Public Relations for Lawyers: Media Outreach Tools Part 1
Media relations starts with the relationship your law firm develops with journalists, editors, reporters and media outlets. It is a strategic process of developing relationships that may lead to media coverage in newspapers, magazines, television, radio, and online. Legal journalists and editors often depend on public relations professionals (a.k.a. publicists) to help provide story ideas, identify subject-matter experts and sources to interview, background information and visual imagery.
In order to garner media attention on relevant and timely stories, it is important to understand how to persuade the media to run your topic. Pitching is the art of communicating a story idea, guest speaker or news item to the media in order to gain publicity.
Another law firm public relations article, Putting the Media to Work for You, focuses on ways that lawyers can maximize their relationships with reporters, editors and producers, including the art of pitching. To effectively pitch your news and story ideas to the media, you need to become familiar with various law firm media relations tools.
Press Release – A Law Firm Media Relations Tool
A press release is a crucial law firm media relations tool that can be used in a variety of ways to strengthen your message via various forms of outreach. It also helps you to develop your key messages and ensures that everyone in your law firm agrees to the language you plan to use to communicate your message.
Also known as a news release, a press release is a concise tool most commonly provided to the media in order to generate public awareness and interest about a story or piece of news. It should convey the “who, what, when, where, why and how” of your story. It is the written document designed to present the most newsworthy or attention-grabbing aspect of the story you are pitching.
Written in the third person, a law firm press release should demonstrate to an editor or reporter the newsworthiness of a particular person, event, service or story you are trying to communicate. When writing a press release, it is of utmost importance that it is newsworthy. To determine its newsworthiness, ask yourself a few questions:
- Will this news matter to anyone outside of the law firm?
- Does this news make a difference?
- Would you read this if it didn’t involve your law firm?
Situations that often warrant the use of a press release include:
- Attorney board appointments / positive election outcomes / political appointments
- Awards / substantial rankings
- CLE presentations / seminars / speaking engagements
- Executive and management changes
- Law practice management initiatives
- Legal matter resolutions, settlements, verdicts, court decisions
- Marketing initiatives
- Mergers and acquisitions
- New business wins
- New hires / lateral hires / practice group acquisitions / partner promotions
- New office openings / firm expansions / new practice areas or industry groups
- Nonprofit or pro bono involvement
- Publication of books, new blogs, white papers
and much more.
Research what your target media outlets are reporting on to confirm that they might be interested in your story.
If you decide you have something newsworthy, your press release should follow industry guidelines to help the media identify and clarify who you are, what your story is about, and how they can contact you for more information.
Using the Press Release for Law Firm Business Development
Although the press release is typically used for media attention and press coverage, it also can be used to create a buzz, generate awareness and develop business. In addition to remaining top of mind with the media, you need to communicate your messages to clients, prospects, colleagues, friends, family and referral sources. The more often these audiences hear your law firm name, the more likely they will remember your law firm when they need legal services.
Some productive ways to leverage a press release in addition to using it as a media relations tool, include:
- Send it to current and prospective clients, business partners, referral sources, family and friends as “Firm News” in an electronic alert or as part of a newsletter.
- Include the press release on your law firm’s website.
- Share a link to the press release on your website via social media.
- Send it to all of your firm’s employees via e-mail and encourage them to pass the news along to their contacts.
- Share the press release on your firm’s intranet.
- Make copies of the press release and leave them in your lobby.
- Include copies of your more-important press releases in your firm’s press kit, newsletters and leave-behinds.
- Have extra copies of your news releases available to attendees of your seminars and at your trade show booths when relevant.
Whatever the news, there are many ways to use a press release as law firm media relations tool to increase awareness of your law firm and its offerings, communicate your services, retain current clients and generate new business.
Writing the Law Firm Press Release
Many factors go into writing a good press release and will influence the amount and type of coverage your news will receive. It is important to follow various industry guidelines so that your communications are effective.
Include the date and time your news is to be released: The recipient of your press release needs to understand the time sensitivity of your news. Tell the reporter when it is okay to disseminate the information. Common language to provide this information includes:
- For Immediate Release,
- For Release Before [Date],
- For Release After [Date].
This language should appear at the top of the press release and be either all caps, underlined or bolded. You should also include a dateline in bold. The dateline is listed at the beginning of the first paragraph with the city, state abbreviation and date of the news’ origin.
For example: Philadelphia, Pa. (Sept. 27, 2018). (Sample press release follows.)
State Abbreviations: There are two stylebooks most common to writing public relations materials. They are The Chicago Manual of Style and The Associated Press Stylebook. Each provides recommendations for writing styles that are most commonly used in the news industry. We defer to AP style which states that the names of the 50 U.S. states should be spelled out when used in the body of a story, whether standing alone or in conjunction with a city, town, village or military base.
