Partnering with the Media for Mutual Success with Susan Bocamazo, Managing Director of BridgeTower Media
In this episode of On Record PR, Gina Rubel goes on record with Susan Bocamazo, Managing Director of BridgeTower Media, to discuss how lawyers can raise their profiles through mutually beneficial partnerships with media professionals. Susan is a graduate of Providence College and Harvard Law School. She practiced in the litigation department of Testa, Hurwitz and Thibeault in Boston before originally joining Lawyers Weekly as a news writer. She now serves as the managing director for BridgeTower Media’s legal vertical, which encompasses legal brands in Massachusetts, Virginia, Missouri, Michigan, North and South Carolina and Rhode Island. Susan has 20+ years of experience in the rapidly changing media industry, adapting to readers’ changing expectations and a digital-first world. She has expertise in all business areas, including community outreach, corporate strategy and organizational performance.
Tell me a little bit about your history in legal reporting and publishing.
I have a law degree, and I practiced for a couple of years in Boston at a firm that isn’t there anymore. I came to Lawyers Weekly, and I started out as a reporter. Then over time, I moved into an editor position. Then I was the publisher of the newspaper that you knew me from, Lawyers USA, which was a national paper for small firm attorneys. Then about a dozen years ago, I made the jump to Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly, which is one of the leading legal brands at BridgeTower Media.
Originally, I made the change because I was looking for a way to use my law degree that wasn’t necessarily practice. What was appealing to me was that, unlike the practice of law where you develop an expertise in something somewhat narrow, being a reporter, I could learn a little bit about a lot of things. One week I might be writing about ERISA compliance and another week it might be family law. I found that to be really fun. That’s one of the fun things about legal journalism – every day is different because you’re reporting on what happens, what is important to lawyers at any given point in time, and what’s changing in terms of their practice changes over time. The issues of 20 years ago aren’t the issues now. That’s what’s kept it very fresh.
Gina Rubel: We have that in common. That’s why I love being on the agency side of legal consulting in public relations, crisis, and marketing. Because there’s something new every day. I’m never bored. That’s for sure.
How can we be a great resource for information to help you come up to speed quickly, especially when it’s a breaking story?
I think this is true for a lot of organizations now as news organizations have become leaner and meaner, but in my vertical, which are all the legal brands, we get an enormous number of story ideas from sources, from people picking up the phone or sending an email and saying, “This is something you really should know about.” When I first stepped into the role, I think there was a real misconception. I would be out and about. I’d meet attorneys and they’d say, “Oh, I have this incredibly interesting case. I don’t know who to tell.” I said, “Well, you should tell me.”
Don’t hesitate to pick up the phone and contact that particular publication if you think it’s going to be of interest to them. We can’t be in every courthouse, we can’t go to every hearing, but we get an enormous amount of story ideas from someone either emailing the editor or reaching out to a reporter. We try to be out and about in the community, so you’re going to meet us. It is very reciprocal. We need our readers just as much as they need us. They provide us with information. They tell us what we need to care about. They tell us what matters to lawyers. Then we provide it to the more general bar. If you think of it in those terms that we’re working together, I think that’s really the best way to approach it.
Gina Rubel: Well, it’s interesting you say that because I’m always counseling clients to develop the relationship before the need.
Susan Bocamazo: I think that’s exactly right. If you know the reporter and they know you, go out for a cup of coffee. Then, when you reach out and say, “I think this is really interesting, Susan,” I know you, I know you’re trustworthy, and I take you at your word.
Tell us about what deadlines mean to you in this new digital-first arena.
The concept of deadline has definitely shifted over time. It used to be it was all tied to the production of the print product. We are weekly, still, in Massachusetts, and every week there’s a certain day that would be the cutoff. That’s when reporters would write their stories. Deadlines have tightened up a lot. If someone’s writing an article for a magazine and some of our other publications, they might have a couple of days to work on it. However, a lot of times it’s a lot more pressing than that.
If a reporter reaches out to you and they’re working on a breaking story, they really need you to talk to them pretty much right away. If you call back in two days, you’re going to have missed that opportunity. On the flip side, if you are pitching a story, you don’t want to say to the reporter, “Well, I actually can’t talk about this for three weeks.” That’s not really the timeframe that we work in anymore. Everything is a little more immediate than it used to be.
