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One of a Kind

Stand in the Shoes of a Reporter to Generate Meaningful Law Firm PR

By Jay Harrington

To borrow from Dickens, it is the best of times and the worst of times to create meaningful law firm PR and generate media visibility.

There is an insatiable appetite for content, while traditional media companies are trying to do more with less. The pandemic has hit the media industry particularly hard. Despite record traffic and readership, advertising revenue is way down and editors and reporters are being let go in large numbers. As a result, the media is depending on outside sources for content and ideas, which means there is a tremendous opportunity for law firms to fill the gaps.

At the same time, it’s not easy to get coverage. Publications are shrinking (have you picked up your local newspaper lately?), so there’s less room for some of the “fluff” that used to run. Reporters largely ignore the lazy, mass-distributed press releases, and many publications are turning to “pay-to-play” models to drive revenue. For instance, several prominent business publications that used to freely publish “People on the Move” news about hires and promotions now charge for that space.

This Is Modern Law Firm PR

What’s needed in this best-worst environment is what I like to call “modern PR” — a blend of strategic thinking, thought leadership insight and business acumen, with a dash of understanding of the modern media landscape mixed in. Law firms that put in the effort can earn visibility that positions them as the go-to experts in their markets.

To realize these benefits, law firms must put themselves in the shoes of the reporters — the gatekeepers — standing between a firm and the audience it hopes to reach.

Reporters Are on the Clock …

With a few exceptions, such as The New York Times and The Atlantic, most media outlets don’t have the luxury of assigning staff to develop stories that take weeks or months to report. Most journalists are on the clock to produce daily, or at most weekly, content. They’re under constant pressure to produce work that generates clicks, which in turn generates ad revenue.

… and on the Hunt

Because of this pressure, reporters need a steady stream of interesting ideas as fodder for stories. Law firms can play an important role in producing the supply to satisfy reporters’ demand for good ideas. Just keep in mind that such ideas rarely relate to the inner workings of a law firm itself.

It’s often assumed that if a story pitch doesn’t address news directly related to a law firm, it won’t get coverage for the firm. In my experience, the exact opposite is true. Reporters largely ignore firm-centric pitches. It may be “news” that your firm launched another industry group or hired a new partner, but that’s not what most reporters are looking for. On the other hand, when you give a reporter a unique angle for a story on a trending topic and offer up a lawyer who can make sense of it, you’ve got a powerful combination for generating meaningful coverage.

Localize and Contextualize

Here’s a simple way to think about PR as a law firm or lawyer:

Reporters don’t want your news; they want your expertise.

Reporters are looking to connect national stories to what is happening in their local markets. Trade journalists — those who work for publications focused on a particular industry — similarly want to dissect broader trends for their niche audiences.

For every story of national significance, consider how your law firm can help reporters in your target markets make sense of the news for their readers, viewers and listeners.

  • Help them to contextualize what is happening.
  • Present them with research, data and anecdotes from your own experiences.
  • Help them understand the implications of the development or event.
  • Offer to connect them with a subject matter expert at your firm who will provide relevant facts and commentary.

For example, newspapers across the country ran stories, mostly ripped from the AP newswire, about last month’s U.S. Supreme Court Bostock ruling, which determined that federal law protects LGBTQ workers from discrimination. Instead of trying to work the national angle, law firms would have been better served by focusing on the local one. For example, firms could talk with reporters about the ruling’s impact on employers in their state and address how it affects existing laws at the state and local levels.

The Synergy Between Thought Leadership Content and PR

Any good idea that is worth pitching to the traditional media is worth expanding on in a thought leadership article, and vice versa. Thought leadership marketing and PR should not be treated as discrete functions. They are inextricably linked and should be leveraged for gaining greater visibility and authority. A good way to intrigue a reporter is to share a thought leadership article that dives deeply into a particular subject matter and localize and contextualize the issue as part of your pitch.

Also, reporters often seek out published thought leaders when they are looking for a source for a story. From LinkedIn to JD Supra, reporters are searching for shortcuts to find the information they need. Think about it: If you were a reporter, wouldn’t you reach out to the subject matter expert who took the time to lay out their ideas in a thoughtfully written piece rather than doing random outreach?

How to Become Visible to Reporters

There is one last, often overlooked, step to making your law firm and its lawyers an indispensable resource for reporters, which is becoming visible to them. You can’t just sit back and wait to be found. Here are some first steps:

  • Identify the reporters who cover the issues and industries your law firm is focused on, and read their work.
  • Connect with reporters on LinkedIn so the thought leadership articles you share appear in their feeds.
  • Like, comment on and share the work reporters post on social media.
  • Send emails to reporters complimenting them on stories that have nothing to do with you or your firm.
  • Seek to publish thought leadership content in industry niche publications.

Ever notice how many of the same lawyers and consultants appear as sources in stories across different publications? Attention begets more attention, so you need to increase your visibility among the gatekeepers who hold the keys to the audience you want to reach.

Law firm PR, especially in today’s market, is not about mass distribution of self-promotional information masquerading as news. Effective PR requires a highly strategic approach that takes into account the often underappreciated and underpaid job of a reporter.

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Jay Harrington Jay Harrington

Jay Harrington is the owner of Harrington Communications, a leading thought-leadership PR and marketing agency that specializes in helping law firms and lawyers build awareness, influence and new business. Jay is the author of three books for lawyers on issues related to business and professional development, including “The Productivity Pivot,” “The Essential Associate” and “One of a Kind: A Proven Path to a Profitable Practice.” He podcasts at The Thought Leadership Project and writes a weekly email newsletter. Previously, he practiced law at Skadden Arps and Foley & Lardner. Follow him @JayHarrington75.

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