How Women Lawyers Can Use Public Relations More Effectively
In this episode of On Record PR, Gina Rubel, the Founder and CEO of Furia Rubel Communications goes on record with Janet Falk. Janet has more than 30 years of in-house and public relations agency experience. She advises attorneys at solo and small law firms on media relations and marketing communications and shares unique opportunities for women lawyers to distinguish themselves in media outreach.
In this conversation, Janet focuses on how women in solo and small law firms can be more effective with their media relations. Learn more about Janet on her website: www.janetlfalk.com.
How can an attorney professionally introduce herself to reporters so SHE will be the one reporter’s call?
The tool that I use, Gina, is called a media profile. A media profile is different than your usual resume and bio, because it doesn’t talk about your experience and it doesn’t really talk about your publications and your clerkships. That’s all a given if you’re an attorney. Instead, a media profile is designed to answer three questions:
- Why you? Why no one else down the hall or across town who has a similar practice?
- Why now? What’s happening now in the industry or in the local geographic area that people need to think about?
- Why should anyone care? How will an individual, a business owner, or a corporate executive save time, save money, and make more money by implementing your idea so they can move ahead with their business or their practice or their life?
A media profile is going to broadly sketch your experience. In three to five sentences, talk about whether you’re a transactional attorney or you’re a litigator – the kinds of issues that you face and the kinds of industries where you work most often. Then, it’s going to drill down and be a little more specific about transactions or litigation or industry situation.
Then, it’s going to talk about the hot issues that people are not paying attention to. Reporters know what happened already. They want to know what’s going to happen before it happens, so if you can be the one who can talk about a trend that’s looming on the radar or a deadline that’s fast approaching, then you will help the reporter by getting the word out so their readers can take advantage of your insight.
I also add a quote, so you’re more than a piece of paper or an email, and the reporter gets a little flavor of what it would be like if they actually got you into conversation. Then, to wrap it all up, put the contact information for the person who is going to take your phone call and make the arrangements for the conversation with the reporter. That might be your paralegal, your office manager, or your public relations consultant.
The media profile has been very successful for me introducing my attorney clients and other clients to the media so they are the one the reporter calls to get them interested in talking about a given subject.
There was a time when I was working at an agency whose principal client was one of the Am Law 50. The partner we were focused on had a bankruptcy practice limited to the airline industry. I contacted reporters who follow the airline industry. By chance, the reporter from Thomson Reuters was in Chicago, and so was the attorney. I arranged for them to have a conversation, and it lasted about 45 minutes.
Four weeks later, there’s an article on the Thomson Reuters Newswire – Prospects of Bankruptcy in the Airline Industry. Hey, how did the reporter get the idea for that story? The attorney I had offered as a source was quoted no fewer than five times. There also were quotes from a securities analyst who followed the airline industry.
Because this was Thomson Reuters, this got picked up by newspapers all around the world, and this attorney’s phone began to ring. It all started with a media profile telling the reporter, “This is an issue you have not thought about, and here’s someone who can talk to this issue. Would you like to have this conversation?” Then they had the conversation, time passed, and there you have the result – the article that led to many phone calls.
SIDENOTE: Here is the link to the Attorney Media Profile, which includes a worksheet and an invitation to a Complimentary Strategic Communications Consultation with Janet Falk.
Why is NOW a good time for women attorneys to be in contact with reporters?
Many publications are looking to quote more women as sources. Bloomberg News has a database it maintains for their reporters to search out sources on different topics. In 2018, there were only 500 women listed as sources in that database. Bloomberg woke up and decided, “We have to get more women in this database.” In 2020, which is the last year they publicly reported on this, there were 6,500 women listed as sources. You can see that there’s a dramatic increase in the number of women they are looking at as potential sources.
Not only that, Bloomberg took it a step further and had a program of media training. Not only were they looking for more women as sources, they were training them to be better interview subjects when talking to reporters. The New York Times has said on its letter to the editor page, “We want more women to write letters to the editor.” The Financial Times has told its reporters they will be flagged if they quote too many men as sources. You’re seeing top-tier publications actively looking for more women as sources.
