Let’s Give Thanks for the Media in 2020, Seriously.

By Michael Bond, senior media director at Blattel Communications

We should give thanks for traditional media and trade publications. 2020 has illustrated their crucial role in ensuring that critical information is disseminated, especially with respect to the pandemic. For law firms, 2020 has been a year of, to put it charitably, “adjusting.” Trillions of dollars in stimulus, unprecedented industry shutdowns and widespread work-from-home have generated mountains of content and analysis. Media outlets provide the opportunity for law firms to put the news into context. And robust media campaigns are drivers of business development.

Participants in this year’s LMA annual conference general counsel session expressed fatigue with technical, dry client alerts stuffed in their inboxes. They lamented too much and all too similar content. This is where media opportunities on daily newspapers, radio, television and trade publications stand out. Scrolling through the day’s issue of The Wall Street Journal, leafing through QSR Magazine or tuning into WTOP, audiences found the analysis that helped their businesses as they read about and listened to both the broad and the contextualized stories of COVID-19. Across the region and the country, firms found opportunities, such as “Ask the Expert” segments.

A strong, traditional media push – while aspirational – can yield complementary opportunities for client alert content and build media “stars.” The keys to nailing down opportunities are deceptively simple: 1) availability (you can’t call a reporter back 24 hours later and expect them to be waiting for you); 2) video/microphone readiness; 3) direct and succinct commentary; 4) “value-add” analysis; and 5) making your existence known (really!). To this last point, countless potential thought-leaders toil in obscurity: the talking heads we all regularly see/read aren’t always the “best,” but they are among those who let their availability be known to media and who consistently deliver on the other points.

The catchphrase for the board game Stratego comes to mind when thinking about traditional media success: “a minute to learn, a lifetime to master.” It takes effort, practice and patience – combined with some luck – to land major media opportunities. This is why the word “campaign” is used in “media campaigns.”

The pandemic created opportunities on a scale that no recent news cycle has done. Businesses genuinely needed insight into important programs, such as the paycheck protection program, and guidance on how to “reopen” in compliance with a patchwork of local, state and federal regulations and guidelines. The media tracked and explored these aspects, relying heavily on attorneys for commentary.

Beyond the major news outlets, industry publications also sought out legal sources to decipher developments. From contact tracing for restaurants, to temperature checks at industrial facilities to force majeure clauses for landlords and tenants, attorneys continue to provide clarity on the question, “What does this development mean for my business?”

Being quoted in a daily newspaper, featured on cable news or published in a trade publication all serve at least two marketing purposes: 1) reach broad and often target-rich audiences; and 2) attach a third-party “seal of approval” to an attorney/firm. “Diane knows her stuff, she’s quoted in American Trucker magazine.” “I just saw Don in a New York Times article on PPP fraud.” “Jamel was on CNBC breaking down the CDC eviction ban.” The credibility and pedigree of a news outlet reflects on its sources and helps foster respect among clients, potential clients and referral sources.

2020 and COVID-19 have meant that many of us are working from home full-time and only part time changing out of our pajamas. The WFH dynamic coupled with the widespread (and forced) adoption of Zoom and other video platforms has meant that we are all inches from a camera, making TV producers far less concerned about studio proximity for sources. This was a friction point before and may return, but for now, many of our attorneys can go “live” in minutes (although business attire and a comb are mandatory).

Circling back to an earlier point about the relative ease of achieving traditional and trade media success, there are several types of opportunities that marketers, firms and attorneys should be ready for:

1) crisis and defense – highly specialized, super time-sensitive, every word being parsed;

2) breaking news – responding to issues germane to client concerns and in targeted areas of business development; research and outreach is both regular and on-demand; and

3) the long game – suggesting a story or issue (not breaking or overly time-sensitive) again and again and working to develop traction and coverage.

Collectively, these are the elements of a firm’s media campaign. “Success,” in terms of media placements, is far more likely with strategy than by one-off or scattershot efforts. The answer to, “Why aren’t we getting more media coverage?” is generally pretty simple (if hardly ever bluntly communicated): “We have no coherent or consistent strategy.” The firm’s that have done well during the pandemic in terms of coverage are those with resources in place and champions in high places.

To adapt an old eternal question, “If a client alert falls in an inbox and no one opens it, does it make an impact?”

The pandemic is far from over, unfortunately, and a host of immediate and looming issues abound. Marketers, attorneys and firms should look at both COVID-19 and the incoming Biden Administration as news drivers and look to position thought leaders for coverage on traditional media outlets and key trade publications. These channels help keep clients engaged and help grow businesses. We’ve all been handed a big sack of lemons this year, if you aren’t making lemonade, now is the time.

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