By: John D. Barber, Marketing Coordinator, White and Williams LLP
On Thursday, February 20, 2014, the Legal Marketing Association – Metro Philadelphia Chapter met to discuss ways to improve relationships with reporters and practical points on effectively communicating with members of the media.
Moderated by Beth Huffman, Director of Media Relations and Communications of Dechert LLP, Gina Passarella of The Legal Intelligencer and Dan Packel of Law360 shared their views and policies regarding a variety of media relations issues. Gina and Dan discussed their decision-making process for selecting stories to write and practical aspects of their day-to-day operations.
Understanding the beat, the territory, of the reporter you are pitching matters. Your story may be a worthy one, but probably not to the reporter that normally covers a different subject matter. Every publication handles beats differently, so it is important to understand the beats of the reporters with whom you are trying to work.
The two speakers at today’s event have very different responsibilities at their respective publications. Gina primarily covers Am Law 200 firms in PA (Zack Needles covers small to mid size firms). On the other hand, Dan and his associate Matt Fair cover all PA related legal news for Law360 without any formal beat divisions between the two of them.
Timing is everything. Every publication’s deadlines and expectations of their reporters are different. Knowing the news cycle of the publication you’re pitching is critical to a good working relationship with the reporters at that publication. If your story isn't big, breaking news, don't expect that 5 P.M. call to your favorite daily reporter to lead to print in tomorrow's paper. Make the reporter’s life easier by giving them as much time as possible to work on the story.
It is also important to remember that reporters are in the business of reporting breaking developments or trends. If the news is already on your website or in another publication, unless there is some new development or the story is of great interest to their audience, don't expect reporters to print your old news.
There are several terms reporters use to define how information given to them is to be used: embargo, off the record, on background, etc. Policies and procedures for using each of them will be different from publication to publication, and even reporter to reporter. The most important thing is that the reporter and the person being interviewed are both clear on how the information is going to be used. If something is meant to be off the record or embargoed, that needs to be established immediately. By default, anything said to a reporter is on the record and for immediate release. Attribution and timing must be clearly defined between the reporter and the source before any information is released.
What is a Story and What is Not
Gina and Dan covered several examples of newsworthy pitches. Generally, they are looking for trends or big moves in the industry. The hiring of one lateral isn't a story unless the lateral is carrying a big book of business or heading up a major practice. The change in a law firm's website isn't a story unless it is part of a larger trend of several firms going in the same direction in some way with their sites. A $5 million deal isn't a story, but a $50 million deal is probably worthy of a pitch. It is subjective, but it's important to think about whether the reporter’s audience cares about the story.
At one point in the program, Gina commented, "You develop relationships and that's what this business is all about." By building rapport with reporters, legal marketers will, over time, understand the preferences of each reporter. Good things to learn about reporters include the timing that works for them, the language they use to define how they will use information given to them and most importantly, what they do and do not consider a story.