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Episode 82: The Effects of COVID on the Media Industry – What Law Firms Need to Know with Aly Crea, Account Director at Berbay Marketing & PR

Sharon: Welcome to the Law Firm Marketing Catalyst Podcast. Today, my guest is Aly Crea, Account Director at Berbay Marketing & Public Relations. Aly has years of experience in working with law firms to promote their successes and manage their reputations. We’ll be talking about how the COVID pandemic has changed the world of law firm marketing and public relations, and what you need to know to move forward. Aly, welcome to the program.

Aly:       Thank you for having me.

Sharon: So glad to have you. Can you tell us about your own career path? Did you always want to go into public relations or legal marketing, and what did you study in school?

Aly:       Sure, so I’ve been working in public relations and marketing for nearly ten years now and I knew I always wanted to be in this industry. I studied communications and public relations in college as well as sociology, and I was really eager to land my first job at an agency soon after graduation because I really didn’t want to be pigeon-holed into working on only one type of client and so an agency was more appealing for me and I wanted a variety of work and to learn as much as I could and very early on. I started in entertainment PR, but I didn’t find it stimulating enough and it really wasn’t working out for me, so I switched into consumer and tech public relations and then eventually evolving into professional services and legal marketing and public relations. My background in tech really allowed for an easier transition into the legal and professional services industry and because the subject matter can be more challenging, but I was ready to take it on.

Sharon: That’s great. No, that’s great. A lot of times people come from entertainment and they’re ready to take on legal marketing. It can be stimulating, depending on what stimulates you.

Aly:       That’s very true.

Sharon: We’ve all be dealing with the pandemic and dealing with it in our own ways, whether just personally or as a law firm marketer or if you work in a law firm. So, what are some of the factors that are changing the media industry and journalists? Even before the pandemic, what was changing in the industry?

Aly:       Right, even before the pandemic, we all had seen that the media industry was changing and struggling over the last several years. I mean, we witnessed the death of print and that was really the beginning of this big shift. Lots of new technology started out, smart phones and social media. So that’s really changed in a lot of ways.

People started turning to social media and relied on it to really get their news and lots of new websites and online publications started to emerge and people started consuming more and more content and with that, these sites are starting to compete with each other. So, it was really important to them to get clicks on their articles, to get more eyes on the content and because of that, digital marketing really soared—or digital advertising, excuse me, and ad revenue soared because people saw this as a way to generate revenue and then because of that, we saw a lot of publishers relying more and more on reporters to drive subscriptions. With that shift away from print, it really made newsrooms consolidated or merge, and there were cuts being made to resources and staffing and because of that, journalists now are being asked to cover multiple beats and put out more and more content. They’re wearing multiple hats now.

Another big factor before COVID was talking about fake news. Journalists are really struggling with the freedom of press being attacked and a lot of distrust being sowed because of this fake news. They have to work harder than ever to gain that trust back. Another change that we’re seeing though is because of this distrust, speed on reporting versus accuracy. Accuracy is more important now than ever before. Speed has backfired on some outlets of putting out stories before facts are confirmed. I think we’re seeing a lot more of this scrutiny with journalists who are more reliant now on being accurate before putting out stories. Those are some of the major changes we saw before COVID.

Sharon: And so how has the pandemic accelerated these changes?

Aly:       It’s definitely accelerated all of these changes as well. Because of the pandemic, people are now really staying at home. There’s unemployment rising. The big effect we’ve seen is on digital advertising. Because of this, people staying at home, being unemployed, a lot of advertisers really cut back on their promotional advertising and that’s a high blow to media outlets. So, because of that, more media outlets are cutting their staffs even more. It’s certainly exacerbated all of these challenges.

Sharon: With all of these channels now, it seems like a new social media distribution channel is popping up every day. How do you break through all the clutter? I mean it’s so cluttered. There’s so much noise. How do you break through?

Aly:       Yeah, that’s a really tough thing to do now. As you’ve seen, media outlets are competing against fake news and misleading, and an overwhelming amount of content out there. But what we need to remember is that not all media outlets are created equal and then we have to be discerning and just strategic about what outlets we are pitching and this is even more challenging now that newsrooms are short-staffed or inundated with stories.

What we can do, and what we’ve done, is just be really creative to get our clients the visibility they deserve, and it goes back to being effective communicators. We really have to ensure our message is clear and direct, and just cut out the fluff. We have to be very to the point with journalism. How does the story fit into their world? What’s their relevant target audience? And really provide an opinion. They want to know what is important about this story or pitch that we’re trying to get them opportunities on, but at the end of the day, these are just human beings as well and they’re going through the same things we are. They’re trying to do their jobs. So, if we can be as helpful to them as possible and provide reliable resources and we’re timely in our responses and just showing that we can help, then that really cuts through the clutter and that really is how we’ve been successful in getting clients the visibility that they need. And sometimes it means repositioning your strategy or your pitch angle. It just means they have got to be really creative and able to adjust when needed.

Sharon: So, what are you advising clients? Are you advising them any differently? I mean is it more exactly what you’re saying that they have to be—you working in conjunction with them; everybody has to be more creative in coming up with different angles on what hasn’t been covered? What are the changes for law firm marketing and PR people?

