How to Talk to a Reporter

woman with mega phoneWe’ve all heard the saying, all press is good press.

That’s probably true if you are a celebrity. But if you are a small business, consultant or professional, media can be either a blessing for your business getting you tons of exposure and new customers… or a terrible, bad Yelp-review spawning curse that lives forever on YouTube.

I’ve had more than one client call me after getting surprised with a “consumer reports” type news piece that harmed their online reputation.

I learned through “trial by fire” to deal with the press in 2012 when I defended multiple lawsuits against the Libertarian Party’s Presidential candidate. During that time, I learned how to do press releases and was interviewed by reporters. Now, I’m a regular on a San Diego political radio show called The Andrea Kaye Show on AM 1170.

Politics and press go together like peanut butter and jelly. Business is also a popular topic for the press.

If you get an opportunity to speak with the press, you should grab it. (But never speak to the press about lawsuits or criminal charges involving you!)

Here is a strategy to make talking to reporters effective PR for your business or career.

Step 1: Frame the Story

There’s a saying that you should take to heart. “If you are explaining, you’re losing.” In other words, if you get pounced on by a reporter who is placing you on the defensive, the story is not going well for you.

What you want is to shape the story. Reporters need something interesting that will engage their readers on a gut (i.e. emotional) level. This is called a “news hook.”

Make it easy for the reporter to share your words and see your point of view. The easiest way to do that is to create a “bad guy” who is not you. This doesn’t need to be another person or business.

Here are some appealing “bad guys”:

  • The government (local, state, federal)
  • Taxes
  • Regulations
  • Politicians
  • Foreign competition
  • Big business

Step 2: Highlight the things you are trying to do to help people but are prevented from doing because the “bad guy” is in the way.

Step 3: State that you are willing to dialogue or compromise with the “bad guy” because you are a nice, reasonable person. This will give you credibility. Even though you have pointed to someone or something else as the villain in your story, you won’t be a hero if you aren’t nice.

Step 4: State the public benefits of your position.

You need a message for why your position is the just position — and not just for you but for the reader, too. For example:

  • “I just want to save the people of XYZ town as much money as possible on their lawn care but the new tax on landscapers is preventing me from doing that.”
  • “My goal is to offer everyone the opportunity to have affordable lawn care but the City legislature won’t let me because of this new tax.”
  • “This tax will kill the beautiful landscaping that has been the hallmark of our city. It just makes me sad our children won’t be able to benefit from this tradition.”

Repetition is your friend. If you hit the same message 7 or 8 times in a 10-minute interview, the reporter cannot ignore it.

Bonus Advice: remember that nothing is “off the record.”

Even when the interview is friendly, presenting a story in this way makes it much more likely that you will be quoted extensively and presented favorably.

7 Principles for Good Government are 7 Principles for Life and Business Too

owlSometimes wisdom is best expressed simply.

Former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson carries his Seven Principles of Good Government in his wallet.

They read:

  1. Become reality driven. Don’t kid yourself or others. Find out what’s what and base your decisions and actions on that.
  2. Always be honest and tell the truth. It’s extremely difficult to do any damage to anybody when you are willing to tell the truth–regardless of the consequences.
  3. Always do what’s right and fair. Remember, the more you actually accomplish, the louder your critics become.  You’ve got to learn to ignore your critics. You’ve got to continue to do what you think is right. You’ve got to maintain your integrity.
  4. Determine your goal, develop a plan to reach that goal, and then act. Don’t procrastinate.
  5. Make sure everybody who ought to know what you’re doing knows what you’re doing. Communicate.
  6. Don’t hesitate to deliver bad news. There is always time to salvage things. There is always time to fix things. Henry Kissinger said that anything that can be revealed eventually should be revealed immediately.
  7. Last, be willing to do whatever it takes to get your job done. If you’ve got a job that you don’t love enough to do what it takes to get your job done, then quit and get one that you do love, and then make a difference.

What struck me about these principles is that they are not just for good government, they are seven principles for a good, decent and prosperous life.  They are seven principles for all entrepreneurs who wish to be successful.

I guess that is not surprising since Governor Johnson was a successful, self-made entrepreneur before he became a Governor (on his first attempt at politics, I might add). I also am fortunate to personally know Governor Johnson and can say that he’s also a decent human being.

