In this podcast, Joshua Peck, founder and president of Law Firm Media Professionals and CEO of Woodridge Communications, discusses what stories law firms should pitch to the media.
Podcast Show Notes
Joshua Peck is a nationally recognized leader in communications and public relations, with an award-winning record of working with clients to develop their profiles, champion their victories and expertise, and win renown for them, via both traditional and new media. He is the founder and president of Law Firm Media Professionals as well as the CEO of Woodridge Communications. Joshua also has extensive in-house experience at several law firms including Kirkland & Ellis, Hughes Hubbard & Reed, and most recently 14 years at Duane Morris.
Connect with Joshua on LinkedIn.
The biggest changes in media
The biggest thing that happened on the media side of the fence is that newsrooms are much smaller than they used to be. This is a very common pattern in traditional newsrooms across the US. And on the legal side, it generates challenges for us. There are fewer reporters to pitch to, there’s less space in the business sections and sometimes there is no legal specialty reporter. So we have a much steeper challenge in getting even really good and interesting law firm news recognized and covered.
The shrinking of the newsroom
The expectation certainly at the leadership level of law firms is largely the same. They expect every litigation victory to be covered somewhere, every deal to be covered and sometimes they are not. It’s a bit of being between a rock and a hard place for the media relations professional. The good news is that some of the media outlets in our industry are the same and growing stronger even. For example, Law360 started with a couple of titles and now it’s many titles covering the country regionally and by practice group. So there’s an online publication and it’s really doing an admirable job of covering some of those smaller litigation matters.
Another challenge which has never really changed is that some law firm leaders think that if the news doesn’t please them, it shouldn’t be covered, but of course it’s the job of the legal media to cover news either good or bad. So you do run into a thing where as the media relations professional your boss or client is wondering why a certain publication feels the need to cover something that displeases you whereas from the view of the reader, that is the story of the day.
What can media professionals do in order to position a story in the right way?
If you start with a four word question in response to any possible story question, you’ll be ahead of the game. Those four words are, “who gives a damn?” The fact that your lawyer has won an honor or is named a Super Lawyer is probably not a huge story. There is a limited amount of news space that any publication, even a legal one, is going to devote to any one law firm or lawyer. My advice is to pick your story very carefully. Once you engage a local reporter or legal reporter with something he or she doesn’t really care about, you are going to have a harder and more resistant audience the next time. I would suggest that you wait until a story is something that the public or business public will find engaging and can take advantage of financially or legally. That’s the story you want to pitch, especially if you are dealing with a firm that isn’t often noticed in the media.
The types of stories you should be pitching to the media
Litigation between businesses is always interesting to somebody. The legal media will generally like it, but beyond that, you have trade media which are so crucial because the people in the boardrooms aren’t reading the legal media. They read the publications of their industries. If you can get that litigation fight noticed by these publications, your name will come to mind the next time you arrive with a prospect. I look for litigation matters not necessarily when the verdict is in. If you begin to tell the reporter what’s going on during the trial, you are going to have that much more of a friendly audience when the verdict comes in.
When a client or lawyer comes to you with an idea for a story that you don’t think is interesting to the media, tell them that it is not the best story you can pitch for them. Instead, ask about the files and struggles they’re dealing with for their clients now. In there is a story that will get them noticed in a positive way. So the answer is not “no,” it’s “no, but…” It’s the responsibility for a marketing or media professional to find the best story to pitch, not the one that happens to come to the client’s mind.
For more junior in-house professionals who can’t say no, they should strengthen their game by attending the many professional growth opportunities out there. You can’t come back and claim to be an expert, but you can cite those with extensive experience on what they say works best. There are several associations that have meetings, some of which interact with the media. Law Firm Media Professionals is active around the country, and listeners can get more information at lfmp.org.
Ghostwriting for lawyers
A good way for lawyers to reach out to the public is to tell them something they need to know or want to know either to protect their legal or financial interest. I look for articles that will be interesting to a general business leadership. The simpler the argument and story is, the better it is. The best article identifies a business problem or opportunity, gives a little bit of history, talks about the solution, and how it ended. The reader reads the piece and knows exactly what they are supposed to do with the information. These are great resources because there is no reason not to seize what little newspace there is.
Social Media and PR
Again, the basic rule of content is “Who gives a damn?” Start with what you would like to tell your audience and why should they care. If you do not have a solid five to ten word answer for that, your story will fall with news people don’t care about. As far as how to interact with the media, reporters are on Twitter so you should use it to link to longer, interesting content that will engage the reporter and her readers, and use LinkedIn in the same way. Facebook is primarily still a social realm, so that is the place to talk about honors, charity activities and things typically less newsworthy because it’s a way to connect with people in a more personal way.
Consider two forward phrases, “Who gives a damn,” and secondly, “Keep it simple, stupid.” If you can’t explain something rather quickly, you are not going to connect with your reader. There are some stories that are too complex to use the media to express. For most of the media we have discussed, you want to keep it simple rather than jam everything you know about a topic into one broadcast, podcast or Tweet.