Wondering why your law firm isn’t getting the same media attention as competitors? The reality is that reporters don’t always interview lawyers who have the most interesting thing to say —they interview lawyers with good PR people.
So, what constitutes a good PR professional and how can they get their clients the media attention they want? Brandon Jacobsen, a former producer for the CBS Evening News, who spent time reporting in Washington, D.C., says there are certain things PR pros can do to get on reporters’ good sides and score those A-list placements. He shared 6 insights on the Law Firm Marketing Catalyst podcast and we’ve recapped them below.
- Build personal relationships, not just work ones.
Personal relationships are key when it comes to getting your message across. The media is all about who you know. Keep in mind journalists are busy people and they can’t always accept invitations to coffee dates or networking events. Instead, build those relationships while you’re working together.
During interviews or press conferences, prep your expert ahead of time so you can make the rounds with reporters and socialize a bit. Once the interview is over, don’t take off with your client to debrief immediately; stay with the journalists for a few minutes and make sure they have everything they need. From there, it’s simple to segue into a more personal conversation. Ask them about what else they’re working on or how they started in journalism. Before long, you’ll have a social relationship with the reporters you see frequently, which can benefit you when you pitch stories in the future.
- Pitching cold? Know how to do it correctly.
If you don’t already have a relationship with a news outlet, sending a story idea cold is still acceptable — if you do it right. First, know exactly who you want to pitch. Generic newsroom email addresses are a black hole, so always zero in on one or two reporters. Grab their attention with a sexy subject line and don’t be afraid to stroke their egos a bit by complimenting them on their past reporting. Then, keep your pitch short and sweet.
Don’t get in the weeds worrying about exactly who to pitch. Anyone can be a great person to pitch if you catch them at the right day, time and situation. Whether it’s TV, print or online, all newsrooms have at least one editorial meeting per day where everyone shares their story ideas, so there’s no silver bullet reporter to target. What matters more is that your pitch is perfect, because if you get someone’s attention and send them a bad pitch, it will be a lot harder to get their attention in the future.
- Find creative ways to leverage your news.
Lawyers can’t have multimillion-dollar verdicts every day, so law firms and their PR professionals need to be realistic about where and how often they get in the news. Let’s say a new Supreme Court pick is announced and you have a lawyer who argued before the nominee 10 years ago. That’s probably not enough of a connection to get your lawyer on the CBS Evening News. However, it could be enough to get an interview with a local CBS affiliate. You can’t always get the top tier media placements, but if you’re willing to go narrower, you can still secure some great attention.
Think about degrees of separation. You don’t always have to be intimately connected to the news of the moment. If there’s some connection, even five or six degrees away, you can still find a creative pitch — it just requires a bit of spin.
Scheduling can also be on your side. If your lawyer only has a loose connection to a story but they are available for an interview right away, she might beat out the lawyer who’s more connected but can’t do an interview until the next day. Reporters can’t wait around, so connecting them with lawyers who can talk ASAP is sometimes all it takes to secure the interview.
- Local doesn’t mean “lesser.”
It can be more difficult for smaller firms to get national visibility, but that doesn’t mean they need to resign themselves to second-rate media coverage. Local news can be just as valuable as national outlets, and, truthfully, PR professionals should be targeting the locals first. National reporters are always looking at local news to, for lack of a better word, steal their stories. Oftentimes, national reporters will use local stories as-is, using the same quotes and sound bites or inviting the same expert to do a TV segment. Don’t discount local stations and newspapers, because they could be your ticket to a national story.
- Prep your client to nail the interview.
Just because you’ve secured the interview doesn’t mean your work is done. Preparing your client for an interview is just as important as the interview itself. The first thing PR pros should do is tell their lawyers to keep the jargon to a minimum. Although the ins and outs of a legal topic are fascinating to a lawyer, reporters and the public don’t understand it and probably don’t care about it. Think macro, not micro, and stick to short, colorful sentences that would work well as sound bites.
Many lawyers worry that reporters are looking for a “gotcha!” moment. If your client is representing the “bad guy” in a polarizing story, it’s very possible that the reporter will take an adversarial stance. But whether the interview topic is controversial or not, being kind and friendly to the reporter is the number one way to ensure the interview goes well. A little charm goes a long way, especially considering the interviewer has the power to control how your client looks in front of the masses. Advise lawyers to treat reporters like they would a juror who’s watching them argue a case.
- Never say “no comment.”
The absolute worst thing you can say is “no comment.” The second worst is not calling a reporter back. These are the two most egregious sins any PR professional could ever commit because they make the client look like the bad guy who has something to hide. It leaves the door open for the reporter to track you or your client down and try to get answers when you’re unprepared. You don’t want to get TMZ’d and get peppered with questions when you’re leaving the gym or going to dinner.
It’s always better to say something, even if you have nothing to say. Give reporters three sentences, even if they’re totally meaningless, and call it your official statement. In the best-case scenario, your statement would be well-crafted and thoughtfully show your client’s side of the story, but if that’s not possible, a throwaway statement is better than radio silence.