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  • Writer's pictureJana Schilder

How media relations for lawyers is like online dating

We are frequently called by lawyers and law firms that want to be quoted in newspaper and magazine articles as well interviewed on radio and television. It's a great way to raise your profile and build reputation. The logical place for lawyers to be quoted first are the legal publications. If you have zero media presence and no reporter has ever heard of you, the legal publications are the best place to start. As a savvy lawyer, you should be able to find useful, timely, and important things that are relevant to the legal profession to speak and write about.

We tell clients that media relations is like online dating. Here’s why:

Love at first sight. There you are, on Match, eHarmony, EliteSingles, JDate, or Our Time, and you’re looking at photos. And then you find “the one”— the profile and the looks are perfect. That’s your target man or woman. Some Legal A Team clients want to be interviewed by a particular reporter or be on a specific show. "Oh, if only s/he would interview me and write about me, I would be deliriously happy!" While that’s possible, it narrows down your options of getting more media coverage. It also presupposes the journalist is interested in your story — a big assumption. Best keep your options open and cast a wider “media net.”

Sending a “flirt.” In media relations terms, sending a pitch to a reporter that says “I’m available for an interview” is the equivalent of an online dating “flirt” or "swipe." It says, “I’m here, look at me!” So what? The reality is journalists have hundreds of interview sources at their fingertips. In every industry, from law to accounting to high tech, the competition to get quoted is tough and getting tougher. Worse, it is likely that your target journalist already has preferred sources: lawyers who give "good quote" and make it a priority to get back to the reporter within one hour. For all you know, your perfect date target is already in a relationship with someone and hasn’t bothered to change their "relationship status." Remedy: you need to persist without being a pest.

Asking for a date. You take the next step and send an email. The goal of a media pitch is to get the journalist’s attention to either call or email you. And then write a story after having interviewed you. The same pickup lines don’t work on everyone. Sending a reporter an email—the media pitch—is hard work. You need to research the types of articles the journalist has written recently, and develop an understanding of the issues s/he cares deeply about.

To quote the Terry McKay character, played by Deborah Kerr in the 1957 tearjerker An Affair to Remember with Cary Grant: “Tell me, have you been getting results with a line like that, or would I be surprised?” How is your pitch, or story idea, different? The best media pitches are: a) relevant to the topics or subjects that the reporter covers, b) related to hard news that is happening now, c) mindful of the news media outlet’s audience, and d) mercifully short.

Many lawyers send media pitches that are way too long; sending 5-page emails is a waste of time. That’s like telling someone your life story even before the first date. Makes you look desperate.

Speed dating. The media relations equivalent of speed dating is the news release, a short statement [350 words] that contains useful information for a broad variety of journalists. News releases are distributed via networks such as Canada Newswire, GlobeNewswire, and Cision. Like speed dating, it’s a numbers game. The more reporters who read your news release, the better your chances of reaching a reporter who is actually interested in your topic.

Cold shoulder. Most journalists won’t respond to either a pitch or a news release. Further, an increasing number prefer email interviews to those over the phone. Newsrooms that used to be gregarious and noisy are now eerily quiet; BuzzFeed has one of the quietest newsrooms in the industry. You can always call and leave a message, but you cannot compel a reporter to talk to you. And, increasingly, newspapers and magazines have taken phone numbers off their websites. Why? They cannot keep up with the volume of work, either. As a reality check, most journalists receive between 300 and 500 news releases and direct media pitches per day.

Building a relationship. Interestingly, both reporters and those looking online for a “significant other” want to find a mutually beneficial relationship. Journalists want to cultivate relationships with interview sources. For any relationship to work, you must have a genuine interest in what the reporter does.

Faking interest doesn’t work with reporters or online dating. Instead, adjust your attitude to “be of service,” in other words, be helpful to a journalist with observations such as “that’s commonplace” and “this is a game-changer” for your particular practice area. This way, your media relations efforts will be much more successful.

Media relations is a marathon, not a sprint. Relentless Results for Clients are the payoff for clients who commit to media relations for the long-term. Their good reputation and awareness sets them apart from competing lawyers and law firms.

Stalking. Pestering a reporter about a story that s/he is not interested in doesn’t make much sense. It can get you blacklisted and blocked, just like online dating. You'll be all alone, with your sad emojis.

The monogamous relationship. Some news outlets are known for wanting an exclusive. If you have a story that is, in fact a news story, you may have leverage to negotiate the size of the article, or the length of the interview if you grant an exclusive. From the standpoint of getting exposure in a variety of news sources, you may be better off getting quoted and published in a broader range of media.

Jealousy. If you offer an exclusive to a media outlet and it is accepted, keep in mind that you are likely alienating all other news outlets. This is human nature.

The breakup. Most of the time, breakups happen in media relations because a reporter retires, is re-assigned to cover another industry, or is laid off. There is not much you can do about any of these scenarios. For successful media relations, you have to constantly build relationships with reporters, editors, and producers. And be aware of the huge turnover in staff.

It is rare that a breakup between a journalist and an interview source happens over a “dust-up,” such as being misquoted or being on-the-record when a conversation was “for background only.” Yes, mistakes happen. Yes, there are “scandal sheets” on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean that sell newspapers based on rumours, innuendo, and fabricated stories. Those are not business journalists who can help your legal career. The vast majority of the journalists we have dealt with over a span of 30 years strive for accuracy and balance. All reporters sign their work; they want to get it right.

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