How to Navigate Today’s Media as an In-House Law Firm PR Pro
Written by Becky Bergman
Law firms and small businesses rely on positive coverage to tell their stories, share expert opinions, and bolster their reputation as industry leaders. From traditional media and online news outlets to digital platforms and podcasts, articles and interviews build trust with prospective clients, enhance your firm’s credibility, and help showcase your law firm’s success. It is imperative to understand how to navigate today’s media as an in-house law firm PR pro.
This article shares nine strategic steps to help you stand out in the dynamic and ever-changing media landscape without wasting your firm’s time or money.
A Snapshot of Today’s Fast-Paced Media Landscape
The intersection of law and media has never been more prominent in today’s information age. Traditional media outlets continue to change and evolve in an era dominated by technological advancements like generative AI, digital platforms, and real-time streaming services, reshaping how people access and consume news and information. Meanwhile, competition for law firms and small business media coverage has intensified, and outlets from which to earn it have shrunk.
This profound shift makes it more challenging for public relations professionals to cut through the noise and engage with the dwindling number of reporters. Newsroom employment in the United States declined 26% between 2008 and 2020, while daily newspapers fell from roughly 8,900 to 6,300 between 2004 and 2022.
In addition, legal marketers and law firm PR pros should pay more attention to reporters’ challenges:
- They are inundated with a flood of irrelevant and off-topic press releases, pitches, story ideas and news alerts. Sorting emails for information to identify the most newsworthy stories and credible sources can be time-consuming and daunting. They have more deadlines than ever before with much less time to complete assignments.
- There has been a ton of consolidation in the news industry demanding more from journalists.
- Media outlets depend on various revenue streams, not just subscribers, which has changed the way content is curated.
- Many journalists must produce omnichannel content, which requires the PR pro to know how to pitch for print, web, audio, podcast interviews, virtual video interviews, and more.
- Some media organizations have turned to generative AI to produce content – and not without major problems and blunders – but as AI develops, it can change everything.
To be successful with your law firm media relations, follow these nine steps.
Nine Steps to Navigate Today’s Media as an In-House Law Firm PR Pro
Step 1: Identify Your Target Media Outlets
Before pitching, identify the media outlets relevant to your subject. If you are pitching a story about a law firm, consider legal publications, industry-specific magazines, business journals, regional newspapers, local news outlets, podcasts, and other online platforms that cater to your target audience.
Step 2: Understand Journalists’ Needs
After identifying potential outlets, ensure your story idea aligns with the reporter’s coverage area (aka beat). Publications often have ‘about us’ pages with reporter profiles indicating their primary areas. Journalists are always on the lookout for compelling, timely stories with accurate information, unique angles, and expert sources. Put yourself in their shoes and ask, “Would this story appeal to their audience?” before pitching.
Step 3: Craft Newsworthy Stories
Journalists seek stories that resonate with their audience. Law firms should pinpoint and craft compelling narratives to pique their interest. Focus on cases with unique angles, significant legal updates, or insights into emerging trends. Highlight milestones, practice area launches, or community engagement. Suggest your attorney for an expert opinion for a potential story on the likely outcome of a prolific case, or pitch a business leader to talk about the impact of a merger between two firms that serve the same space. Think creatively, and ensure your pitches carry a human-interest aspect or broader relevance to enhance their appeal.
Step 4: Tailor Your Pitches
Generic pitches often fail to engage, so customize your pitch to align with a journalist’s beat and fill coverage gaps to boost your chances of catching the media’s eye. Reporters receive a high volume of pitches daily, so yours must stand out. Muck Rack’s “The State of PR 2023” study found that 50% of journalists receive 1-5 pitches daily, or 25 per week. Another 24% said they reject pitches due to bad timing and irrelevancy. Keep your pitch concise and engaging. Include a catchy subject line. Address the journalist by name. Provide a brief overview. Explain the timeliness and relevance. Make it clear to the reporter why your story is a good fit for their beat.
