LAWYERS ARE not doing their clients any favours by advising them to disengage with the media during crises, chairman of the International Bar Association (IBA) Media Committee Peter Bartlett advised attendees of the IBA conference in Auckland recently.
“Many lawyers don’t have a lot of experience of interaction with the media, Bartlett told the packed final session of the conference. “They fear and mistrust the media, and are therefore very cautious in what they say. In some situations, that’s not the right way to react during a crisis.”
If a crisis occurs, it is sometimes necessary to make appropriate comment to the media to prevent further damage to the company. Bartlett argued that it is better to prepare a positive response that will not amount to admitting liability, as giving no comment may suggest trying to hide something.
“There are situations where a public relations adviser is required because professional advice is needed. In a situation that’s developing very quickly, you need someone who’s been there before to advise how to react through the crisis.”
The message was that the worst time to manage a media crisis is while it is occurring. Companies need to analyse risk management areas and examine corporate governance, safety, ethics and conflict issues, Bartlett said.
He advised companies to consider worst case scenarios and plan how to react when something goes wrong.
Companies should establish a chain of command so that if there is a major crisis, only a representative like the CEO is speaking on behalf of the company.
Bartlett is the chairman of Minter Ellison’s Melbourne office and he advises newspaper group John Fairfax Holdings in Victoria.