These principles are things that I’ve always tried to do, as a way of living in integrity and living in the present. Honesty in all you do is extremely important. I intentionally choose clients, employees and business associates who are equally forthright in their dealings with me. I have found that my life is much happier and I am more prosperous when I am surrounded by people who value action, integrity and personal responsibility.

I do not have much to add to these 7 principles, as they are transparently wise.  So I submit them for your consumption. If you would like to know more about Governor Johnson, who is running for President in 2016, I recommend his book: Seven Principles of Good Government: Gary Johnson on Politics, People and Freedom

Also, please contact our business law and real estate law attorneys for a consultation, should you have worries or concerns about your current business.

Election Law Essentials For Third Parties

dollars-and-columns

Money and litigation are weapons used to control election results by the powerful. Third (or minor) party committees, their candidates, and independents are at a significant disadvantage compared to Republicans and Democrats.

I think there are two major reasons for this: (1) lack of resources; (2) barriers to entry created by the powers that be. Sadly, it’s a vicious trap. The laws that were made to create barriers to non Republicans/Democrats rob their third party challengers of resources. And they require resources to overcome.

There is nothing I can do to help third parties overcome lack of money, which is unfortunately a major problem. I can fight the unfair laws to some degree, but those battles require money and are frequently long shots.

But I can create a resource for you. That’s why I wrote a book — coming out July 22, 2015 — just in time for everyone to start gearing up for the 2016 election season. Just Pursuits: How to Run for Office Without Getting Sued, Prosecuted, Audited, Fined, Or Taken Off the Ballot

Just Pursuits book cover

Just Pursuits outlines important legal and practical issues that every third party or independent committee and candidate should consider. Content includes explanations, advice and resources regarding:

  • corporate organization and compliance
  • fundraising an solicitation rules
  • FEC reporting regulations
  • accounting issues
  • regulations governing the interactions between PACs, SuperPACs, parties and candidate committees
  • tax and non-profit issues
  • ballot access
  • regulations on sign placement, cold calls, cold solicitations, election day campaigning, media access
  • debate exclusions

The “major” party candidates have big law firms on retainer. Election law lawyers have all sworn their allegiance to one or the other major parties and do not stray. And so third parties and independents are vulnerable to audits, shut-outs, penalties/fines and lawsuits just because they don’t have the rulebook.

For a limited period of time, I am offering a FREE CD with Bonus Resources for Just Pursuits. Please click on the picture below to get your FREE Just Pursuits Bonus CD by mail. No purchase of the book is required to get the CD. We just ask that you pay $7 S+H to cover our costs. Click the picture or go to JustPursuits.com.

Just Pursuits CD Case

Minimum Wage Increases Affect Everything

american moneyToday Seattle made the economically insane move to increase the minimum wage to $15 per hour, which is more than double the Federal minimum of $7.25 per hour. Other cities and states have also added to wage and price inflation and unemployment rates by doing their own increases in varying amounts. Obviously, I am not a fan. It is bad business, bad economics, and bad for people’s freedom of contract and ability to act like big people capable of making their own choices.

The economic implications of raising the cost of labor is obvious to anyone who has taken more than one semester of economics in college, and should be obvious to politicians. Like all things that are artificially inflated in cost by government regulation, labor will be pushed to the black market. More people will become independent contractors or unemployed and doing things under the table. Prices will go up at places like restaurants or on “Made In America” products, which makes everyone poorer.  But the government gets more tax money and they get to say they are for the “common man” and ending suffering of the poor and underpaid, even though that is not true.

But setting aside all that commentary, changing wage minimums creates a financial nightmare for employers just from a logistical standpoint. Wage rates affect dozens of financial, tax and employment law functions that every business owner needs to be aware of. For example:

