Media Pitches: Elements for Success

It’s inevitable that a law firm marketing professional has a conversation with an ambitious attorney who utters the phrase, “I’d like to be in the New York Times or The Wall Street Journal.” It’s understandable to want to be featured in the country’s or an industry’s top publications. The challenge is crafting an effective media campaign that turns this goal into reality.

Laying the Foundation: Media pitches need to focus on one central issue or matter. A lengthy menu of options leads to a quick delete. And, for any media outreach campaign, there needs to be a readily-discernable “news peg,” a way to relate the thought leadership being offered to something visible in the news cycle. If a communications professional is asked, “Would there be interest in comments on this legislation passed two months ago?” The blunt answer is usually, “No.” This leads to the next point.

Just Say “No:” It’s a disservice to attorneys to reflexively agree with every media outreach suggestion. It’s important to work with them to separate the wheat from the chaff. The real challenge – and the perennial goal – is to shift emphasis from potential dead-ends to related-but-more-promising areas.

Be Concise: Corporate communications professionals generally are of two minds with respect to reporters: 1) love their work and value what they do; or 2) are frustrated by the “gatekeeper” process and, often, by receiving minimal/no feedback to pitches. One way to break through to harried journalists is to be concise. Pitch emails should be no longer than 300 words.

Pitch No-Nos: Pitches should not use flowery language, such as “exceptional experience,” or “a significant issue.” Editorial commentary with no factual basis isn’t useful. Be particularly careful when referencing an issue and, if necessary, only briefly explain it. It’s generally verboten to include a link to a competing publication’s coverage. (That tactic is also lazy.)

Work Smarter, Not Harder: Once an idea for an authored piece has begun to germinate, attorneys often pop open a blank Word document and start writing. This is a mistake for two reasons: 1) the topic has not been evaluated by the marketing team for its potential, both to see placement and to position the lawyer well for business development; and 2) it’s impossible to write a one-size-fits-all draft that meets the third-party publisher’s guidelines (word count, footnotes, etc.). Waiting for a media relations professional to vet a planned article saves attorneys time and frustration.

Deliver on Time: For marketing professionals liaising with the media, the old chestnut, “Your word is your bond,” is apt. If an editor is promised an article by a certain date, it needs to be delivered. Similarly, if an attorney is scheduled to speak with a reporter at a given time, it needs to happen. Employ calendar reminders to both the reporter and the attorney and ensure that the best contact number is given to the reporter. Punctuality builds a wellspring of trust and helps ensure further collaboration and opportunities.

Media Plans as Working Drafts: It’s axiomatic, but today’s news cycle is unpredictable. This means that media plans specifying X, Y and Z practice areas as focuses may and should be thrown out in light of timely opportunities for A, B and C practices. In basketball, teams routinely keep passing the ball to the player hitting shots, the one with the “hot hand.” It’s no different with law firms. A temporary shift in focus to yield high-profile media results benefits all and is a no-brainer.

Be More Inquisitive: A vital question for attorneys to ask clients is, “What are you reading these days?” While media professionals have a deep database of outlets to target, they have less insight into what titles really resonate with specific clients. By getting attorneys into the habit of asking more marketing-related questions such as whether or not they read your firm’s last client alert, marketing teams can fine-tune outreach and focus more on business development.

Be More Inquisitive, Part II: Marketing professionals should also ask their attorneys about publications they read, who their biggest competitors are (and then check where they are publishing) and if they have media contacts. A surprisingly high number of attorneys have connections to the media, and nurturing these relationships, even as a third-party, is vital.

Fish Where There are Fish: The majority of journalists are active on Twitter. They are tweeting stories they and their colleagues have written and sharing insights about what they are covering next. Marketing professionals need to follow and track target journalists and media outlets. Attorneys looking to be more media-savvy should do the same and consider tweeting and replying strategically.

It’s Just Lunch: One of the more effective ways to build a relationship with a journalist is to set up a coffee or lunch with an attorney. These “source development meetings” are casual and serve as a get-to-know you session, rather than a time to machine-gun pitch ideas. Encourage attorneys to weave in a few ideas for the reporter to consider after the meeting concludes, and be sure they send a follow up email.

Circumventing the Art of the Dodge: If you’ve pitched an article, followed up and still haven’t received an answer, it’s time to pick up the phone. This “old school” communications method can often move forward pitches for commentary or bylines, and help prompt a “yes” or “no” answer.

Finding success with the media, and ascending Olympus to high-profile media opportunities, is a process and an art. For each issue it is critical that the right steps be taken. By following a well-thought game plan and setting expectations, law firm marketing professionals can ensure that attorneys are best positioned for success. Remember, the road to one goal often leads to different successful outcomes.

By Michael Bond, Senior Media Director, Blattel Communications, for the Third Quarter 2018 LMA Mid-Atlantic Region Newsletter

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