What drives the importance of getting a story out there so quickly?
The competitiveness. It’s a little less so for us because we are not part of the general media where there are all these different outlets. With the information in a business-to-business publication that you provide, there’s probably less competition. But there’s some. In fact, the local daily newspaper might have a lot of legal coverage, for example. We don’t want the local paper to get it before we do because we’re Lawyers Weekly. That’s certainly part of it. Now, we’re almost like a daily in a lot of respects. Whereas it used to be, “Oh, we’re weekly. News only comes out weekly.” That’s not really true anymore. Between the website and the daily alert, we’re almost as much of a daily as your traditional daily newspaper.
Gina Rubel: Well, especially with anything that’s breaking.
How can our listeners plan the best way to handle media inquiries in the event that they’re contacted by a reporter?
The best way to do that is to give it some thought ahead of time. Before the reporter calls, think about how you’re going to field those kinds of requests so you don’t panic in the moment. Give some thought to, is there going to be a designated person? Do you have a PR/marketing person that you have to go through? At some law firms, they want the lawyer to not speak, but to reach out to who the contact is. Have a plan for what you’re going to need to ask the reporter. What’s your deadline? Can you give me a sense of what you want to talk about? When do you need me to get back to you? Then, schedule a time to talk. Keep in mind that it may have to be a pretty short timeframe.
Gina Rubel: I think that’s an important thing when you say, plan what you’re going to say. I want to share a tip because it’s something we’re seeing now in the media with a lot of the SCOTUS decisions coming down – in particular, the affirmative action decision. A lot of law firms have very robust diversity programs, but they’re not thinking about how they’re going to respond to media queries in the event that, for example, they’re subject to a lawsuit. Because we very recently saw two lawsuits come down with two top law firms in the country related to the affirmative action decisions.
The clients we represent already have responses drawn up in the event that the media calls, because they have robust diversity programs. There are many times that the attorneys can anticipate, whether it be for the firm or for a particular matter. If they know a matter is going to be coming to completion in the next few weeks and it’s high profile, for example, or there’s something big happening in their community with civil rights and they’re going to get a phone call, those types of responses can be drafted well in advance of getting a phone call from a reporter.
Susan Bocamazo: I think that’s exactly right. You know what you’re working on and you know what’s coming up in your local legal community – the case, the decisions that are expected. If that’s your case and you know there’s going to be a verdict soon, you want to give some thought to what you’re going to say.
Gina Rubel: As a PR person, I love when we get the call from the attorney that says, “I got a great decision on a case three weeks ago. Can you get us in headline news?” What does that do to you if I send you or any of your reporters a press release on a decision that came down weeks ago?
Susan Bocamazo: At that point, it’s old news. Unless it’s part of a trend, that’s not useful to us. Immediacy really does matter. Don’t shop it to everyone else in town and then bring it to us.
Gina Rubel: Those are two good ground rules. Timeliness, being respectful of all the publications, and especially knowing your audience. If it’s a Massachusetts story, shouldn’t it be going to Massachusetts first, and then elsewhere?
What ground rules can we set when speaking to a reporter? What should lawyers and their representatives be thinking about?
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. Give some thought, and the story you pitch to Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly or the Boston Globe is going to be pretty different. What fits for one audience doesn’t fit for another. If it’s more technical and legal, maybe it’s for us. If it’s more human interest, maybe it’s more for general circulation. If you craft your pitch to fit the publication, you’re going to have more likelihood that you’re going to have success and it’s going to resonate with whoever you send it to.
Gina Rubel: That’s music to my ears, by the way. Oftentimes, we’ll get lawyers saying, “Well, why does it take you so long to issue a press release? Just BCC everyone.” We have never just BCCed a press release. It’s always very specific as to why this is relevant to your outlet and your audience and what makes it different for that outlet and audience. There are different reasons why it’s important. You know if you got something BCCed. It’s pretty obvious.
