For years, appearing in the news has been one of the best ways for lawyers to build up credibility within their community and introduce their firm to potential new clients. However, a recent marketing survey by Answering Legal revealed that nearly 70 percent of lawyers today don’t have any press connections.
Why have attorneys been slacking in this area? It’s hard to know for sure, although factors such as a rise in unreliable news sources and a diminishing print media could be at play. However, most legal marketing experts agree that building a relationship with local press can be highly beneficial to a law firm.
“To be frank, this is one of the most effective ways to get free advertising,” Amy Juers, CEO at Edge Legal Marketing, recently told Answering Legal. “While a lawyer cannot and should not promote their firm’s services directly via media relations, gaining media coverage and airtime opens the door to showing the local market that they are the go-to firm for help.”
Dealing with the media can be somewhat of a daunting process, especially if you haven’t engaged with reporters before. That’s why we put together 11 legal marketing tips to follow when reaching out to and working with journalists.
1- Make Sure You Have Something Of Value To Pitch
If you’re starting a new relationship with a reporter, you want your first impression on them to be a good one. So before reaching out to local news outlets with a story suggestion, think carefully about whether your pitch is actually newsworthy. Does your pitch surround a topic that is currently relevant? Are you sharing a story that will strike an emotional chord with people? Take time to consider what value the story you’re suggesting a reporter to take on will provide a potential reader or viewer. Accessing the potential value of your story is the first thing a reporter will do after hearing your pitch. If you want them to actually work with you, you must give them something they can sell to their editors.
2- The More Work You Do For The Reporter, The More Likely They’ll Be To Do Your Story
If you go to a reporter and suggest they do a story on asbestos related illnesses in your community, and don’t provide them with any further information, your chances of hearing back from them won’t be all that great. However, if you pitch a story on an increase on asbestos related illnesses, and say you know people who have been personally affected and can put the reporter in touch with them, your odds of getting a response will go way up. When making a pitch, you’re not just asking for valuable space in a newspaper or news hour, you’re asking a reporter to make an investment in time. The more information you can provide in a pitch, the easier it will be for a reporter to envision a story coming together and commit to doing your story.
3- Be Mindful Of Reporter Deadlines
Reporters aren’t going to wait on you forever. In most cases, they can’t afford to, as they need to get their stories completed and ready to be published within a short window of time. Failing to answer a reporter’s calls or emails is a quick way to get cut out of a story or see a story you pitched get tossed aside. On the other hand, if you’re quick to respond to a reporter’s questions and requests, your chances of being featured in future stories will go way up. Quite often, reporters find themselves up against it deadline wise, and may need an expert to chime in on a story in a hurry. Once you come through for a reporter once, you’ll always be on their call list.
4- Don’t Be Difficult To Work With
Your goal when reaching out to local media should not be just to make a one-time appearance in the press, but to build long-term relationships, so you can make multiple appearances. Keep that in mind when interacting with reporters, and don’t be short with them or dismissive of their questions. Reporters are human too, and will only have so much patience for a grouchy source, no matter how knowledgeable they are. After all, you aren’t the only lawyer in town they can turn to for a quote.
5- Make Your Quotes Easy For The Average Person To Digest
Keep in mind that you giving a quote doesn’t guarantee a reporter will use it in their story. If they find your quote to be difficult to understand, or to be an awkward fit in their story, they may end up leaving it out. Don’t be afraid to show off your legal knowledge when talking to reporters, but keep your word choice and phrasing simple. Avoid using legal jargon the average person won’t be familiar with. Also, when working on print stories, keep in mind that many writers will be dealing with strict word counts, and lengthy quotes will likely have to be removed in order to save space. Unless you’re contributing to a longer feature story, always be as simple and direct as possible with your answers to reporter’s questions.
6- Remember, The Story Is Usually Not About Your Firm
Reporters don’t serve as mouthpieces for your firm. They are interested in telling important and interesting stories, not giving your firm free promotion. If you ask a reporter to write about an award or big case your firm recently won, you’ll in most cases receive a quick no. The stories you pitch should always center around a bigger issue that is relevant to the work you do. One way you can put you and your practice in the spotlight is to rally behind a certain charitable cause. If you’re organizing a charitable event or raising money for a specific reason, reporters then may be interested in writing about your law office. Just remember the story will need to focus on the cause above all else.
7- Make Sure You Have Your Facts Straight, And Don’t Exaggerate
Reporters have to run all their stories through editors and copyeditors, and it is their job to check all of the information in a reporter’s story for accuracy. If you’re sharing data or information to a reporter to help support your argument, prepared to be fact-checked. If you’re sharing personal stories, you may receive a call from an editor later on asking you to confirm certain details or provide more information. You may be able to get away with exaggerating information or sharing inaccurate facts with clients, but the press usually will call you out on them. And if they don’t, your misinformation will be made public for everyone to see, which is even worse. So before talking to a reporter, get your facts straight. Don’t be afraid to say, “let me get back to you on that”.
8- Assume Everything You Say Is On the Record
Despite all the warnings you see in this piece, most reporters you’ll deal with are nice people, and will be careful not to make their sources look bad. However, you should always proceed with a certain level of caution when talking with the media members, especially those you don’t know very well. Don’t say anything to a reporter that you wouldn’t want to see in print or on the air. It is easy for reporters to misunderstand what is on the record and off the record, and you never want to put yourself in a position where sensitive or embarrassing information gets published.
9- It’s Okay To Follow-up
When working with the media, people will be quick to assume that their story is dead, when a reporter fails to get back to their phone call or email right away. While in some cases the delay in getting back to you may be because the reporter doesn’t want to talk with you further, it’s often because they’re extremely busy. It is not uncommon for reporters to be working on several stories at once, and they may simply forget to get back to you, or not even see your message at all. While you shouldn’t be aggressive in your follow-ups, a polite email or voicemail to a reporter asking them to provide an update when they can is perfectly acceptable. Also try to be patient and understanding when working with the media. Often, breaking news will occur, and the reporter must make that a priority over all else.
10- If You Have Nothing To Pitch, Pitch Yourself As A Resource
Sometimes lawyers will have truly nothing new going on with their firm or in their field of work. Instead of trying to force a bland or irrelevant story on a reporter, reach out to your local media members to let them know you’re happy to serve as an expert source for any future stories they may be working on. Let them know what your expertise is, and that you’re happy to talk at any time. Doing this may not immediately result in a news appearance, but when reporters do need an expert in your area to chime in on a story, you’ll be on the top of their mind.
11- Not Every News Appearance WIll Bring You Results
Don’t panic if your first few cameos in the local news don’t have clients knocking down your door. Keep offering yourself a resource to reporters, and in time you will see new client opportunities come from your media relations efforts. Having a collection of media clips will also look impressive to prospective clients and potential referral sources, as they indicate that you truly know what you’re talking about and can be trusted to offer guidance. The credibility you get from contributing to news outlets is just as important as the exposure.