On September 16, 2011, about 35 marketers from our Baltimore City Group heard a media panel discuss the evolving role of the reporter and the best ways to work with journalists in the Internet age.
The discussion, entitled "How to Get Good Press for Your Law Firm and Your Lawyers," featured panelists Danielle Ulman, legal affairs writer, The Daily Record; Gary Haber, reporter, Baltimore Business Journal; and Robert Rand, assistant business editor, The Gazette. It was moderated by Jonathan Groner, a D.C.-based public relations consultant and LMA member.
The panelists gave the audience a host of practical suggestions, including:
- Be aware of all deadlines, including both print deadlines and daily web posting deadlines.
- Define with great care the meaning of "off the record," "on background," and similar terms if you wish to use them.
- If you put forward a press spokesperson, make sure that he or she is available to reporters.
- Do not pitch stories to the media that are not of general interest, such as the ones that, in one panelist's words, "only the lawyer's mother is interested in knowing about."
- Be aware of the beats and interests of each reporter, and pitch stories that are designed to help the reporter write about topics that he or she covers.
The panelists emphasized that the relationship between a law firm and a publication can and should be a co-operative one and that the media do not set out to tell "bad news" or to sully anyone's reputation. In fact, the media are often dependent on public relations people to give them story ideas. The panelists emphasized that they particularly like human-interest stories about attorneys that law firms propose. Not all stories need to be about what lawyers do in their offices or in courtrooms.
The panelists also noted that their job is to report the news as it occurs in a way that is as free from bias as possible. If a law firm is sued, is having financial problems, is the subject of an ethics complaint, or the like, the reporter will go after the story and will always seek comment from the firm. A bland notice that the firm spokesperson "declined to comment" is not always the best thing for the firm.
The journalists said there is no strict rule about whether outside PR firms or marketers and PR specialists within the law firms are more effective. Sometimes, an outside public relations person may not be familiar enough with the law firm, they said, but often, the consultant may bring a breadth of knowledge and savvy to a pitch or a response.
In a world in which, as all panelists acknowledged, most people are receiving much of their news and information online, the basics have not changed. Know your business; be prepared; be timely; and take the journalist seriously as a fellow professional.
The event was coordinated by Kiara Hughes, Miles & Stockbridge P.C. and Nicole Ames, Hodes, Pessin & Katz, P.A. It took place at Miles & Stockbridge's Baltimore office.