Susan Bocamazo: It’s not one size fits all. I think that’s exactly right. To follow on that point, the other thing is, and this is something where people like you really are incredibly helpful to us, is to help explain to law firms that everything isn’t a story. Some of it is really more, frankly, marketing. That’s not a news story. It needs to be something. I’m sure this comes up for you all the time, where you’re trying to explain, “Okay, that’s not something that is going to be generally interesting to everyone else in the profession.” You need to think about it from that perspective. I sometimes go on calls with my editor or with a marketing person to visit firms and try to explain that difference, that everything isn’t a story just because it matters to you and how your firm is performing.
Gina Rubel: It’s interesting that you say that. Because even some of the things that used to be news have now become revenue streams under the new business model. For example, People in the News. We all know that it’s always the most read section of a publication. Everybody wants to know what everybody else is doing. Most media outlets and businesses and B2B have made that a revenue generator in the last five years.
Part of our job is explaining to our clients why the fact that you have this new partner in one office is not going to get picked up anymore unless that person was the CEO or some high-level executive, or the managing office partner or managing partner, like those extra things. It’s been a challenge on the PR side to have to explain. This is why we do these interviews, by the way. We want our audience to understand the inner workings of the media so that they can be better sources of information but also respect that it’s still a business. You have a business to run. Without revenue like advertising revenue, subscribership, and CLEs, all the different things that you do, you don’t have a business. Then there would be no media outlet.
What are some of the best approaches if someone wants to become a trusted media resource?
One of the best approaches, honestly, can be to just reach out to, for my publication, the editor, me, or even one of the reporters and say, “Could we just grab a cup of coffee?” It’s very informal and you just tell them what you do. “This is my practice. These are the kinds of cases I have. These are the kinds of issues that come up in my practice that I think are important. If you ever need a source, give me a call.” Reporters are always looking to have new voices. We’re always looking to expand the list of potential people we can talk to. We don’t want it to be the same people over and over again. You want to get all voices in the community. Now they’ve got your name and you’ve said, “Reach out to me and I’m willing to be helpful.”
But then if they call you, you need to be helpful. You don’t want to be the person who didn’t call back. Honestly, it’s fine to get back to somebody and say, “I actually can’t really speak to this, but here’s somebody else who can.” That still makes you a great resource. It’s when you don’t return the call at all. That’s very frustrating. Then you just have to keep making call after call because you’ve got a deadline and you’ve got to talk to somebody. Understand they’ve got a job to do and respond. Either help if you can or point them in a different direction. That builds that relationship. It’s all about having a relationship.
Gina Rubel: I like to tell people, even if you get their email and respond by email saying, “I received your voicemail. I’m on deadline for something. What is your deadline? Do you have specific questions that you plan to ask? Because I’d love to be able to help you, but I might not be able to do it right now.” Sometimes I find that reporters will say, “Okay, I have three hours. Here’s a question. Just get me a draft answer.” I think we’re less apt to pick up the phone today because of the amount of time and billable hours and so on and so forth.
I’m not encouraging not picking up the phone, to be clear. But I also understand that everybody’s under constant deadline. So ask, “Can we communicate via email?” If you, as an attorney, are so inundated with other things, don’t hesitate also to say, “I would love to be a resource to you. I can’t do it today, but may I recommend?” and recommend other people because that’s always being a good resource to media outlets as well. Or at least, that’s my understanding. Do you agree with that?
Susan Bocamazo: I completely agree with that. I think the important thing is to respond one way or another. If you can’t do it because of time constraints, you say, “I’d love to be a resource in the future. I can’t get to it this time, but I suggest you call so-and-so.” Respond and say, “I can’t talk today. Could we schedule a time tomorrow?” It’s being respectful of the request and giving some kind of response. Even if it’s, “I can’t do this for you,” that’s still building the relationship with someone who will get back to you even if they can’t be helpful for that particular story. That’s important.
Gina Rubel: Especially if you are not the best source, it’s not your area, or it’s a case where you have a conflict. I have always found that that type of honesty is the best policy. “This isn’t my area of expertise or, you know what, I’m conflicted out from answering that. So I’m going to pass on this one.” I’ve always found that reporters are very respectful of that.
Susan Bocamazo: I think that’s right. Getting the response, even if it’s, “I can’t help you,” just fosters that give-and-take relationship of being upfront with each other.