  • The cost of unskilled labor increases
  • The cost of overtime and mandatory double time increases (overtime must be 1.5 times the regular rate of pay), which impacts industries such as caretakers/nannies and health care particularly hard
  • The cost of interns increase (no unpaid interns, remember)
  • The risk of new hires increases because you will be spending more to see if someone is any good
  • It flattens wages among the work force, preventing promotions, goals and proper stratification of your employee hierarchy, which can lead to low morale
  • Salaries increase because, in order for exemptions to apply, employees must make a multiple of the minimum wage
  • Payroll taxes increase across the board for both the employer and employee, and there are half a dozen of these taxes
  • Employee tax brackets increase, meaning that employers have to become more vigilant of W4 abuses and unreported tips to avoid huge tax audits
  • Worker’s compensation insurance premiums increase because they are based on total payroll amounts
  • Fringe benefits become unaffordable, which means less tax breaks for both employers and employees
  • Commission plans become unworkable because they are based on minimum wages
  • Penalties for wage violations — even if accidental — increase because they are based on hourly rates
  • 401k plans may have to be restated, as those are set up based on total salary mixes, particularly for small businesses
  • Vacation and PTO plans represent huge liabilities that will prevent acquisitions of businesses and may force more businesses to close when the owner is unable to continue working
  • Employers will be required to raise prices to cover higher overhead, particularly in service industry, or to replace their workforce with machines or outsourced labor
  • Payroll processing costs increase because they are often based on a percentage of the business’s payroll
  • Tipping may become discouraged or disallowed as that adds to an already high wage and increases taxes and all the above costs for the employer
  • Lawsuits for alleged employment violations become richer and more dangerous (even if frivolous and for nuisance value) and may encourage an increase in litigation for both wage and wrongful termination claims
  • The marginal cost of certain labor activities (donning and doffing equipment, for example) and rest breaks (which are paid) become higher, and with the squeeze on cash, hurt all the more for any employer who needs to increase productivity of its workforce to make up for the increased cost
  • Increases in independent contractors mean more paperwork chaos, audits, tax penalties and prosecution risks

Employers are already hurting because of increased regulations and the Affordable Care Act. Unfortunately, the financial, legal and operational impact of such a dramatic wage increase is going to be felt strongly in Seattle, and in any other place crazy enough to try it.

Basics of Defamation, Slander and Libel

angry manHas someone posted a bad review or blog about you or your business?  Are former employees telling your customers that you are a “scam” or that your products and services are poor? You are probably as mad as a bee in a jar about it. Few things can cause such an acute upset like lies being told about you and your business to others. But can you sue? And, more importantly, should you?

Defamation is defined as the communication of a false statement about another person (or business) that harms the victim’s reputation. The false claim can be made to just one person, or to a group of people. It is not the size of the group that matters; it is the lack of truth that results in damaging a person’’s or business’s reputation.  The point is that they are lying about you to others.

Traditionally, the tort of “defamation” was broken down to written defamation (“libel”) and spoken defamation (“slander”). But for modern purposes, this distinction does not matter much, and both types of statements are included in the same tort.  Libel defamation includes lies written on internet websites, blogs, forums, social media, newspapers, books, and magazines.

People who lie on the internet behind cowardly “anonymous” postings cannot hide, however, if the plaintiff is determined enough. It is possible to bring a lawsuit against unknown persons (called Doe defendants) so that the suing attorney can subpoena the website where the anonymous comment was made.  In response to the subpoena, the website will be compelled to reveal the poster’’s name and other information.  Even if all the website can provide is the IP address of the poster, that IP address can further be traced by subpoenas to Internet Service Providers, back to the computer — and the person — who made it.

When is a Statement Considered Defamation?

Here is the most important thing: you cannot sue for defamation unless you can prove that the statement is a false statement of fact.  Truth is an absolute defense to any defamation case, no matter how insulting or embarrassing the statement.

Complicating this are a few other important rules. First, it needs to be a statement of fact, not opinion. The statement must appear to a reasonable person that it is a true and verifiable statement. However, when a person’’s opinion is added into the statement, the dynamic changes. The distinction between factual statements and opinion is nuanced and often turns solely on a judge or jury’s view of the statement. So, for example, the statement “Monsanto is poisoning people” is a statement of fact that may be defamatory if Monsanto chose to sue. By contrast, the statement “I think that Monsanto is bad” is a subjective statement of opinion and not actionable defamation.  But most statements fall into the hybrid where one can reasonably believe the statement is fact based even if couched as an opinion, and is therefore actionable. So, for example, the statement “In my opinion, after looking at the evidence, Monsanto is a bad company that sells poisonous GMOs” is possibly, but not certainly, defamatory.

