I still recall my old friend Dan Leary telling me about a conversation they were having in the Major Indoor Soccer League office back in 1986. I was the PR Director of the New York Express and Sports Illustrated had sent top reporter Franz Lidz to spend the week shadowing the team. He was writing an SI piece about the importance of the New York franchise to soccer in the United States. Leary told me that in the league office they were trying to guess how high in the story I would be quoted. The answer was paragraph two. I might have been 23 years old, but I knew how to get myself quoted and interviewed–on TV, in the New York Times, Washington Post, SI and major dailies throughout the country.
In my pro sports days, I was known as a go-to guy by the media–for quotes, for off the record stuff, for ideas to fill a column or a TV interview. If you were a journalist, you knew that I’d call you back fast, tell you something you did not already know, and provide a colorful quote (even if I was giving an evasive answer). When I needed a favor–put this in the paper, don’t put this in the paper, quote this guy, do a feature on this player–I was paid back for being a reliable source. Some of the stuff I pulled was pretty clever. But even today, I would not write about it or give specific examples–I’m not sure the statute of limitations has run on everything. And many of those conversations and interactions were certainly off the record. But I was not a lawyer yet, so the Rules of Professional Conduct did not apply.
Fast forward a few decades and I’m still involved in media relations and PR–but now it is as an attorney–and I’m usually more interested in getting a law firm client media exposure than myself. It is a vastly different media world now as well. The late 80s was long, long, long before the Internet, blogs, social media and an accompanying change in the art of Journalism (still one of my favorite professions). After all, this is a BLOG POST–an entirely different way of delivering a message and finding an audience.
In my business of law firm marketing, media plays varying roles in the game plan. Depending on the market–which might be based on practice, geography or a combination of the two–press relations can be extremely valuable or of little interest. In general, I’m a firm believer that a good quote in a big-time publication or positive airtime on radio or television is immensely more valuable than a print ad, commercial, newsletter, seminar or website. It is “free” and considered much more objective and reliable (in most cases). Most attorneys say they would love to be on TV, quoted in the Wall Street Journal or a talking head on CNN, but few know how to make it happen.
In some cases, there is legitimate fear on the part of many lawyers in being misquoted when dealing with certain media channels. The lower level the publication and the more junior the journalist, the greater a chance that “this is off the record” might not be adhered to. In some instances, your client is interested in less media, not more media. And it is important to understand their preference. Of course, sometimes the media provides tremendous power with influencing jury pools and opinions in the court of public opinion.
Here are my top three missteps in trying to develop better press relationships between a journalist and an attorney:
1. BORING! The attorney is so concerned about saying something improper or inflammatory that he or she basically says nothing interesting at all. And your TV/radio voice demeanor puts the audience to sleep.
2. TOO LATE! In this day and age, most journalists are looking for a quote, reaction or interview yesterday. Returning the media inquiry phone call tomorrow is literally a day late and a dollar short.
3. THAT’S NOT NEWS! Whether it is a dull press release or a lame idea of what is newsworthy, I’m often pushing back on law firms asking me to get news coverage on something utterly meaningless to anybody in the outside world. I’d give you a list of examples, but my clients would recognize them and not be pleased with me. I have to make a living.
On February 13, 2014 in Washington, DC, I am part of an A-list faculty providing a day-long program on marketing yourself through the media. The program also includes advice on blogging, social media, and ethics. George Washington University law professor and media personality Jonathan Turley will provide the key note address.
I will be sitting on two of the program panels, including “So you want to be on TV?” with Jennifer Brandt of Cozen O’Connor and Seth Price of Price Benowitz. I’ll also discuss “Social Media — Your Personal Printing Press .. . do’s and don’ts” on a panel with David Lat, Steven Anderson and Seth Price.
If your law firm is interested in developing or improving press relations, it is worth spending a cool February day in the nation’s capital. To learn more and register, CLICK HERE. Or feel free to contact me directly for additional information.