By Jon Quick
Swallow your pride. Sometimes the media doesn’t believe your law firm is as important as you do.
So, how do law firms get noticed by the media? First, it has to be a really good story. Second, you have to know how to get it into the hands of the right people. Third, you have to have patience, unless it’s a very timely topic that has ties to a current item in the day’s flow of news.
Having managed broadcast news operations for much of my media career, I saw press releases come in daily. At a large operation, they might get hundreds of them a week. Frankly, most of them end up in the garbage without getting anything more than a glance.
Have a real story
So what is a real story? It’s generally not news of adding a new associate or moving your firm across town. You may think it’s important, but the mass media won’t. A real story, though, is something that will have mass consumer interest. It can be serious or even a human interest piece or something unique about your firm. For instance, if you are a personal injury firm involved with a case of malpractice that has been in the news and the negligence has affected a good number of people, this might be a story. Maybe you’re a family law attorney who can provide analysis on a juicy celebrity divorce in the headlines.
Of course, you need to be aware of the restrictions regarding client confidentiality and when the timing is safe to release the information.
On the human interest side, there is also opportunity for success – if it’s an interesting story and is pitched properly. About 10 years ago, a client of ours received a front page story in NUVO about a local all-female law firm, a bit of a novelty back then. Another good print story was one obtained for a personal injury firm where three generations of the same family worked together.
Real success comes when you become the “go-to” specialist in your field. People in the media often have a Rolodex full of people – including attorneys – who are great analysts when they need someone to comment on a story in the news. Chances are, if they use you once, and you are good, they will come back to you.
Especially for TV, you need to be available on very short notice, have accurate knowledge of the case, be comfortable on camera and possess the ability to speak concisely on a very hot topic.
Getting it in the right hands
Once you believe you have a real story, how do you get the media to consider it? First, a news release on your story should be no more than one page. It should be written in a compelling way with the headline and your lead paragraph capsulizing your story. Put the release in the body of the email. Often times, an editor may not read any more than the first line or two.
If you don’t know how to write a proper release, there are dozens of articles online that can show you how.
Then your challenge is to get it to the right people. If it’s a crime story, find out who the crime reporters are at a newspaper or television station; or better yet, find out who the producers or editors are for the specific topic of your story. Reporters often get their assignments from someone else higher up the food chain.
Never send a release to a general address. It rarely will get seen. In fact, don’t feel defeated if you send it to the right people and still don’t hear from them. Unless it’s really a huge story, it’s not unusual to get no response at all. Wait a few days and then it’s OK to call and ask if they got your news and are they interested in the story. Chances are they didn’t even see your release. Members of the media are notoriously working against the clock and their assignments are last-minute. Plus, they get countless requests for a place in a television newscast that might only be 30 minutes long and actually a lot less when you consider the commercial time.
It’s important to network. If the media is at an event, introduce yourself and tell them you are available. Ask your clients or friends who have contacts with media people to arrange an introduction. Once they see you, they will remember you a lot more than they will a piece of paper.
If it is a really significant story that would be considered breaking news, go ahead and forgo the release and call a newsroom directly. Again, it must be a really big story or you will quickly wear out your welcome if you call too often.
The ultimate result
If you are extremely good on camera and have done it multiple times, feel free to reach out to the next level. Contact national shows with a demo reel of your TV video work. Consider shows like “Dr. Phil,” “Greta Van Susteren” and “Nancy Grace,” among others. Don’t expect to hear immediately back from them. In fact, you probably won’t hear anything at all. They get thousands of requests. Keep sending them materials. Take a look online at some of their upcoming topics. If you fit into one of them, it’s a good time to make contact. It took a client of mine six tries to make it onto a national show as a legal commentator. In fact, they liked her so much they asked her back multiple times. She later became a weekly regular on a local TV morning program as a result of this exposure.
To speed up the process, if you hire a marketing person for your firm, get one with journalistic experience, one that has solid contacts with the media and is respected by them.
Finally, like most any other marketing, it takes time for all of this to yield results, so be patient.•
Jon Quick is the president and founder of Carmel-based QPR and Marketing. With over 25 years experience in media, Quick is a former manager with CBS and Emmis Communications. He can be reached at 317-432-0309 or by email via QPRmarketing.com. The opinions expressed are those of the author.