asked, watch out for leading questions, avoid speculating, no jokes, and remember your answers can negatively impact the company’s reputation and stock price. Don’t defame anyone with your answers.
- Be polite and don’t lose your cool.
- Apologies are okay – if vetted in advance.
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