by Jim Jarrell
A year-and-a-half ago, one of the senior associates from our personal injury plaintiff’s practice – Domenic B. Sanginiti, Jr. – came to my office with a challenge: “I want to become THE New Jersey E-Cigarette Guy.” At the time, I thought perhaps he meant he was going to open a vendor truck in the parking lot peddling e-cigarettes and vaping devices, but what he really meant was he wanted to capitalize on a growing negligence lawsuit trend related to exploding e-cigarettes and the batteries that power them and become the face of that litigation in New Jersey.
The next six months was a whirlwind of content generation – we wrote blogs, we did third-party placements and bylines, quotes in the press, content sponsorship placements, and social media campaigns (including “boosting” Facebook posts sharing all of this e-cigarette content). We flooded the market with our name and content related to this issue – it was at least 12 blogs and articles and a half dozen press placements over a six month period. Overkill, perhaps, but it proved effective for awareness. Soon, members of the National Plaintiff’s Trial Bar – the American Association for Justice – took notice and started taking Domenic seriously.
Let’s Put On A Press Conference!
Within a few months, we had established a referral relationship with Greg Bentley, an attorney in California and the only one, to date, who had successfully tried an e-cigarette case to verdict. He had gained a lot of press attention in California for his cases and was leveraging that press to get some national exposure. It wasn’t long before Mr. Bentley was consulting on a handful of cases we signed up, and when he booked an appearance on the Dr. Oz show (filming in NYC), he offered to come to Princeton, NJ, afterward and help us out with some press. This was when Domenic came to me and said, “Let’s put on a Press Conference.” That was a Friday morning. Mr. Bentley would be in town on the following Thursday.
Undaunted by the task, my team and I had a number of questions to start. The most important one was who from the media should be there? TV? Print? Local vs. national media? Ultimately, we relied on Mr. Bentley for his national press contacts, while we focused on local contacts.
The last thing I wanted to do was set expectations for a press conference that was attended by no members of the press.
The next most pressing concern I had was how do I get them interested enough to come? The last thing I wanted to do was set expectations for a press conference that was attended by no members of the press. Now, we had a few cases signed up, but most of them involved minors, and none of them were anywhere close to being settled or tried to verdict. In fact, we chose to use the press conference as the official announcement that we were filing the first e-cigarette liability cases in New Jersey on behalf of four different plaintiffs.
1. Get the Press to Buy-In and Attend
We drafted a media alert for a press conference to announce our intention to file these cases, focused on the dangers of the device and the severity of the plaintiffs’ injuries, and celebrated Mr. Bentley’s recent notoriety. We also promised highly graphic images…and a client. Luckily, we had one (who wasn’t a minor) who was willing to talk and had a compelling story to tell.
Although we have used a PR firm in the past for special projects and initiatives, this idea came up in mid-December…crunch time for the year when I’m (quite literally) staring down the nose of a budget projection that I couldn’t bust with a $25,000 fee from a PR firm. So we tackled it ourselves.
I did my best to leverage our lucrative advertising contracts to barter for attention from editorial...
The good news is our plaintiff’s practice spends a lot of money in the local TV market, so I had advertising contacts at the local TV network affiliates directing me to the right producers and reporters to send our media alert and invitation to the press conference. Everybody talks about the “wall” between editorial and advertising, but I did my best to leverage (exploit) our lucrative advertising contracts to barter for attention from editorial, not just with TV, but with our print media, as well.
In the absence of plenty of time to research the right contacts, and (of course) use an agency which already had those connections, leveraging our advertising connections was vital. To soften the ground, we leaked a few injury photos and the names of some of the defendants in our complaints.
2. Find a Suitable Location
In addition to crafting the pitch strategy and working our back channels to deliver the pitch to the (hopefully) engaged press, we also had to jump into gear to secure a space to hold the press conference. We have conference space at our firm, but nothing suitable for this. While simultaneously fielding calls from the press and cajoling them into attending, we scrambled to secure suitable space at one of the local hotels with highway access and catering to host a 10 a.m. press conference, which we hoped would give the TV news crews (if they showed up) enough time to do any editing they might need to do in order to file the story in time for the noon news (not realistic, but possible), or at the very least, the late afternoon news. Any later than that, and the story could potentially get folded into the next news day or ignored entirely – not what we wanted, to say the least.
By early Wednesday afternoon, I had confirmation from most of the news outlets we’d targeted, plus we arranged some national print media to join via conference call. I was reasonably confident that there would at least be a handful of press for us to talk to at this event and the room wouldn’t be empty.
3. Leverage Social Media
Despite this wash of confidence, I continued to worry about whether the message would ever make it to our core audience. And that’s when inspiration hit – we could leverage our social media presence (particularly on Facebook and Twitter) to help broadcast the press conference. We immediately posted teasers of the conference and encouraged followers to stop by our Facebook page the next day for our “first ever” Facebook Live video. We even boosted the Facebook post for the rest of the day up until an hour before the press conference, targeting people who liked our page and friends of those who like our page (more on Facebook ads in a moment), which netted about 1,100 impressions, reached 990 Facebook users, and got 37 post engagements (likes, comments, shares).
We encouraged followers to stop by our Facebook page the next day for our “first ever” Facebook Live video...
The morning of the press conference, we hit social media again, teasing the announcement of the first ever e-cigarette liability cases filed in New Jersey. We encouraged attorneys and staff of the firm to visit our Facebook page and share the livestream of our press conference (yes, we got a blessing to encourage staff to be on social media during working hours).
4. Time to GO LIVE!
And then, at 10am on December 15, 2016, we went live. You’ll note if you watched that we went to GREAT lengths to transform the hotel conference room and appropriately brand it, so there’s an unmistakable Stark & Stark backdrop behind the podium (one that we use for conference and tradeshow exhibits) that played nicely on television later that day. That was very important, because Mr. Bentley (it turned out) dominated the press conference, but it looked like he was part of Stark & Stark while doing so.
...clicking on it at all was a victory for us.
Today, that Facebook video has over 7,200 views. Granted, less than 1% of those views happened live. We took the extra stop of boosting the video as a Facebook ad campaign over the next two weeks. Between December 15 and December 31, that press conference video got another 13,600 impressions, reached over 12,500 Facebook users, and was watched more than 6,500 times. It’s easy to get lost in the volume of analytics and metrics, but getting 6,500 views was something I could be pleased with. Some might argue that most of those views were likely less than 10 seconds or so, and that may be true, but clicking on it at all was a victory for us.
5. Post-Mortem and Measuring Success
Ultimately, the press conference was a success for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that only three months later, we have nearly tripled the number of cases we have. The event was covered by news crews from local CBS, ABC, and FOX TV affiliates, and both the Star Ledger & Times of Trenton sent reporters and a photographer. Bloomberg BNA and Law360 joined us on the phone. In short, the room was not empty, we made the 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. newscasts that day, and the national press ran follow-up articles specifically featuring and quoting Domenic.
...only three months later, we have nearly tripled the number of cases we have.
Is he “THE e-cigarette guy for New Jersey” today? I’ll leave that hyperbole to him, except to say that of his 11 cases, three of them said they found him and another recent national press placement tracked him down because of the news articles and the coverage after the press conference. So, my team and I can hang our hats on that. That, and a job well done.
[Jim Jarrell is Director of Marketing and Practice Development at law firm Stark & Stark. He serves as treasurer-elect of the LMA's Northeastern chapter.]
This article was originally published on the JD Supra website as part of a perspective series by law firm marketing professionals. Reused with permission.