Here’s a real winner: a man was arrested on his honeymoon for soliciting a prostitute. I can understand why that Chicago Sun-Timesstory, “Suburban man arrested for soliciting prostitute on his honeymoon,” by Jon Seidel and Stefano Esposito, has become so popular. On what was supposed to be a very special day, his wife noticed he’d gone missing, and lo and behold, she found out that he’d responded to an ad on a website that was posted by an undercover detective. I think it’s safe to say that this marriage isn’t going to be so great, and it’s not the only example of a failed partnership.
There are partnerships in business that don’t always go well, and a good relationship is especially important when doing publicity. Whether a company has merged with another, has acquired new clients, or simply wants to publicize new hires, everyone has to be on the same page. Not only does the message have to be clear and consistent, but anyone communicating with the press and public should have the same tone, facts, goals, and style. After all, the company might end up getting the kind of publicity the newly married couple got, and no one would want that.
Attorneys know that they have to be careful about what they put online, and they usually use social media sparingly, if at all. I’ve noticed that attorneys limit their social media activity to LinkedIn because they think it’s the safest. However, everyone has to be careful, no matter how professional a website might seem.
One attorney paid a heavy price for his online activity, which was deserved, but it also affected a couple of women’s reputation. According to Martha Neil’s article,“Sending female intern’s horror-film clip to local law firms get sex-partner suspended for 3 years” in the ABA Journal, a partner of a law firm wanted to punish an intern that didn’t respond to his advances, so he had a paralegal send out a clip from a horror film that showed the intern nude. Actually, it wasn’t really her, but he said it was.
Even though her name isn’t in the article, it was a total embarrassment for her because many attorneys saw the clip. Plus, the paralegal looked bad because she was the one who sent out the email to other law firms. Luckily, the partner ended up getting suspended, but he created a mess that will probably take a while to clean up.
It’s a great lesson for attorneys to be careful about what they post or send out online, even if they think it’s a practical joke. It’s safe to say that if you have any doubts about posting a photo, quote, or link, don’t post it at all. Like our mothers often told us, “If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” Attorneys have to be careful in court, but in the court of public opinion, they have to be especially careful, because they are held to high standards in communications.
Posting online is like speaking: people are usually advised to think before they speak in case they say something they regret. When you’re online, it’s even more important to think before you post because whatever you put out there will last a very long time.
Here’s something that caught my eye: “Judge wears nun disguise before convicting woman of bank robbery,” by Kim Janssen, about a judge that really used creativity to crack a case in his courtroom. He wore a nun outfit to demonstrate that the skin color around his eyes could be seen because the defendant in a robbery case claimed the outfit she wore didn’t expose her skin color.
What I like about the case is that the judge thought outside the box to prove his point in court. We usually think of the need for law firms to be careful about what they say, whether it’s in a court of law or the court of public opinion. However, attorneys should think creatively, especially when it comes to public relations.
Sometimes it takes a creative approach to crack the media because people like unique ideas and angles. In a previous post, I mentioned an attorney who was super-creative in court when he submitted a cartoon legal brief instead of the usual text version that people see all the time. It got him a lot of publicity and he still got his point across in court. I know another attorney who represents churches in land use battles, and he will often quote the Bible in oral arguments.
What can you come up with that’s unusual? It’s something to think about to get you and your firm more attention.
I often get media inquiries and I check them to see if a request would fit one of my clients. Usually they’re straightforward and I don’t think much about them, but recently, I saw this one from a freelance writer:
For a story in a national publication, I’m looking for input from experts and pizza restaurant owners on preparing for a weather-related disaster (floods, tornadoes, fire, hurricanes, etc). The story covers how to set up an emergency plan, train staff, and make sure the business has enough insurance coverage – before a disaster strikes.
What I found intriguing about this press request was that it was about pizza, but not about any scary story, such as when employees do gross things when making pizzas. We usually think of videos of bad employee behavior as “disasters,” but this press request is about real disasters and how pizza places handle them.
This media request is a reminder that you should be prepared for a media crisis. People often think that crisis communication is needed for a natural disaster, sex scandal, or government corruption. Even if you believe there’s no chance of you having such problems, you still need to think about what you would do if you or your business faced a crisis. A crisis for you may not be the same for someone else, so decide what plan of action you want to take, and how you want to respond. Create a “dark” area of your website with links, think of statements you’d make to the media, and decide who will be a spokesperson.