Include contact information: It is irritating to a reporter or editor to receive an interesting press release without contact information. When sending a press release via e-mail, place the appropriate contact name, business phone number, cell phone number and e-mail address at the top of the email.
Include an attention-grabbing headline: An attention-grabbing, creative and clever headline is important. The headline must entice the recipients to read your release.
To write better headlines, read the headlines featured in newspapers, magazines, blogs and any other media outlets you are trying to target. Headlines are meant to tell the story and catch the reader’s attention in just a few short words.
Example, you are announcing that attorney Jane P. Doe is joining the Philadelphia law firm of Buck & Fawn P.C. as a partner in the insurance defense litigation practice. The headline should read: “Insurance Defense Litigator Doe Joins Philadelphia’s Buck & Fawn as Partner.”
Tailor the headline to the outlet: Tailor your headline to each media outlet so they know why your story pertains to it or its audiences.
Assume Jane Doe is a member of the American Bar Association. The release sent to the editor of its internal newsletter or member publication should have a headline reading “American Bar Member, Doe, Joins Buck & Fawn as Insurance Defense Litigation Partner.”
The same holds true for alumni publications, newspapers from the town where Doe resides and other affinity organizations such as diversity and ethnic publications.
Include a sub-headline to add value: A sub-headline can be a useful tool when used properly. The press release subhead provides an opportunity for you to incorporate your news angle and further catch the reporter’s attention without taking away from the headline. In the case of Jane Doe, assume she is a lateral hire and left another prominent national law firm, Gelding & Mare. The subhead could read: “Doe Leaves Gelding & Mare to Head Buck & Fawn’s Insurance Defense Practice.”
Provide the news value: Tie your press release topic into the news. Come up with story angles that will be of interest to reporters, and tell them why their readers will care about this information and how the story will benefit their audience. If your press release is just informational, keep it short. For example, if you are pitching your local business journal, the news has to be of value to business readers. Ask yourself why a reader would care about your law firm’s story. Then, use your answer to craft a sentence or two about the news value of your story and how it relates to the business industry regionally.
Summarize the release in the first paragraph: Also known as the press release lead, the first paragraph should tell the recipient what the release is about. Get straight to the point. The first paragraph should answer who, what, when, where and why so if the reporter is crunched for time, they can include just the basics of your story in a news item. For example, many local newspapers include blurbs about local business news without getting into detail. If the first paragraph of your press release says: “Jane P. Doe, Esq., joined the law firm of Buck & Fawn P.C. as a partner heading the insurance defense litigation practice. Doe will work from the firm’s headquarters in Philadelphia.”
Keep it short and concise: Typically, a press release should be no more than one page. Stick to the facts and use only enough words to tell your story. Publications have space restrictions and may need to cut off the last paragraph of your story. Therefore, make sure you have the most important information first, followed by more details that may be interesting but are not crucial. Always be sure to write clearly, using proper grammar and spelling.
It’s also okay to draft the press release one way to be shared with the media and to expound on the information on the version that is added to your website and shared with your audiences via social media and other communication tools.
Avoid jargon and excessive adjectives: The reader is not looking for fluff, and, unless you are writing to a legally trained reporter, the use of legalese is not appropriate. Also steer clear of unnecessary adjectives, fancy language or superfluous expressions such as “superior services” or “extremely experienced and qualified.” This type of language raises red flags as fluff with a reporter and can get you into trouble with your state’s ethics board.
Check your facts: Confirm that your information is correct. If you’ve already issued your press release and you made a mistake or if the facts change along the way, let the reporter know.
Include a quote: Quotes help to make the press release more personal and add value to the media relations tool. Some publications will never run quotes unless they have been personally verified by a reporter or editor at the publication. This holds true for most of the national and legal trade print publications. However, many local newspapers will run your press release verbatim. Continuing with the Jane Doe story, a valuable quote would come from the hiring or managing partner of Buck & Fawn P.C. explaining why Jane was hired, the value she brings to the firm and how this benefits the firm’s clients.
Use names in your release: Include the most important people in your news story. Write out the person’s full name and title on first reference in the release. When we speak of Jane Doe for the first time, we would say, “Jane P. Doe, Esq.” When we refer to Jane after that, we refer to her by last name only: “Doe.” We do not use “Ms. Doe” or “Mrs. Doe” or “Jane.”
Note that using only the last name is not the case when writing biographies for your law firm’s website or client communications. These name references will depend upon your firm’s culture, the types of clients you serve and how previous materials have been written (for consistency purposes).
Indicate that there are no more pages to the release: After the main body of the release, skip a line and in the center type three or five pound symbols (### or #####). This end notation lets the reporter know that there are no more pages to the release when printed. It’s an archaic but necessary convention.
