Negotiation Lesson #8: Utilizing the Media in Negotiations

March 9, 2017 By Irma Tyler Wood

Normally, we advise clients not to negotiate in the media.  Negotiating in or through the media tends to lead to posturing, blaming, attacking and hyperbole.  Instead the parties to any critical negotiation should as a part of their process negotiations, agree in advance, on the ground rules for dealing with the media.  There should also be protocols for dealing with any breaches of an agreement on how to deal with the press.  They should agree on who on each team will speak to the press and what other members of the team should do when approached by the press. 

If the negotiation is a high profile negotiation and the media is going to write about it, whether you want them to or not, then the parties should agree on who from each team should be their media spokesperson, what will be communicated, and when and how it will be communicated, i.e., joint press releases, etc. 

When one is negotiating in the public sector with a more powerful party, and all attempts to achieve an agreement are stymied by their belief that the party with more power gets to dictate the terms of the negotiation, utilizing the media can be an effective use of your BATNA, Best Alternative To A Negotiated Agreement.  Example, a school union wanted the school board to agree to negotiate some provisions on school discipline.  The board responded that the issue of discipline was non-negotiable.  After weeks of trying to get the board to change it’s mind with no success, the union wrote an op ed. article about disciplinary issues and their impact on student learning.  The parents in the community began calling their board members demanding that the issue of discipline be addressed. 

In another instance, both parties had agreed that they would keep the negotiations secret until they either reached an agreement or negotiations broke down.  However, one day early in their negotiations, the local television station showed up with cameras, lights and newsmen attempting to get a story.  After some discussion during which it became clear that the TV station was going to write about them whether or not they granted an interview, the parties agreed to take a different tack.  They jointly agreed they would give interviews on the process they were using to negotiate, the joint goals they had and the subjects they were addressing in their negotiations. They would not talk about the substance of the negotiations, i.e., what they had agreed to or what specific respective positions they had taken on any issue.

Anticipate and jointly plan for how you will communicate with the print and broadcast media.  When the unexpected happens, meet to jointly agree on how to respond.