Gina Rubel: I had met with Hal Cohen, the CEO of BridgeTower Media. I’ve known Hal for many years. He’s been in legal publishing for many years. One of the first things I said to him was, “We see all these legal publications by city,” and I started trying to understand what your markets were in comparison to other markets. Because it’s a different publisher. You don’t typically have competing publications that are city or state-niche legal.
It’s important for our listeners to understand. The same holds true with business journals. There are different publishers of business journals. It’s not all one publisher in the whole country. It’s important to choose the right outlet and understand the media within your city, state, region, industry, and practice area.
For the various publications under BridgeTower Media, how can our audience identify and pitch stories, and ideas that will resonate with those reporters? What are some of the tips you have for them?
I think it’s a little of what we talked about earlier, which is thinking about who the best audience is for what you see as the story, and then finding the publication. Sometimes it’s publications, but often it’s one that is going to be the best fit for what the story is. If it’s a story about business trends, it’s probably a business journal. If it’s a story about a recent decision, legal might be the way to go. Think about who is this of most interest to. That’s the publication you want to pitch it to. Then in the pitch, you explain, “This is important because… Here’s what happened and this is why I think this is important to your readers.” That’s the obvious first question, “Well, why does it matter to me?” You give that answer. It’s important and here’s why. That’s the hook.
Gina Rubel: How important are email headlines?
Susan Bocamazo: I think email headlines are pretty important because we all get a lot of email. If you don’t immediately know what the email is about, well, maybe you don’t look at it right away. I think the headline is really important. In terms of the email, brevity is important. Don’t write a novel. You want to succinctly say, “Here’s the issue, and here’s why it’s important.” Because reporters get a lot of email like everybody does. Your human nature is to go to the ones that look like they’re going to be the most promising.
Gina Rubel: You know what’s funny? I get to work on both sides of the fence because of the podcast. We are being pitched every day by people who want us to tell their stories. One of my biggest pet peeves is that email that just says “press release” in the headline.
I just delete them. I’m like, “Yeah, great. You have a press release.” What is in this for my audience? Why does our audience care? How is it relevant? It’s interesting because the name of the podcast is On Record PR. People will just assume that we’ll put anyone on. But our primary target audience is law firms and business-to-business executives. It’s a very specific audience. If it’s a PR firm that does consumer products, why would we have you on? It’s telling lawyers that we have to think about it. I’m sure you remember when we were trained in advocacy in law school, we talked about picking a jury, right? You are picking people who can hear and resonate with your message. That email subject line is so important, in my opinion, even from all the pitches I get. It’s got to be relevant.
Susan Bocamazo: I think it goes back to understanding the audience and communicating why this matters to that audience. You have to do your research.
Gina Rubel: A lot of what we’re talking about is public relations, in particular, media relations. But BridgeTower Media does have a big set of offerings in terms of different ways that lawyers can raise their profiles. Going to the other side of the fence, whether it be paid sponsorships, advertising dollars, things like that.
What is your editorial and advertising policy? Is there a wall between those two things?
There is a wall. Editorial decides what we’re going to cover. There are opportunities, though, that have an editorial component that are paid opportunities. Sponsored content is an example, and some of our special publications have an editorial component that works on them, such as compiling honorees and speaking at our events. They’re not completely separate. There is a little bit of bleed. But in terms of deciding what is covered, that’s an editorial decision.
Sponsored content is a newer phenomenon, right? That wasn’t anything when I started out. But now, there’s a whole subset of content that is driven by the advertiser and not driven by editorial. It’s advertising in a content sense as opposed to what we think of as traditional advertising, which is straight-up ads.
Gina Rubel: Would any of the publications give preference to a story just because somebody was an advertiser?
Susan Bocamazo: No.
Gina Rubel: That’s what I was trying to get at. Because oftentimes people say, “Well, we advertise there. They should run this story.” I’m like, “Well, they’re not going to.”
Susan Bocamazo: No, it doesn’t work that way. In fact, we’ve run stories that are critical of advertisers. That’s the way it goes. Then we’re not being truthful with our readers if we’re keeping stories from them or not pursuing things because there’s an advertiser involved. We would lose all credibility.
How can media companies, PR companies, and other agencies like ours, like Furia Rubel, work best with BridgeTower Media? What do you wish we understood about your business?