Include a boilerplate: A boilerplate is the standard block of text that is used at the end of every release. Your firm’s boilerplate should be consistent and used for all press releases. The boilerplate should contain a brief description of your firm.
Buck & Fawn’s boilerplate might read:
Buck & Fawn P.C. is a national law firm of more than 1,000 attorneys specializing in civil defense litigation. Founded in 1920, Buck & Fawn is headquartered in Philadelphia, and maintains additional offices in Akron, Ohio; New York City; Wilmington, Delaware; and Los Angeles. Buck & Fawn has successfully defended clients ranging from Fortune 500 companies to VC-funded start-ups. Capabilities include insurance defense, employment matters, contract disputes and SEC litigation. For additional information, go to www.BuckFawnLaw.com.
Research the intended recipient of your press release: Before sending a press release to the media, research the reporter or editor you are targeting. Make sure they are the correct individuals to receive the release. You can go to the outlet’s website, use a paid media database source or pick up the phone and call the publication to ask.
Press Release Checklist for Law Firms
The following checklist will help you identify all elements needed for an effective law firm press release.
❑ Dateline and Release line
❑ Contact information
❑ Subhead (optional)
❑ Personalized information for each media outlet
❑ Quote (optional)
❑ End notation
❑ Boilerplate language
Sample Law Firm Press Release
Assume Jane Doe of Buck & Fawn recently addressed medical malpractice defense issues at a Pennsylvania health care summit. The law firm would like insurance companies, medical providers and in-house counsel from health care institutions to know that Jane Doe is knowledgeable and skilled handling these issues. The law firm is going to issue a “post-event” press release to leverage the presentation. Here is what that press release might look like.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Buck & Fawn P.C. Attorneys at Law
Contact: Judy Smith, Communications Director
215.555.0212 | firstname.lastname@example.org
Doctors Leaving PA – Insurance Defense Lawyer Jane Doe Says Medical Malpractice Lawsuits Must Be Capped
Insurance Defense Lawyer Will Address the Current State of Malpractice Liability Insurance in Pennsylvania for Insurance Companies, Medical Providers and Health Care Institutions
Philadelphia, Pa., August 10, 2018 – Jane Doe, Esq., Partner, Buck & Fawn P.C., met with Gov. Edwin D. Roobell and other state officials and industry leaders to examine the current availability and cost of medical malpractice liability insurance for physicians in Pennsylvania. Doe provided a defense attorney’s perspective on these issues, stating that “medical malpractice lawsuits must be capped because doctors are leaving Pennsylvania at a record pace, making access to good healthcare impossible in the Commonwealth.”
Pennsylvania’s medical malpractice insurance industry has been in a state of flux for the past decade. As headlines warn that physicians are leaving the state due to the increasing cost of malpractice insurance, opponents of tort reform contend that the situation is not as dire as it appears. Recently, a major charitable organization completed an in-depth study into the state of malpractice liability insurance in Pennsylvania. Government officials and industry leaders are now poised to examine the results of this research endeavor and chart a path designed to benefit health care consumers and physicians.
Doe highlighted that physicians are leaving Pennsylvania at an alarming rate due to the high prevalence of medical malpractice lawsuits and soaring insurance costs. Physicians in eastern Pennsylvania have also seen their annual malpractice premiums more than double, in some cases to over $100,000 per doctor.
The discussion at the Harrisburg Government Building was heated.
Doe has been representing insurance providers and insureds for more than two decades. She recently joined leading defense firm Buck & Fawn P.C. as a partner in the Insurance Defense Litigation Group. Notably, Doe successfully represented a major hospital in a $5 million medical malpractice matter where she was able to prove that a plastic surgery patient had a pre-existing condition that led to his death.
Buck & Fawn P.C. is a national law firm of more than 1,000 lawyers specializing in civil defense litigation. Founded in 1920, Buck & Fawn is headquartered in Philadelphia, Pa., and maintains additional offices in Akron, Ohio; New York, N.Y.; Wilmington, Del.; and Los Angeles, Calif. Buck & Fawn has successfully defended clients ranging from Fortune 500 companies to local sole proprietors. Capabilities include insurance defense, employment matters, contract disputes and SEC litigation. For additional information, please see Buck & Fawn’s Web site, www.BuckFawnLaw.com.
Wire Distribution of a Law Firm Press Releases
Wire services, both paid and free, serve the purpose of providing the media with information that they’ve requested on certain topics. However, unless you’re a very large organization, or your news is extraordinary, using a wire service is not likely to get your story covered. Wire services will help get your law firm’s story out online and onto websites that curate their news from the wires.
