Law firm marketing activities should help enhance at least one of the four Rs: revenue, reputation, referrals, and retention. One way of enhancing reputation is to be quoted in the media.
Now, some lawyers would rank facing the media right down there on the popularity scale with root canals. They would consider the idea of actually cultivating relationships with journalists to be unseemly. However, you’ve all read news articles where the same lawyers get quoted over and over again. I’m sure you’ve wondered, “That lawyer doesn’t know any more than I do about that topic. How come he/she gets quoted all the time?” Or you see that the same firm consistently gets quoted and you wonder why. Perhaps you think it’s just vanity and has no impact on business development.
The fact is, about 80% of news coverage is actually “managed news”—someone pitched the story to the media. Some hardworking publicist diligently went the rounds and lined up those interviews, crafted the key messages, drilled the interviewee, and handed out the press kits.
As a lawyer, gaining a good reputation among your peers should be your first goal. But once you’ve written a few articles in the legal media, spoken at some conferences in your field, and maybe taught a course or two, it doesn’t hurt to widen the scope of your reputation. When your colleagues and clients see you quoted in the media, it enhances your reputation with them and announces your presence to those who aren’t yet aware of you.
There are two ways you can end up being quoted in the media: either you’re involved in something that the media are interested in, or you’ve actually taken steps to get the media interested. The first can be pretty scary and I’ll deal with that in another column. Here, I’ll focus on what it takes to interest the media in your story.
It’s called “media relations” and it is indeed all about building relationships with key media contacts. If your firm has a marketing department, this is part of their job. Some firms hire outside media relations consultants to work with them in pitching stories to the media.
Even if your firm has these services available to you, there’s much you need to understand about being a media source. The first thing is to understand what the media are looking for. Top of the list would be the “Can you confirm or deny…” stuff that will make tomorrow’s front page. Unless you routinely handle high profile deals or cases, you won’t be in this situation very often. In fact, you’re probably thinking, “I’m a tax lawyer, why would the media be interested in what I have to say?” Well, that’s the real art of media relations: figuring out what is of interest and then how you can provide it.
In addition to the main news, journalists are often looking for ‘sidebars’—tips, how to’s, where people go wrong, things to remember. That’s where lawyers can be particularly helpful, while of course being mindful of confidentiality and other rules of practice. However, general commentary (ten things to remember when making your will, seven mistakes people make when selling their businesses, etc.) demonstrates your expertise and positions you as an authority on the topic.
Then there are often situations where a journalist is looking for background, explanation, or commentary on something that’s currently making news. If they’re looking for background, they may just want to check their facts, not to quote you. If they’re looking for explanation, they need someone to help them understand a topic. Maybe they’ll quote you, maybe they won’t, but they will remember you if you took their call and were understandable. That will bring them back.
Very often, reporters seek comments on a case or transaction that’s in the headlines. They usually have a stable of resident experts that they contact in these situations, but it’s possible to pitch a comment if you have a niche area of expertise or if you’ve thought of an angle that hasn’t been covered so far. Comments on high-profile matters must be timely, accurate, and put forward a point of view. Since they are likely to receive great scrutiny, they shouldn’t be undertaken lightly.
In fact, media relations in general should never be undertaken lightly. Unlike advertising, where you decide what you want to say, in media relations the reporter has the last word. This is why I’ve likened media relations to walking a tightrope, because you’re a hero when it works and you’re dead when it doesn’t.
The court of public opinion is very different from any law court. There are no rules of procedure, no judge, no jury—and you’re guilty until proven innocent. So why enter the fray? I wouldn’t recommend doing it without advice and training. Any law firm that anticipates its lawyers engaging with the media should have a media relations policy and the lawyers most likely to handle calls from the media should be trained in the art of answering reporters’ questions.
More on this in my next column, but meanwhile here are six things to remember when deciding what might interest the media:
- Keep up with the news and review your work for any links to today’s news
- Look ahead: can you see a newsworthy story or a trend coming?
- List the most costly mistakes you’ve encountered, with tips to avoid them
- Read the work of writers you want to write about you
- Think long-term: good media relations takes time
- Seek advice and get training in dealing with the media