I think that most PR companies and marketing folks do understand all that we’ve been talking about, that not everything is a story. There’s free media and there’s paid media. And what fits in what bucket. But not everybody does. I’ve certainly dealt with marketing people who were insistent – “Why can’t you just do this story?” Because it’s not a story for the broader audience. I would encourage your listeners to listen to the advice they’re getting from people like Gina. What they’re telling you is true. There are different types of media exposure. Some are paid, some aren’t. Understand the difference. And don’t think that paid exposure is necessarily inferior because it isn’t.
You could be speaking on a panel, you could be sponsoring an event. There’s a lot of exposure there that comes from a paid opportunity like that – being able to get up in front of a large crowd, talk about your business, talk about your firm. It’s paid, but it’s still valuable. The free isn’t the only thing that’s a good way to reach that audience. More and more we talk about how you want to reach people in multiple channels. You want to be on the publication. You also want to be at their events. You want to be a speaker on their panels. You want to reach that audience across all the different touchpoints so that you are raising your brand awareness and making people aware of your name more than just being in the publication.
What are some of the trends you’re seeing in legal right now that you think are going to continue to be covered?
One thing that’s been happening for the past maybe five or six years and is still continuing to happen is that you’re losing those firms that are purely local in their presence – the good-sized firm that’s a Boston-based firm and doesn’t have offices elsewhere. More and more, you’re seeing firms that are Midwest firms having offices in the Northeast, having offices on the West Coast, Southeast firms now having an office in Boston. Boston firms now opening an office in the Midwest. And firms are becoming much more national, or at least regional, and much less specific to just a certain state. That, frankly, puts some firms that don’t do that probably at a little bit of a disadvantage.
Now firms do that in a couple of ways. Sometimes, they come in and they poach a couple of people from a local firm and they set up kind of an outpost. But sometimes they come in and they want to build a presence because they want to stake a claim in that market and they’re looking for lateral talent. That’s continuing to happen. It’s been happening this year; firms that never had a Boston presence suddenly do.
Another thing I’ll mention, and this is post-pandemic, is getting people back in the office. Law firms, you remember I’m sure from practice, expected everyone to be in the office every day, all day. That’s what everybody did. It was very important to be seen by the partners, to be seen to be working late. The pandemic hits and, all of a sudden, law firms, like everybody else, have people working from home. For a long time, I think the firms were reluctant to make people come back. What I’m seeing certainly in this market here is that that seems to have turned a corner. I’m hearing more and more from firms and from partners, “We need people in the office.” They’re concerned about training. They’re concerned about mentoring.
How do you train folks, specifically in a litigation practice? You can’t do that over Zoom. How do you mentor the next group who are going to be leaders in the community, if it’s all remote? The problem they’re running into is that a lot of these people were students during Covid and they weren’t in class. They took their classes remotely. It doesn’t feel natural to them. But it’s a real push-pull. I’m hearing a lot of firms saying, “You know what? We have to have people back. We’re losing a lot without having that collegiality in being able to stick your head in a partner’s office and ask them a question.”
Gina Rubel: It’s interesting. That’s a whole other podcast. It’s a whole other topic. Because it is so firm- and culture-dependent. There are many firms running successful practices where they’re almost still fully virtual, but they’re using all sorts of digital platforms and they’re outfitting home offices. Then there are others that are back to the office six days a week. My gut says it’s going to play out very decisively based on the culture of the individuals that they’re recruiting. It’s not a benefit either way if somebody doesn’t perceive it as a benefit.
Anyway, that’s just my two cents. I have clients who are two days of the week in the office and everybody’s thriving and they’re more profitable than ever and more productive and people are happier. So who knows? I do think, however, just since you’re in Boston and I’m outside of Philadelphia, that the Northeast is driving a lot of the return-to-office mindset. But that’s very common with Boston, New York, Philadelphia, DC, in leading that more conservative view of this is the way it should be done and has always been done. It’s going to be interesting to see.
Susan Bocamazo: You’re right. Law’s a traditional profession and there is a lot of that, “This is how it’s always been done. We were always in the office together working on things.” And there’s resistance to seeing that change, for sure.
Gina Rubel: Huge. Especially with support staff. It’s going to become so difficult to get great support staff if there’s not some level of flexibility.