Susan Bocamazo, managing director of BridgeTower Media, advises law firm PR pros to, “Give some thought to what the correct publication is for the story. We sometimes get press releases that are very generic and it’s clear they went to every single news organization. That’s probably not going to be successful. The story you pitch to Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly or the Boston Globe [for example] is going to be pretty different. What fits for one audience doesn’t fit for another.”
Step 5: Build Relationships
Cultivate relationships with the press for successful media coverage over the long haul. Plan to attend industry events, network with media professionals, and connect with them on social media platforms to nurture these connections. Build a rapport with the journalists who cover topics relevant to your firm’s expertise. Share their articles, provide insightful commentary on social media, and send them a quick “Great story!” note to demonstrate your sincere interest in their work. Stay updated with journalists’ recent work to offer feedback and pitch ideas based on their current coverage.
Step 6: Provide Expertise and Value
Reporters value credible sources that offer context and analysis. Position your lawyers and other legal professionals as a reliable resource by providing expert opinions and insights on relevant topics when contacting reporters. Emphasize your ability to contribute valuable information, and ensure your expert is responsive and available for interviews within 48-96 hours, as reporters often work on tight deadlines. Be prompt in facilitating connections between reporters and your offered sources, whether by phone, email, in-person, or virtual call, to maintain a positive rapport and increase your chances of being featured.
Step 7: Offer Exclusive Content and Support Your Data
Offer exclusive content, like interviews or unique document access. This is a powerful tactic to grab a journalist’s attention. When dealing with substantial legal developments or cases, this approach can serve as a compelling incentive for reporters, giving them an edge with exclusive material. Provide data, research, or surveys, whether conducted or sourced by your firm, to establish your team as industry experts. Reporters often grapple with pitches lacking credible data; 76% are more likely to cover a story with an exclusive angle. Transparency is vital when sharing data, including its source, origin, and commission date. Refrain from presenting unsubstantiated pitches or suggesting data you can’t provide, as reporters struggle to craft credible stories with incomplete information, especially on tight deadlines.
Step 8: Respect Journalists’ Time and Deadlines
Journalists are busy, and it’s no surprise, given that there are six PR professionals for every reporter. That is why it is essential to respect their time, deadlines and communication preferences. Gina Passarella, editor-in-chief at ALM Media said, “Make sure [your news] is timely – that’s obviously so important. But a lot of times, particularly in law, we’ve found that things will come in months after the fact, a case it was on or something. We need to know pretty quickly, a lateral that, ‘Oh yeah, they joined three months ago.’ Well, that makes it a little awkward to write about now.”
To make a positive impression:
- Keep your communication short (30-100 words is ideal) and provide them with pertinent and valuable information.
- Avoid “small talk,” skip the formalities, and write conversationally.
- Learn about the reporter’s preferred method of communication and how often they want to be contacted.
And if you can’t meet the reporter’s deadline, be honest, communicate this clearly, and offer alternative solutions.
Step 9: The Art of the Follow-Up
You’ve followed all the steps outlined here and crafted a killer pitch. You sent it along with a PR announcement – and have yet to receive a response. Plan to send a follow-up note – keep it simple and avoid overused cliches and awkward statements like “circling back” or “I saw you opened my last email,” which can feel invasive and weird. When you conduct a follow-up, avoid merely resending your initial email. Instead, add a brief message such as, “Sharing this announcement again to ensure it didn’t slip by. Any interest in covering X?” Muck Rack’s “The State of PR 2023” study found that 45% of journalists surveyed said one follow-up is ideal, and 51% said it should come 3-7 days later.
Sara Merken, legal reporter at Reuters said, “I understand it is the job of a PR professional or others to get journalist’s attention when that makes sense, but it doesn’t work for me when someone sends 15 follow-up emails when I haven’t answered one of them. That generally isn’t going to make me respond again. Sometimes I’ll get five follow-up emails about the same thing that for whatever reason, I am not interested in.” Simply put, don’t do that.”
Understanding the media landscape and effectively pitching your expertise is valuable for law firms that want to bolster their reputation and draw in prospective clients. By identifying the right media outlets, crafting compelling pitches, building authentic relationships with journalists, and being responsive, you can successfully navigate the media landscape and leverage it to your firm’s advantage.
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