I shake my head in disbelief every time somebody who has just been sued is quoted in the newspaper as saying, “We can’t comment because the case is in litigation.” I saw that quote again this morning.
Some people actually think there’s a law somewhere that prohibits them from commenting on lawsuits filed against them. Others even think their attorneys have given them good advice by prohibiting them from talking to reporters. They think that if they say nothing, the silence will help them rather than hurt them.
Let’s say it’s a product liability case. By the time it winds its way through the court system, which could take two years or more, the defendant might, in fact, win the lawsuit. But that could mean two years of plummeting sales and stock prices that eventually force the company into bankruptcy.
Think it can’t happen? Media coach Clarence Jones sees these kinds of situations all the time. In fact, he has found himself in verbal sparring matches with corporate attorneys who insist their clients must zip their lips.
In one instance, when a CEO called him in during a crisis, Clarence told the CEO and the attorney who wanted to remain silent that if they didn’t comment, they should both start tidying up their resumes because their names would be splashed all over the front pages of newspapers for months.
In the end, he won the argument. The CEO did media interviews and the bad story quickly went away.
Clarence was my guest during a teleseminar titled “In a Media Crisis Your Lawyer Will be Wrong.” If you’re the type of person who has unfailing confidence in your attorney, you’ll be surprised at what Clarence has to say. He explains why a lawyer’s job doesn’t mesh with a P.R. person’s job. He even suggests something that will give your lawyer a heart attack: that it’s often beneficial to bring reporters into your decision-making process while you’re dealing with a crisis. That’s what Johnson & Johnson did during the Tylenol murders, and they’re still rated the Number One company when it comes to consumer confidence.