Public Relations for Lawyers: Putting the Media to Work for You Part I
When the opportunity to work with the media arises, you need to be well prepared and media-trained to ensure that everything will run smoothly and effectively. I encourage every law firm, no matter how big or small, to have a written law firm media policy. Simply put, law firms and their attorneys can and should control all messages provided to the media for reasons of message management, ethics and, in the cases of trial publicity, to protect the clients’ best interests.
A Law Firm Media Policy Primer
A law firm media policy should address:
- Who may speak with the media on the law firm’s behalf
- The procedures that members of your law firm must follow when the media reaches out for an interview or comment
- Record-keeping procedures for media calls and interviews
- How the law firm will handle calls about specific firm clients and/or cases
- How the law firm will handle calls for third-party commentary on specific cases or legal issues
- Crisis communications and incident response procedures
- The ethics of dealing with the media
Public relations for lawyers is a productive way to enhance an individual’s or firm’s professional reputation. If you are interested in increasing your media exposure, this is most easily accomplished by developing personal relationships with members of the media.
Creating a Law Firm Media List
With a media relations campaign, you don’t control the final message the way you do with a paid advertisement. When you advertise, you decide when, where, what and how your message will appear. But when a media outlet runs a story about you or your legal matter, you get the benefit of an apparently objective third-party endorsement. The public tends to give greater weight to media-provided information than to advertisements.
Five Tips to Maximize a Lawyer’s Relationships with the Media
In order to maximize the value of your media relationships, take heed of the following tips.
- Determine your primary geographic market: This could be a particular city, a geographic region or a national audience.
- Create your general media list: Put together a list of newspapers, television and radio stations, newsletters, magazines, blogs, podcasts, etc., that reach your target markets. There are publications and databases available that include listings of media contacts such as Gorkana and Cision among others.
- Double-check your contact file: Verify your list of contact names, email addresses and phone numbers, and make sure they cover your topic or
- Know who you’re pitching: Become familiar with the media outlets on your list. Read the publications and blogs, watch the television programs, listen to the radio shows and get to know their individual content and style, especially that of the reporters you plan to pitch.
- Update your list regularly: Update your list at least quarterly and anytime you make media calls and find out that someone new is covering your industry. Job changes are common in journalism, especially in light of the continuing decline in print advertising sales, which has led to frequent restructuring and consolidation of media outlets and their
Once you’ve assembled your media list, double-checked it, and get to know who you’re pitching and why. You can use it to send out news about your business, story ideas and trends to the media outlets that cover your issues.
Effective Ways for Lawyers to Garner Media Coverage
“Good press” is a vital component of legal communications, and in order to obtain it, you must understand how to best relate to reporters.
Pitching a reporter or producer in law firm public relations is akin to throwing a ball to the batter to see if she’s going to hit it and, if so, how far. Even though the commonly known terminology is pitching, think of it more as the art of communicating and having a conversation.
There is no single way to pitch the media. Understanding some of the nuances of the media will help you to become a better communicator in the long run.
Understand deadlines: The worst time to contact a reporter is when she is on deadline. If you try to contact a reporter who’s on deadline, most likely she will not be very receptive to your story. Always ask whether it is a good time before discussing your story with a reporter. If the reporter says it’s a bad time, ask when a better time would be for you to call back. Be sure to call back at that time.
Be memorable: Reporters receive hundreds of emails, calls and social media pitches daily. It is important that your story stands out. Research the reporter before contacting her. Know the reporter’s beat (in other words, what types of articles she writes and where she obtains her information). Be familiar with articles that the reporter has written in the past and, if you can, tie one of them in with your pitch. Be specific and brief—this will show the reporter that you are not wasting her time. Be sure to differentiate your story from all of the others just like it. What makes your story different?
Know media frequency: It is also helpful to understand that a reporter working for a daily publication or newscast will be very interested in a news story that she can break to the public. On the other hand, reporters working for weekly publications or feature programs are more interested in detailed, comprehensive information and how that information will affect the business community. Be sure to modify your story and strategy accordingly.
Don’t sell anything: When you’re providing the media with news or a resource for information, you’re not selling your law firm’s services. Don’t send brochures, newsletters, practice descriptions or other marketing materials. Engage them in meaningful conversation that will help them tell your story or make you a go-to resource to be quoted in other stories.
Using Voicemail to Pitch Effectively
Understanding the general nature of media pitching is important. You should also understand that even your voicemail pitch must follow certain guidelines to be effective. Here are some principles to live by.
Be brief: Get to your point very quickly. Lead with your strengths. Don’t try to tell the whole story in the message; just say enough so the reporter will call you back. On voicemail, the less said, the better.
Be memorable: The tone, volume and pitch of your voice are just as important as your message. Sound enthusiastic. Sound like you care about the story. Then, say one thing that will be memorable to the listener—speak in sound bites.
Make it easy: Make it easy for the reporter or producer to call you back quickly. Always leave your phone number twice and state the numbers clearly and slowly. It’s very frustrating to have to replay the message. If you’re working on a breaking news story, leave your home and cell numbers, too. It’s okay to say, “I can be reached until 9 p.m. and after 7 a.m. tomorrow” to set parameters for times to be called back.
Call again: Don’t leave a second voicemail unless it is absolutely necessary because you have new information to share. Rather, call again until you actually speak to the person—only when calling an office telephone. If the reporter works from home or via a personal cell phone, try to reach him or her via email before you call again. If you don’t have any luck, put a day between your calls. This is media pitching, not stalking. When all else fails, you can try sending your pitch via overnight delivery service—which is rarely used and really gets attention.