There is a brief article by S.V. Date on NPR’s website called “NRA’s ‘Anti-Gun’ List Includes Some Not-So-Obvious Names” which says that the NRA’s list has over 500 names on it. I’m surprised the NRA would keep such a list, but what doesn’t surprise me are the celebrities who say one thing and do another. Date points out that Matt Damon and Carrie Fisher used weapons in their movies, and it reminded me of a video someone told me about, which I’ve posted here (it’s the clean version of the original).
Mike Hunt, who created the video, shows celebrities speaking out against guns, then shows scenes of them using guns in TV shows and movies. He’s obviously pointing out those celebrities’ hypocrisy, and he has a point. When it comes to the media, whether we’re famous or not, we all have to think carefully about what we say…and do. Look at those celebrities in the video: they’re saying guns are bad, but they’re making money by using guns to entertain the public. Since a celebrity’s job as a professional communicator is to influence people, do their actions or words matter? Can their movies and TV shows influence people to use guns, even though they say they’re against them? Basically, they’re mixing messages, and it’s something that we should also be careful about. And it’s not like the NRA is in the clear, either. By keeping a list, they’re giving people different messages about freedom. They want people to have the freedom to own guns, but they’re keeping track of people who are against guns. Whether a list is kept by a government group or not, it has negative connotations, especially once it hits the media. The bottom line is that we should have consistency in character. John Maxwell and other public speakers have said that you have ethics, or you don’t, and it’s important to consider what you say, and how you act, wherever you are.
I’ve been saying for a while that one way to promote yourself is through photos, and I was reminded of their importance when I saw a fire. Actually, I didn’t see a real fire where I live or work, but I’ve been following the story about a big fire in Bridgeport. Even though we hear about fires throughout Chicago, we might not pay much attention to them, unless they’re part of a case that an attorney is working on or if there is a lot of drama surrounding them.
Since that fire in Bridgeport was in an abandoned building, it didn’t seem like a big deal, but then I saw photos of it popping up on Facebook and other social media. What got people’s attention was the aftermath of the fire. The firemen spent hours in frigid temperatures fighting the blaze, and the water they used ended up freezing so that the building looked beautiful.
At first, stunning photos were posted on the Chicago Tribune website. Then the social news site BuzzFeedposted “amazing photos of [the] beautifully icy aftermath” that were taken by photographers from various media services. After that, news websites around the world posted photos, including the Wall Street Journal. Who would’ve thought that a fire in an area of the city that isn’t visited by many people would become worldwide news?
I often talk about the speed of modern media, and how attorneys have to be ready to respond because the news cycle happens in hours and even minutes. When you have a serious case that is getting a lot of publicity, you might feel pressure to act responsibly so that you don’t get negative press. However, in other parts of your life, such speed could work in your favor. Even if you simply see a really beautiful bird on your vacation, take a picture and post in on your website and in other social media. You don’t need the fancy cameras that professional photographers have; you can just use your phone. After all, you never know where your photo might end up and what attention it can get to help your reputation.
There is worldwide coverage of the story about Urooj Khan, the Chicago man who won the lottery and ended up dead from cyanide poisoning. It’s a real-life mystery that all kinds of media are covering. So you’d think anyone connected to Khan would be careful about what they’re saying in the press. However, it seems that his wife didn’t think about what kind of impression she was giving when she talked to the Chicago Sun-Times. In Stefano Esposito and Mitch Dudek’s article, “Wife of poisoned lottery winner hopes ‘God will reveal thetruth’,” she said that she gave Khan his last meal. Also, to let people know that she had nothing to do with his death, she said, “No, I loved him to death.”
Yes, she probably did love him, but using that phrase is really not appropriate for the circumstances. This is a great example of thinking carefully when you talk to the media because what you say will be everywhere and could really embarrass you.
That’s especially true if you’re not being honest. The latest example of how what you say can come back to haunt you is Lance Armstrong, who admitted to using performance-enhancing drugs after several public denials. The Guardian writer Stephen McMillan summed up what Armstrong has said in his article, “Lance Armstrong’s doping denials – in quotes,” which blatantly shows that he lied. I wonder what kind of advice his publicist gave him over the years, and how they’re going to deal with the fallout now.
