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When the media calls, be prepared to deliver: Schilder

By Jennifer Brown, AdvocateDaily.com Senior Editor

In the fast-paced world of daily media, getting a shot at being quoted by a journalist on deadline means you must be ready to deliver relevant and succinct comments, often on a moment’s notice, says Toronto public relations professional Jana Schilder.

The opportunity to speak to reporters can be fleeting — they need answers fast and are often juggling more than one story. Making yourself available with pertinent remarks could put you in a reporter’s contacts list under “favourites.”

“Lawyers don’t always understand the speed of the news cycle,” says Schilder, co-founder of The Legal A Team. “Sometimes I get pushback from some who say, ‘Well, I’m busy. I’m in court on a trial in Kenora.’ That’s fine, but it is not OK to keep a reporter waiting, so either find someone else in your office to handle it or let them know you can’t make their deadline.”

Taking a few minutes out of the day to give a media interview isn’t a significant time commitment and could go far to promoting you as a subject matter expert in your practice area, she says.

“Everyone can get away for 10 minutes. I think lawyers have this idea that they have to set aside half a day to do this. No, you don’t,” Schilder tells AdvocateDaily.com. “A Globe and Mail interview is typically about 15 minutes.”

For that 10-15 minutes to pay dividends, you should spend a little time gathering your thoughts so that what you say makes it to the final version of the story, gets published and positions you as someone knowledgeable in the area, she says.

Here are Schilder’s top tips for making sure your news interview is a success and how not to torpedo the opportunity.

Be prepared: Know what you’re going to say

The first thing we tell clients to think about is the two or three most important pieces of information they can impart to the journalist working on the story — that is more pertinent now than ever. Journalists have the weight of an editor on their shoulders all the time now — they’re responsible for two, three or even four stories a day. If they work in TV, they’re responsible for their own sound and video,” she says.

Organizing your thoughts and writing down some notes can make the experience a positive one for you and the reporter, Schilder says.

“Many people just go into an interview and answer the reporter’s questions, which is great, but they don’t remember what it is they said. By actually jotting down the three key points you want the reporter to know — whether it is about family law or the state of mergers and acquisitions in Toronto in 2019 — you can guarantee you will say the things you want to be quoted on,” she says.

Not all interviews will need to be done immediately, but understand you may have to react quickly to take advantage of the opportunity, Schilder says.

“I know journalists who typically send out six to 10 calls for a story, but interview only the first three people who respond,” she says. “With the rest, they will say they have all the sources they need. Lawyers do not always understand that, so one of the things we spend considerable time on in media training is that if you want to play, you need to be fast about returning that media call.”

Offer up another viewpoint but always answer the question

“Because we don’t have ‘beat’ reporters anymore if the journalist hasnt had time to delve into a particular subject area, he or she might not think of asking a critical question,” Schilder says. “You can volunteer information by saying, ‘That’s a great question, but having been in this practice area for some time now, here’s the most important issue around this piece of legislation.’”

She says it’s about signalling to the journalist that what youre about to say is essential to the story. But it’s also critical to listen to the questions and not just provide your own messaging, Schilder says.

“We always tell the client, You have to answer the reporter’s question. Otherwise, you will get a disjointed interview, and you also stand an excellent chance of alienating the reporter. It’s just disrespectful, and you’ll never be invited back if that ever happens,” she says.

Refrain from technical answers and jargon

“Avoid technical terms or anything with numbers,” Schilder says. “People can’t relate to numbers, but they know how big a car or house is, so if you’re doing size examples, use an analogy people can relate to.”

If you don’t have the answer for something, don’t guess — reporters work on accuracy, she warns, adding you should tell them you will get them a response and commit to following up.

“One of the best pieces of advice I received was from an ex-CBC reporter who said what you want is to talk to the reporter as though she is your grandma sitting across the kitchen table from you. Impart the information in bite-sized chunks to help the reporter understand what you mean,” Schilder says.

Stay on topic

“Sometimes, the lawyer will either chit-chat a little too much or go down a path the reporter didn’t ask about, and they think they are just being social. The reporter is not your friend — he or she is a professional doing a job,” Schilder says.

We tell clients the interview is only over when the reporter has left the building, or you’ve hung up the phone,” she says.

Most reporters will continue to take notes if they find the information of interest — the discussion is still considered to be on the record, Schilder says.

“I’ve had some clients say, ‘I was misquoted.’ In my experience, people are rarely misquoted — it’s more likely they said something, and didn’t realize it,” she says. “If you don’t want to see it in print, don’t say it.”

Don’t ask to see your quotes or a copy of the story

“We tell all our clients that if you ask to see it, you will be perceived as a complete amateur. If you’re speaking to the Globe and Mail, the National Post or Canadian Business do not ask to see it,” Schilder says. “Just be very careful about what you say and think about the information you want to impart.”

Be prepared for the story or your quotes to be cut

“You should only get excited when you see the story published online or in hard copy, and if it’s a good story,” says Schilder.

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