You have to be in it to win it. If you don’t anoint yourself as a source to a reporter, you can’t sit waiting for the phone to ring. You have to professionally introduce yourself to a reporter as someone who has your finger on the pulse of the market and is alert to what’s happening in the industry or in the local municipality. Because if Bloomberg and the New York Times and the FT are actively looking for women as sources, you can bet that their competitors are following in their stead.
How can an attorney be more quotable and memorable when speaking with a reporter?
I use the model that I call the four A’s.
- You can use an acronym that everybody knows like ASAP and give it a little twist, like “as soon as profitable.” Or you can make up your own acronym, which is even better, because then you’ll have to explain it.
- You can compare something to something else that’s very well known. You can say, “This is as clear as day,” or, “This is as clear as mud,” and that will ring in the reporter’s ear.
- Can you briefly share a story that will illustrate the point you’re trying to make?
- See what I did there? Four A’s. Acronym, analogy, anecdote, alliteration.
When you are preparing to talk to a reporter, I encourage you to come up with three or four bullet points. Print them out in front of you in a large font so you will have them handy and then associate with each bullet point one of the four A’s. You’ll be able to illustrate and drive home the point that you are making.
The reason you print this out in large font in front of you is because many times when you get to the end of an interview with a reporter, they will say, “Is there anything else you’d like to add?” So you look at your cheat sheet and you say, “Oh my God, I forgot about point number two,” and then you’ll have it in front of you and you will remember to add that point. That’s what I suggest you do to be more quotable. Use one of the four A’s so you can have something that will ring in the reporter’s ear and they will put it in the story.
When is it a good idea to say “No Comment” to a reporter?
I’m sure there is a time when you want to say, “No comment,” but for the most part, I encourage my clients to respond, but not to say something particularly quotable and not to answer a question directly.
Let’s say that a client has a CFO who is being investigated for embezzlement or cooking the books. You’re the attorney, and you might not be aware initially that this investigation is about to take place.
You get a call from a reporter. First of all, you want to find out why the reporter is calling you. You might think it’s about one issue, but it’s actually about something very different – this allegation of embezzlement. I would encourage you not to answer the call right away. Instead, say to the reporter, “I really want to talk to you, but I’m on deadline,” or, “I have someone in my office. Can I please take your phone number and your email address? I promise I will call you back, and just in case I need to consult with someone else to get more information, please let me know exactly what you’d like to discuss. I’ll call you back in half an hour.”
As important as the news story is, any story can wait another 30 minutes. During that time, you’ll be able to call the client, find out what’s going on, and come up with a plan to address it. Now, it’s 30 minutes later. You’ve spoken to the client, and you have an idea what you’re going to say.
You’re going to respond to the reporter, “Yes, we are aware of the investigation, and we are cooperating with the local authorities. We are conducting our own investigation, and now that I have your contact information, I will be sure to keep in touch with you as matters become clearer.” What have you said? You’ve said, “We know there’s something going on and we’re looking into it and we’ll be in touch with you,” which is not particularly quotable. But if you were to say, “No comment,” then Mary and Joe Local Citizen are going to think, “There’s something fishy here. I don’t like this,” and that’s not going to be helpful to your client. Respond to the questions without directly answering them. You are showing that you’re alert to this situation.
What do you think is going to happen in that 30 minutes while you’re talking to the client? You think that the reporter is sitting there, twiddling their thumbs, waiting for 30 minutes to go by? Of course not. This is who they’re going to call. They’re going to call the nosy neighbor who says, “Oh yeah, Tony. When his kid graduated from college, they bought him a Mercedes.” That’s not going to help your client. Or they’re going to call the disgruntled ex-employee, “Oh yeah, Tony. He was always going to Atlantic City.” Or they’re going to call the unhappy vendor who’s going to say, “They never paid their bills on time. It was net 30, net 60, net 120.” Or they’re going to call some competitor.
You’re going to respond to the situation, but remember, the reporter is going to ferret out other sources and they’re not going to see the situation the way you and your client see the situation. If you say, “No comment,” and then the reporter gets the nosy neighbor and the disgruntled ex-employee and these other people to talk to them, that’s not going to reflect well on the client.
