Toeing the line: Is commenting on the presidential election too risky for law firms?

October 14, 2016

Every four years the U.S. presidential election cycle creates the potential for a seismic shift in the political and regulatory landscape. From bold proposals aimed at changing the estate tax, to the impact of a new administration on IP and patent policy, elections can have significant—and sometimes immediate—consequences for individuals and corporations alike.

This presents an incredible opportunity for law firms and their attorneys to establish themselves as thought leaders by contributing to and shaping public discourse around significant policy proposals through exposure in high profile media outlets. It’s important law firms don’t miss out on the chance to help their clients and prospects understand what the outcome of an election can mean for their personal and business interests.

However, lawyers—often with good reason—prefer not to comment on politically charged topics that can rub clients the wrong way or risk criticizing an incoming administration. This is especially true in an election with two historically polarizing candidates.

With this in mind, here are five considerations for lawyers and law firm communications professionals when contemplating commenting on the current election:

Avoid the politics

Yes, it is possible to speak about election-related matters without getting into the politics of a particular issue or identifying with a partisan ideology. Stick with the facts and stay away from speculation or opinion. Consider discussing what can be done to prepare for a policy change, rather than weighing in on the merits of the proposal itself, or offering up historic context about how a change compares with proposals of the past. What would need to happen to see the proposal go into law? What types of roadblocks have similar proposals faced? If a journalist is looking for a source to take a side on a matter, the interview might not be a fit.

Think client first

Remember, the main goal when interacting with the media is to demonstrate thought leadership to clients and prospects, and to help them understand what election-related developments mean for their interests. When determining where to invest PR efforts, start by asking which groups of clients have the most at stake with the election and/or particular proposals, and how will the outcome affect their interests. If clients are already making queries related to the election, this may present an excellent area of focus for PR efforts.

Plan ahead

Competition for visibility in high-profile media outlets on hot-button issues can be very competitive. But with proper planning, it’s possible to become a go-to source for journalists looking for commentary on what the election means for businesses and individuals. Identify early on what the issues are that will mean the most for clients and prospects and the spokespeople best able to address those issues. While elections can be unpredictable, advance planning will provide a roadmap for reacting to breaking developments and identifying opportunities. Additionally, getting ahead of the news cycle by drafting a byline article or client alert on a topic that has not yet been reported by mainstream media is an excellent way to build credentials for future opportunities.

Align with broader PR strategy

Don’t talk just to talk. When developing a plan to address the presidential election, make sure to incorporate it into a broader PR strategy. Start with specific areas that are already being considered for profile building when it comes to identifying opportunities.

Monitor incoming news queries

This may be the time of the year that marketers hear from their partners about incoming media queries. Screen, screen, screen. Using the tips above can help prevent being included in biased or slanted stories that will alienate current and potential clients.  

Most importantly, don’t miss out. While election-related stories can emerge more than a year ahead of election day, the news doesn’t stop on November 8. It’s not too late to get started.