Aly:       Yeah, I mean I think one, explaining these changes so that our clients know that this landscape—how much it’s changed, what we’re competing against. Reporters are being asked to wear a lot of hats, so news announcements previously that used to get multiple placements, may only get one or two now. It may also take longer to get stories placed. We just have to adjust our expectations with this new media landscape and make sure that that’s clear. And really that’s the biggest thing is just setting expectations. What used to get a lot of traction before, doesn’t anymore.

Sharon: I think that’s really important about setting expectations. Yeah, not everything is going to make the front page. I’m showing my orientation or my age actually when they say the front page of the Wall Street Journal because now it’s online, the digital version, right of the Wall Street Journal?

Aly:       Yes.

Sharon: So, what else would you advise law firm marketers or law PR people? What else would you advise them when they’re advising clients or what have you learned in your experience from all of this? What do you do differently, make sure that you adjust expectations or at least communicate that clients need to adjust their expectations?  What else do you think?  It seems like it just takes a lot more effort to look at a story from all different directions.

Aly:       Yeah, I think one of the biggest things is going back to communicating effectively and concisely. Messaging that maybe a law firm uses for marketing materials and advertisements is not going to be the same for media. It’s going to be very different. You’ve got to cut out the jargon, the fluff or any self-promotional language. We just have to remember that. When we’re working with journalists, they don’t care about all of that. They want to know how you can help their story. What information can you provide that will make this story interesting? And that’s really what I’ve learned, that getting those opportunities with reporters will lead to visibility. Cutting out the promotional information and just really getting to the meat of what is important for this journalist or for this publication is really what we tell our clients all the time and it’s an ongoing process. It’s hard to change someone’s habits because they often want to talk about the firm and the attorneys, but that’s where we come in. We often help them and coach them so that they know that is how you work with media versus marketing or advertising.

Sharon: I mean they’re not new messages so much as they are stronger messages or clearer messages in a way. I’m thinking about for example we’ve counseled—or in PR in terms of being helpful to a reporter, but now even more than ever it sounds like because they’re wearing so many hats and running from one thing to the other, it sounds like being as helpful as possible is a real asset.

Aly:       Exactly, like you said, the message is the same; it’s just probably packaged differently, and journalists are getting so many e-mails, inundated with hundreds of e-mails every day. How can we get a message across in one or two sentences in the subject line? It’s really thinking about how can we hit the nail on the head immediately so that journalist can see and clearly know that we have the information that they need or we’re here to offer a resource to help make their jobs easier.

Sharon: And do you communicate reports via direct messaging or on Instagram or Facebook because like you say, they’re getting so many e-mails?

Aly:       E-mail is still the primary way that we work with media and that really hasn’t changed.  There are other channels and it’s always good to try other avenues when you’re not getting results, but e-mail is still the best way and especially now because a lot of journalists are working from home, so they’re not at their desks at the office, so some-times phone numbers don’t reach them at the correct location. They’re really relying on e-mail and it’s just a matter of also following up, but that’s still really the main way. I think it’s the most important way. If you want to message a reporter on Twitter, that’s also a great way if you know they’re very active, but at the end of the day, e-mail is still the best way.

Sharon: That’s a really good point and sometimes something I forget that people are not in their offices. I mean journalists are always running around, but nobody’s in their office right now or where their “office” used to be. Everybody is at home in their home office or sitting at the coffee table or whatever.

Aly:       Right, exactly, so at Berbay, we always follow up with a phone call, but yeah, the pandemic has really changed things. People don’t always share their cell phones because it’s personal, but that’s why it’s even more important than ever.

Sharon: O.K., that’s a good point because you do have these other options, you do think that maybe should I try Twitter, should I try Facebook, should I ignore e-mail, but it sounds like that is the main channel, so that’s important. And so what do you think the long-term changes will be from the pandemic in terms of marketing and PR for law firm marketers and PR people?

Aly:       I think it goes back to what I mentioned earlier about expectations, that an announcement that once generated multiple placements is just no longer happening; it’s no longer generating the same amount of visibility as it once did. I think that’s really the long-term change when we think about this, when the pandemic is over, because the media landscape has just shifted so much and changed so much in terms of staffing and the sizes of newsrooms and journalists wearing all sorts of hats now. So again, our expectations are changing. I think that’s not going to go anywhere. I would say that’s going to be the main themes – that you shouldn’t be alarmed now if we only get one placement from that press release, that’s just the new reality that we’re facing.

Sharon: Those are really good points and I like the term “the new reality.” The new normal, right?  There is a new normal. There was a new normal which has sort of morphed into the newer new normal now.

Thank you so much, Aly, for sharing all of that with us and I know you’re on the front lines in terms of pitching and in terms of managing expectations and crafting stories. It’s the packaging. You mentioned it’s the packaging because you have a story, and you can package it different ways. You have your thinking cap on in terms of looking at it from a 360 degree angle. Thank you so much for being with us here today.

Aly:       Thank you for having me. It was a pleasure.

Sharon: It was great to talk with you. Thank you very much.



Berbay Marketing & PR