Why do you find certain lawyers quoted in the press so often? Are they magically on speed-dial with certain outlets? In short, yes.
Befriending a reporter is an exercise in social capital. You want to create an easy, mutually beneficial relationship. It may be intimidating to some, but it can be done.
Make Yourself Available
When I was a reporter, I had several trusted lawyers and judges who consistently made themselves available to explain issues to me. I didn’t quote them every time we talked (it would have looked like they owned the newspaper), but I knew I could rely on them to point me in the right direction.
Inevitably, media visibility will bolster your practice and identify you as an expert. This is the kind of relationship outcome you want to strive for in working with journalists. So how to break into the pack?
Here are some tips for successful networking with media contacts and building long-term relationships with journalists:
- Learn about the reporter’s body of work and professional interests. People are interested in people who take an interest in them, however slight. So read their work. When appropriate, send them a compliment on a recent story via email, Twitter or LinkedIn and share the story with your contacts and followers on social media.
- Use your knowledge to make their job easier. When you get a gracious reply (who doesn’t love praise?), suggest another angle to that same broad topic that might interest the reporter. For example, if this is a story about U.K. law firms moving into your region, you could mention you know a U.S. lawyer who recently became U.K.-qualified. Those are rare individuals, and are worthy of stories themselves. You’ve just done three things: made this reporter’s job easier, established yourself as someone who is knowledgeable about the industry, and demonstrated you are interested in forming a cooperative relationship.
But when do you get to talk about your stuff?
Let’s say you are an employment lawyer. You’ve recently spoken on a conference panel about First Amendment free speech issues in the workplace. A member of the audience asked a question about political speech, and whether an employer could designate some areas of the workplace, a kitchen, for example, as a political speech-free zone.
You answered the question and got the attendee’s business card when your presentation was over.
As soon as you have time, email that reporter you have become friendly with and say you ran across an issue at a conference that had not come up before. If the reporter likes the story, you will likely be a source featured prominently in it. And if you can get permission from the attendee who asked the question to share their contact information with the reporter, you’ve just made a major contribution to the piece.
How to keep the relationship going?
1. Show your own personality when possible. If the reporter is not on deadline when you speak, share a bit of yourself in a casual manner. If you are working from home and your dog barks, acknowledge it, and then ask if the reporter owns a dog. Any personal connection leads to a more positive relationship.
2. Check your ego at the door. If the reporter reaches out to you about a story and you aren’t a good source, say so. Steer them to someone who is more knowledgeable. This professional humility breeds tremendous respect.
3. Suggest sources and resources. It could be a blog (yours or someone else’s), a case, a website, a database or a professional who may have an interesting counter take. Occasionally send worthwhile (not hyped) items of interest, and not necessarily about your own work. It could be a case a colleague is working on, or a topic you learned about at a seminar.
Stay a sharp media resource — and a valuable professional contact — so they keep coming back for more.