That’s why I encourage people to respond to the reporter, have a prepared statement, have your bullet points and your four A’s just as examples. You won’t necessarily be quoted in this story, but at least you won’t be “no comment, no spokesperson for the company was available.”
Do you have any other key tips for our listeners?
I would point out that media relations is not one-and-done. In other words, if you have an interview and you get quoted in a news story, or you’re seen talking on TV or heard on the radio, and someone didn’t see it or didn’t hear it, it’s as if it didn’t happen.
, and then you can use it as an opportunity for a podcast.
I also put a link in my email signature. Gina, you must send 150 emails a day, right? Do you use that extra real estate below your phone number and your website URL and say, “Subscribe to our podcast and here’s a news story where we were quoted or our client was quoted,”?
Gina Rubel: Absolutely, I do. In fact, it’s one of the things that I put in my book, Everyday Public Relations for Lawyers.
Janet Falk: Perfect. I hope that more people will take this as guidance and say, “It’s not one-and-done. I was quoted in the media, but now I’m going to share it in other places – my social media accounts, my newsletter, my website, my email signature, a panel discussion, or an article in the industry newsletter. More people need to hear about this, and I’m going to bring this issue to their attention.”
It’s not so much that you were quoted in the news story; it’s that you want to get that next step. You want to get that next story, or you want to get that next phone call, because someone cares about that situation. They have a similar problem, and they want you as a wise woman attorney to be able to help them solve it.
TURNING THE TABLES
Toward the end of the podcast, Janet asked Gina:
How do you calculate the impact of a news story?
If lawyers and law firms invest, they should have ways to measure their investment. Unlike looking at the stock market and understanding what’s going up and what’s going down, it requires various tools and access to tools. For example, if you’re working with a small firm, you might want to be looking at their website analytics. Looking to see how the news is driving traffic to their website and where that traffic’s coming from. That’s just one indicator.
That doesn’t prove conversion, but if you see a call come in on that day about prospective new business, someone should ask, “Oh, how did you hear about us?” You can track it there as well.
There are also all the old-school tools that we use, like Share of Voice. How much is this attorney or this firm being mentioned in relation to its competitors? There’s a very old-school way, which is called the Advertising Value Equivalency. I don’t think it’s as reliable, but it’s for those firms where they don’t give you access to their CRM system or to their website analytics. If you’re solely doing public relations, it is a tool, but more importantly, it’s what they do with it.
It’s no longer build it and they will come, it’s build it and invite them, and then invite them again until they see it. By sharing it on social media, adding it in your email signature, doing other things with it. Even sending the article to where it’s relevant, including your newsletter. Those are the things where you’re still going to be able to track traffic back to your website and interest, which in fact is also going to gauge the opportunity to speak more on that particular topic when you see a trend.
There’s no easy way to track return on investment when it comes to public relations, but there are many ways to do it. What’s most important is having access to the data, to be able to prove the return on investment. That is the hardest piece, because most lawyers don’t give you access, but when you have it, you can prove it.
Janet Falk: There are different ways of gathering the data and then trying to find the relationship and the timing. The second thing that goes along with this is, it may not be immediate. Look at what happened. I arranged that conversation, and it took a few weeks before that conversation turned into a news article. It may be that someone sees the news story and then does nothing about it for months because it’s not relevant to them. Then, in the moment, it will become relevant. Then they will look for that kind of information and they will find you.
Gina Rubel: We have a large firm that does a lot of international franchise work. We did a background piece and sent it to a number of reporters. We said, “We’re sending this on background for an attorney who can speak to issues related to franchises in Russia, and this would be for background only.” The Wall Street Journal reporter called us back, and we connected them with our client. Our client just last week spoke to the reporter on background. For our listeners, that means not quotable. They just had a conversation, and now they’re in touch. As things play out, this attorney is available.
Don’t wait till you think you have a story. Be a resource in advance and develop relationships. Once you’ve developed the relationship, the journalist is more likely to take your call. So that’s just one way in developing media relations, so you can be the expert source that they call on when they have a need.
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