Susan Bocamazo: You do run into issues sometimes where you want to make sure that the rules are the same for everybody. If the lawyers don’t have to be in all the time, it becomes even harder to say to your support staff, “Well, you’ve got to be here five days a week. Because of the kind of work we do, we can work remotely.” That doesn’t really build that team approach.
Gina Rubel: No, there’s no team in that either. I think we’re seeing a lot of the same trends. I think we’re also trying to navigate the new laws of the land, as you will, how the Supreme Court is coming down, and how each of those things affects the law firms. Whether it be affirmative action or Roe v. Wade or same-sex marriage, it affects how these firms not only counsel their clients, but how they run their own companies.
Susan Bocamazo: Well, that’s exactly right. Because their firms are employers too. All of these issues are issues for employers. With DEI programs, there was a decision on how you handle religious accommodations. Well, those apply to the law firms themselves with their own employees in addition to how they counsel their clients. The other thing I was going to mention, of course, which is what everybody talks about these days is AI. Every day, I read a new story about AI and legal.
You’ve got lawyers getting in trouble for filing briefs that have cases that aren’t real cases because they weren’t vetted. You’ve got judges in some jurisdictions telling lawyers they’ve got to certify that a human being looked at these filings and said, “These are real cases.” It’s very interesting. Because it clearly can save work. Remember document review? Now with eDiscovery tools, you can cull through all those man-hours that I know I spent and the paralegal spent going through those documents. But the law is so much about people paying us for our judgment. They pay us for our knowledge and our judgment, and we can’t turn that over to an algorithm.
Gina Rubel: It’s so true. I do generative AI policy training for law firms and have been doing CLEs all over the country because so many of them don’t know even how to roll out generative AI use or non-use in their firms. They don’t know how it affects their business and don’t know the IP issues. There are just a lot of issues. Yet with a policy and training, they can be used in a very useful way. But you don’t want to be the law firm that got over 750 media hits on filing a false brief with content from generative AI, i.e. ChatGPT, and had over 12 million dollars’ worth of negative coverage because of this. At the end of the day, I think we all came to the conclusion, how does a lawyer go to court with a brief that wasn’t vetted or shepardized? It’d be like taking a law student, having them write your brief, and not double-checking the citations. It falls on the lawyers. But it’s a good reason to understand why generative AI is such an important topic right now, why it is trending in the industry, and why reporters are talking about it.
Susan Bocamazo: There are obviously enormous possibilities. But there are also a lot of risks there. It goes beyond just what we talked about. There are privacy issues, copyright issues, and issues with hiring. It could come up for law firms or their clients if there’s some implicit bias that’s bleeding into it because of the use of an algorithm to screen resumes. It seems all very shiny and exciting, but there’s absolutely some concerns there.
Gina Rubel: I wrote one of the first articles for a trade publication that covers all of those risks. We have a whole generative AI resource center on our website for law firms. We’re linking back to content that you’ve published, as well as other outlets. Because it’s just such an important topic right now. It’s as important today as all of the work-from-office protecting your employees was in 2020 during the pandemic. It’s just another trend. We’re not writing about the pandemic anymore. But we’re certainly writing about generative AI.
If you could give one tip for working with BridgeTower Media publications, what would that be?
I think all of the publications in BridgeTower – and we have business vertical, we have construction vertical, we have legal vertical, we have home furnishings – all of these are really parts of the community. We’re not newspapers. We’re not just publications. We do events, we put on programs, and we provide thought leadership. Think of us that way – that we are part of the community with you. Lawyers Weekly is part of the community here in Boston. In all the other states, we have Lawyers Weekly papers. Think about it as working with us, that we are partners. Yes, we have clients. Yes, we have advertisers. But we see it as a partnership and we see us as working together. So everybody’s successful. We run a business, you run a business. We can work together to make everybody successful.
I’ve been with the company for a long time. We have some other people with a lot of longevity. And it’s those personal relationships that make it work. If you think of us as a partner and someone that you’re going to work with long-term, what we’re looking to do is we’re not just going to take your money. We want to work with you and we want to make you more successful. Think of us the same way, that we are working towards a common goal.
Learn more about Gina Rubel
Listen to more episodes of On Record PR