Should Community Association Boards Speak to the Media?
I am often contacted by members of the media to discuss various association topics. These can range from the serious (secondhand smoke) to the comical (DNA testing of doggie poop).
After my part of the interview is over, I am inevitably asked by the reporter if I know of any community which fits the category we just finished discussing. Typically, I do know of a handful of communities who have either experienced the problem we discussed or contemplated/implemented the solution I suggested. I always tell the reporter I will contact these communities and see if they wish to participate in the story. Sometimes a director or manager will want to weigh in on the story but many times they are reluctant to do so.
This is one way that associations get in the news. The other way is usually when they are being sued for wrongdoing and a reporter wants the board’s side of the story. The two big questions are: should association boards comment and if the answer to that question is yes, who should do the actual talking?
Some boards are wisely hesitant to comment on news stories if they believe it may portray their community in a negative light. Certainly the typical reaction to a story about a community embroiled in controversy is not going to be a selling point to potential purchasers. Conversely, a story showing a community that came together to assist a neighbor in distress or battled a problem such as a cell phone tower installation might garner that community some positive attention.
Media reports can impact a community’s property values and reputation both positively and negatively; it all depends on the nature of the story. Sometimes even very negative stories require a community’s input as no comment may be much worse than a thoughtful, deliberate response. Also, there is value in sharing some hard-won wisdom with others who are going through similar circumstances.
Once you decide that speaking to the media for a particular story is in your best interests, you must decide next who should do the talking on your community’s behalf. Most communities do not have trained spokespeople on hand so this choice can be problematic. Your choices in this regard include a member of the board, the association’s manager or principal of the management company or the association’s attorney.
If the story is focused on proposed, pending, existing or completed litigation, it is absolutely vital to speak to your attorney before giving any comment. Speaking to the media may jeopardize a pending or contemplated case as well as violate a confidentiality agreement post litigation. For all other stories, it is best to pick the person who can articulate the association’s position in a concise, positive manner.
Just remember, there really is no such thing as “speaking off the record” so if your board does decide to participate in a media story and you are unclear about what is being asked and how you want to answer, ask for your interview to take place, in part or in whole, via email so you can spend some time deliberating on your answers.