Building the Law Firm Relationship with the Press

Building the Law Firm Relationship with the Press

Working with the press can be a little nerve racking. Will they quote me correctly? Will I look foolish? Will I say something that could be misconstrued or compromise client confidentiality? On the other hand, being quoted or profiled in the press can bring visibility to you and your firm, give you credibility with clients and prospects and, let’s face it, it’s always exciting to see your name in print. In the long run, a good relationship with the press is well worth cultivating, so here are some tips:

When a reporter calls you…

  1. Always call back, preferably within the hour, even if you have nothing. Reporters work under deadline and they have long memories when it comes to who is responsive and who isn’t.
  2. Try to give quick and catchy quotes.
  3. If you are unable to give an immediate response to the reporter, offer to do a little research to see if you can unearth a useful statistic or offer the name of another source.
  4. Assume that nothing you say is off the record. If you must say something you don’t want to see in print, clarify before you say it with, “This is confidential and off the record. Do not attribute this to me or publish what I am about to say.”
  5. Never ask to review the story before it is published; it will sound like you are suggesting the reporter is incompetent. You may, however, offer to be available if the reporter has further questions or wants to check facts.
  6. Redefine your definition of success. If your name is spelled right and your quote was included, you were a success.

When you call a reporter…

  1. Do your homework. You wouldn’t call an estate attorney if you had a workers’ compensation case. Find out which reporter is assigned to which beat and then read a number of his or her stories. What seems to be of interest to the reporter? What type of people does he or she interview? Do any hot buttons or issues emerge?
  2. Before you pitch a story, consider it from the reporter’s viewpoint. Just because you think something is fascinating doesn’t mean his or her readers will. New hires, moving an office, promotions – there is a place for these things in the press, but they are not candidates for a story pitch. A great verdict, a new law that will impact many people, trends, or a company that is about to really take off or go belly up – these are news stories. A word about personal promotion: while you may be rightly proud of your accomplishment, unless it has a broad impact on your community or industry, it will not constitute a feature story.
  3. Of course, there are many items a reporter would love to cover that you, the attorney, do not want to see in print. If your firm or client is dealing with an issue that will inevitably end up in the papers, come up with a strategy earlier and get consensus on what will be said, what won’t be said, and who is going to say (or not say) it.
  4. Understand “time peg.” Old news is no news. If it happened already, it’s old news. Reporters like to get the “scoop” and be the first to break a story.

Some final words…

  1. Try to avoid “no comment” – it sounds like an admission of guilt. If client confidentiality prevents you from responding, say so.
  2. A good relationship with a reporter may influence them to be easy on you if he or she has to report bad news about you or your firm. A bad relationship pretty much guarantees the gloves will be off.
  3. Understand that you will not be the one in control – that is why establishing a good relationship with a reporter is so vital.
  4. While it is disappointing when your quote doesn’t make it into the article or your story is bumped for other breaking news, remember, PR isn’t a one-time thing. By building good relationships with the media, you will build good press coverage over the long term for you and your firm. [1]

Notes

1. Anne Parys is the Director of Marketing for a law firm