Using Email to Pitch Effectively
Have you ever taken a vacation and come back to hundreds of emails in your inbox? For many journalists, producers and other media professionals, regardless of the medium, that’s what their inboxes look like on an average day. So why do you think your email is going to stand out above the rest?
Again, there are some general rules you can follow, but pitching by email is just as chancy as leaving a voicemail. It may or may not get through the SPAM filters at the other end, and when it does, it may or may not be read. Here are some ways to keep you out of the SPAM filters and junk box and to get you into the minds of the journalists.
Personalize, personalize, personalize: When you send an email to a journalist, start with “Dear [insert name of reporter here],” and include a paragraph that introduces the most important aspect of your story and why it should matter to that journalist and her readers, viewers or listeners. At the close of your message, be sure to include ALL of your contact information.
One is enough: Never send your email to more than one person at a time. It’s obnoxious to see 50 email addresses in the To field. It is frowned upon to Bcc your entire list of contacts with no personal message in the body copy. Pitch only one person at a particular media outlet. They all work together. If the story is not right for one, she will usually pass it on to someone else if it’s right for the medium.
Keep it short: Keep your email as short as possible. If you need to include a press release or other detailed information, include it in
the body of the email. Do not attach anything—especially if you are reaching out to the reporter for the first time. Many SPAM filters are programmed to eliminate attachments, including PDFs. You can include a link to information on your law firm’s Website, but even then, SPAM filters may not let you through.
The subject is EVERYTHING: The subject line is the first thing that’s read. If it says, Firm Press Release and that’s it, the journalist’s mental response will likely be, “oh, great, another one.” Instead, use the catchy title of the release.
Understand deadlines: Just like calling a reporter, sending an email pitch on deadline is the worst time to contact a reporter. You’re just adding to the clutter.
Don’t make reporters work harder than necessary—it only raises red flags: Always be up front. Don’t make a reporter dig for information.
Know where the line is and take pains not to cross it: Make sure everything you send to the media is truthful. If someone asks you to do something that you are unsure about, check with the Public Relations Society of America (www.prsa.org), which offers ethical guidelines.
Use of these suggestions can help create a more positive response from reporters when pitching your story.
COMMON INDUSTRY DEADLINES
- For daily newspapers, 3 p.m. should be avoided.
- For weekly magazines and newspapers, find out what day of the week they put the publication to bed.
- For monthly publications, call the receptionist and find out what week their deadline falls on.
- For television and radio, the time and frequency of the show determines when the producers are in the office. For example, some morning show producers start their day at 2 a.m. and end it at 10 a.m.
Seek Lawyer Media Training: Know the Four P’s
Media training involves preparation, practice, planning and performance. Each element is an extremely essential component of effective media training. Media training teaches you how to conduct an interview, how to appear on television, how to communicate your message persuasively, and how to overcome physical and verbal roadblocks to effective communications. It is unprofessional to wing it and will likely work to your disadvantage
The First P: Preparation
In today’s legal arena, it is necessary for lawyers who plan to speak with reporters to be media-trained. Less-than-ideal interactions with reporters will appear in stories and quickly spread to many recipients via the Internet. Articles containing poorly worded statements, incomplete thoughts or factually incorrect commentary can be and often are repeatedly republished through email, blogs, websites and the like. On the other hand, if you know how to effectively communicate with the media, you can generate a great deal of publicity for yourself and your law firm.
Know your key messages: Formulate three key messages prior to speaking with the media. Determine the most important points that you want to convey and write them down. This will help you prepare your thoughts and lead to a successful interview.
Research the reporter: Before an interview, research the reporter with whom you will be speaking so that you know what type of stories she writes (hard-hitting or more conservative, for example). This will help you anticipate the questions and in turn will enable you to prepare your answers.
Anticipate key questions and prepare key answers: When you anticipate the questions that you will be asked, you can plan your answers so that they clearly and concisely convey your key messages. Practicing how you will answer questions (not memorizing them) will make the interview more efficient. Think before you speak.
The Second P: Practice
Use your questions and answers to practice mock interviews with your colleagues. Pretend you’re preparing to be the witness in a cross-examination and have a colleague ask you all the questions you’ve come up with. Also ask your colleague to surprise with you with questions you may not expect. Then, draft answers to the five questions you dread the most and the five questions you would most like to answer. If your matter is controversial, be prepared to answer the ones you dread. If you are going to be interviewed for television, tape a mock interview the same way you would in a mock trial. Play it back and critique yourself. Then ask others to do the same.
The Third P: Planning
Know when, where and how long your interview will be. If it’s a telephone interview, be sure that you will be somewhere quiet where you have privacy and can stand while you speak in order to better project your voice while on the telephone. If it’s a radio or television interview, arrive at least a half-hour prior to the scheduled time.
If you are being interviewed in your office, make sure the room is in order and that all sensitive materials and files have been stored.
The Forth P: Performance
When interviewed, speak clearly and slowly in a conversational tone. Once you have made your point, do not be intimidated by silence. Silence is a tactic used to get you to talk, in the hopes of getting you to say something that you shouldn’t otherwise say. This is no different than the same tactic attorneys use during depositions and trial. Silence might also indicate that a reporter is formulating her next question or transcribing what you have just said. Regardless of the reason for it, do not feel that you must fill silence. Wait for the interviewer to proceed.
If you do your homework and keep the preceding guidelines in mind, you will increase your chances of receiving the media attention you desire. Remember to utilize as many media forms (radio, television, print, electronic) as possible. The more your target audiences hear and see your name, the more credibility, validation and new business your efforts will generate.
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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