And it gets even more complicated when topics of public concern are involved. Statements about the government, celebrities and other newsworthy items not only need to be false, but stated maliciously. That means that the speaker has to know that the statement was false, and made it anyway. Monsanto’s GMO supply and their lobbying efforts with the Federal Department of Agriculture, for example, may be enough of a public concern (even though its a private company) that you would have to be maliciously and knowingly lying about it before liability could attach. In purely private matters, the speaker does not have to know the statement was false to be held responsible for it. So a speaker is probably safe from a lawsuit if he calls the President a “war criminal” but not if he calls his neighbor a criminal.

What Qualifies as Damaging a Person’s Reputation?

You cannot sue for a defamatory statement unless it also harms yours or your business’s reputation. That means that it must be published to another person (writing a bunch of defamatory statements in a private diary does not count) and it must lowers the value of the person or business to others or to the public. The victim as the plaintiff will have the burden of proving damage to their reputation, as well as the amount of damages. So, for example, if a customer does not like your service and lies about the facts of your business online, you will have to prove that the review prevented you from getting new business or other opportunities and money.

Statements that portray the victim’’s morality or integrity in a poor light for a false reason is called “defamation per se and the victim does not need to prove anything other than the false statements were published to another.” Defamation per se statements are usually about a person committing a serious crime, having a sexually transmitted disease, lacking ability or integrity in their work or business, committing adultery, or being promiscuous. Calling a business a “scam” or a “rip off” may fall into this category, depending on the facts.

Should You Sue?

While promoting and doing business on the web has its many benefits, it has also unleashed a new level of defamatory content. Disgruntled former employees or customers may post untruths on blogs or message boards as retaliation or simply to vent. But most of the time, defamation lawsuits will just be a lot of money for little recovery as most people do not have assets to cover the harms they are causing. Lawsuits take a long time, too. And you typically cannot sue the website itself because they have protections as a “forum” by Federal law (so your lawsuit against “Rip Off Report” is likely going to be dismissed, even though Rip Off Report won’t remove demonstrably defamatory content unless you pay them a large fee).

Each incident is unique and the harm, your goals, and the practicalities of the situation should be discussed with your lawyer before you file suit. In addition to defamation lawsuits, there are other protections (especially against former employees) and steps that you can take directly with the website to get content removed.  Don’t just run immediately to the courthouse, or you may not get the right result in the end.

Is Your Business Ready for Obamacare? No? Don’t Worry, Neither is the Government

This meme has been going around Facebook, credited to Quickmeme.com. Papa John's pizza famously cut its workforce's hours to part time to avoid the employer mandate of the Affordable Healthcare Act (Obamacare).On Tuesday, the U.S. Treasury Department announced that it was delaying the insurance mandate on employers by one year. (In case you did not know this, the IRS is in charge of enforcement of the Affordable Care Act requiring that we all buy or provide health insurance.)

What does this mean? Essentially, businesses were asking the Assistant Secretary for Tax Policy to explain what they are supposed to do (i.e. how to report compliance or pay fines). No one really knew and the government could not provide a good answer. Lots of businesses complained. So President Obama and the IRS gave themselves an extra year to figure it out. They marketed it as “listening” to the feedback of American businesses. (I wish President Obama would have listened before passing this unworkable monstrosity, but I digress.)

But let’s get down to brass tacks. How does this affect you and your business?

  • If your business has more than 50 employees, it means you get another year of not knowing what to do, but at least you do not have to do anything right now.  The compliance reporting and/or $2000 fine for each uninsured employee has been abated until July 1, 2014.
  • Businesses hovering around 50 employees are likely to continue to job freeze and allow for natural attrition rates to keep them below 50, or to hire only part time employees.
  • Businesses with less than 50 employees (the vast majority of businesses in America) will still have to face the uncertainty in the health insurance marketplace, which has generally resulted in higher premiums for employers of all sizes.  Expect premiums to go up again in 2014.
  • Businesses with less than 50 employees will still face additional burdens from the Affordable Care Act, which begin on January 1, 2014.  (Stay tuned to this blog — we will be providing more information and compliance training soon.)
  • Payroll taxes (including Medicare) have already increased and the state-run insurance exchanges for individuals buying their own insurance begin on January 1, 2014, which will (of course) need to be funded.
  • The exchanges have already resulted in (predictably) higher premiums for individuals, so the job market should see some pressure by consultants and employees negotiating for permanent, full-time positions with insurance because their expenses have just gone up.

Obamacare continues to be a nightmare of economic uncertainty for business owners, employers and taxpayers.  Keep that in mind, next time you vote.