To prevent any kind of problem, whether it’s just a slip of the tongue or something more serious, you should be prepared to talk to the media. One way to get ready is to do a mock interview and have someone throw all kinds of questions at you to practice what you’d say. Or you can simply get advice from someone who’s experienced, or talk to your public relations professional to find out what you should do. After all, whether an issue seems big or small, the wrong words can kill your reputation.
Dec. 21 is long gone, and the world didn’t end, as the Mayans supposedly predicted. Even though that day is history and people have continued their routines, I still think the topic is interesting, especially when attorneys are involved. I read about one attorney in the article “UFO lovers, light-seekers and lawyers await Maya end of days”, by Alexandra Alper, who got caught up in the hype because she traveled to Mexico from Brazil to see how the world would change on that day. She seemed sincerely inspired and impressed when she saw people meditating around her, and the other participants were excited, too.
I can understand why people would want to go there, especially if they’re younger and want some kind of adventure, but I was surprised an attorney would take the event so seriously. Once her pilgrimage was over and she went back to Brazil, what did her clients and coworkers think? It seems like it would tarnish her professional image, not just for believing what others were calling a “hoax,” but whom she was hanging around with as well. Some people were expecting UFOs there, and others saw this as part of their lifelong quest. Since the attorney was quoted along with the others, it didn’t really add up to good publicity for her. Instead, attorneys should be associated with credible people to have a good public image.
An example of negative associations can be found right here in Chicago with the Drew Peterson trial. His attorneys have publicly battled each other with charges of unethical conduct and mishandling of the case. The most recent incident is calling the police over a threatening email. At this point, with all the media coverage of that case and the attorneys’ problems with each other, their reputation has certainly suffered. When it comes to publicity, a good public image should be the goal, not publicity for publicity’s sake.
It’s important to make sure that your reputation is solid, and if anything is going to be shared publicly about a case or your firm, get approval, and find out if there are any people or situations involved that may cause problems. For instance, if a reporter wants to quote you or someone else at your firm, find out if you are allowed to talk and how much you can divulge about a case. After all, you shouldn’t become guilty by association or do something that will make you look bad.
Sometimes when we’re doing publicity, we might be afraid to mention the unmentionable. Like death: it makes us squeamish and fearful. And cremation doesn’t fare any better. After all, how many times have you heard the word and thought, “What a great promotional opportunity”?
Yet that’s what the Cremation Society of Illinois did: they had an open house and invited Barbara Brotman from the Chicago Tribune to do a story about it called “Crematorium holds open house to demystify process.” When I saw it I was thrilled, not because it’s such a positive, feel-good topic, but because it’s a great way for attorneys to learn about dealing with unsavory topics when they need to deal with the media.
Attorneys are often afraid to talk about problems that they’re having with a case, so they’re tempted to say “no comment” to keep themselves and their clients safe. Even though attorneys don’t intend to sound dishonest, such a comment can come off as negative and make it seem as if they’re covering up something. So the best thing to do is to tell your own bad news quickly and succinctly.
For instance, if there’s been a personnel issue at your firm, you could say something such as, “We have a clear policy that respects all people. We’re aware of the problem and want to look into it.” Or, if the media has been misrepresenting the facts about a case that you’ve been working on, you can contact them and correct the information while still maintaining your professionalism. This is one of the ways that you can present the truth so that your side of the story will be considered.
The Cremation Society held the open house to demystify a gruesome topic. Attorneys can also demystify the legal process to let the public know that they have nothing to hide. What’s important is thinking about how what you say in the media will affect your case and your reputation.
Christmas is around the corner, and as usual, we’ve been inundated with Santa Claus. Actually, I’ve seen Santa Claus around since I was a kid, so he’s been with me pretty much my whole life. When I think of Santa, a fat, round, red guy comes to mind, and not a spokesperson for healthy living.
Yet AARP created an interesting twist with Santa by making a list of why he’s actually healthy in “Claus and Effect”. Have you ever thought of Santa as being the picture of health? I sure haven’t, but AARP has come up with some ways we can be inspired by him so that we can be healthy too. The tips include generosity (“hand out toys”), sitting less (“climbing chimneys”), and having a pet (“get a reindeer”).
It just goes to show that everything old can become new again if we learn to repackage something. So as you run around stressed out and enjoying treats, think of Santa. If he can be considered healthy, then we can too. And it’s also a good time to think about how you can reinvent your media message to be fresh and ready for the new year.