Wire services available to you include:
- Associated Press (AP.org)
- Black PR Wire (Blackprwire.com)
- Business Wire (Businesswire.com)
- PR Newswire (Prnewswire.com)
- Dow Jones Newswires (Djnewswires.com)
- PR Web (Prweb.com)
- Reuters (Reuters.com)
- Hispanic PR Wire (Hispanicprwire.com)
- Marketwire (Marketwire.com)
- Vocus (Vocus.com)
The Law Firm Media Photo
Including a photo or two with a press release will add greater impact and news value to your story, not only for the readers of the publication, but also for the editor when deciding which stories to cover. If you have a professional photo of a person or event that you can attach to a release, it will help your chances of getting coverage.
There are many reasons to include photos that illustrate the news in your press release. A press release with a photo attached is four times more likely to be read. Small publications generally like to receive photos with press releases because it enables them to publish photos without having to send a photographer or reporter to take pictures. Larger publications also like to receive photos because, in addition to adding interest to a story, photos help the writer authenticate the story or event.
Head shots are used to highlight the individual or individuals featured in a news story. Public relations practitioners often send them to television stations when pitching clients for an appearance, and we always include them with news articles about individuals.
Professional, up-to-date head shots are important to keep on file, and they have a shelf life of four to eight years (depending on how often you change your hairstyle). If your head shot is more than eight years old, it’s time to ante up and reinvest.
A photo shoot can be a fruitless venture if you’re not properly prepared. Here are some steps to follow to ensure a smooth photo shoot and a desirable result:
- Have a professional do your makeup and hair (yes, everyone needs makeup – regardless of gender)
- Show expression: Let your eyes do the talking. Smile when it is appropriate. Use your body language to express your sentiment.
- The focus is on you, not on what you’re wearing: Wear simple, solid-colored clothing. Avoid patterns or wearing all one color. Layering with a collared shirt or jacket allows you to look professional and vary your look easily from shot to shot. Refrain from wearing bulky jewelry or accessories that will take the spotlight off of your face.
- Expect that the shoot will take one to two hours: Allow plenty of time so that you are not rushed or stressed.
- Remember that the photographer is a professional: This person will use her skills and experience to create the best photos for your needs.
- Practice your facial expressions (smile, no smile, teeth showing, serious, etc.) in a mirror.
- Have several shirt and jacket options and bring them all with you on the day of the shoot.
- Get plenty of sleep the night before the shoot.
- Relax and have fun! Your picture will reflect that.
Submitting Photos to the Media
When it comes time for you to get your head shot taken, remember that it does not have to be a stressful undertaking. Just arrive prepared and be yourself. If you do your part, the professionals involved can easily create some pleasing visuals for you. There are also a few rules that you should follow when using photos to tell your story.
As already indicated, a head shot illustrates one person. However, it is often necessary to send a photo that captures an event or illustrates your case. When you send event photos, make sure you know the editors’ preferences. Some editors would rather receive candid shots taken in the style of photojournalism. Other publications—especially trade journals and business journals—will want you to send the standard business photos.
Give your photo a descriptive name: When sending a digital photo, make sure the name of the image depicts exactly who or what it is. For example, if you are sending a head shot of attorney Jane Doe, you will want to name the photo “JaneDoeEsq_BuckFawn_2018.” If you send “IMG_001,” then there is no way to identify that “IMG_001” is a photo of Jane Doe, especially if the photo is forwarded on to another person at the publication.
Include a descriptive caption: If you are sending a photo, include a descriptive “photo caption” following the boilerplate and including the subject of the photo, the names and titles of the people in the photo, and where it was taken. If you need to credit the photographer, add her name and contact information. Also remember that, since we read from left to right, your photo caption should (if depicting people) state, “From L to R: Name 1, Name 2, Name 3,” and so on.
Some other tips for sending digital photographs include:
- Find out the publication’s size requirement for digital photographs. Most publications require 300 dpi, 5 x 7 digital photographs. Make sure to use a universal format like JPEG or TIF.
- Use the name of your company, event or the person pictured to save the photo.
- Make sure the editor or reporter accepts attachments, as many email filters reject attachments.
If your office is able to upload photos to the law firm’s website, you can include a link to the photo page at the end of your press releases. This is a great way to share captioned photos with the media because it allows them to choose which photos best illustrate your story. They should be given the choice to download high- or low-resolution copies of the photos for use with their publications.
Use online photo galleries like Flickr or Dropbox when possible. Although the media will not always be able to download a digital file from these sites, they will be able to tell you which photos they would like you to send. This form of communication should be used carefully, as it adds more work for the reporter. But if you have a good relationship with a reporter, she will likely want to look at the photos and make her own choices. Be sure to take the time to include information about each photo (names, places, dates, etc.) on the website.
Your law firm press releases need to focus on being newsworthy and different from your competition. If you follow the strategies and tactics provided here, get ready to see some great results.
Copyright © 2018 by Gina Furia Rubel. All rights reserved.
First published in 2007 | Furia Rubel Communications, Inc.
Library of Congress Control Number: 2007941911
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