Leveraging the Media to Help Grow Your Practice

  • August 15, 2014
  • Hale T. Chan

You see your competition described as a leading legal expert on the six o’clock news as he is being interviewed about a breaking story. You read an article in the newspaper where another competitor is quoted. In your car, you turn on the radio and still another competitor is on the air giving her opinion on some legal issue. You say to yourself, “I could do that. Why didn’t the reporter call me?” Well, probably because the reporter doesn’t know you exist.

This article will help you gain the media’s attention effectively and without having to hire a high-priced public relations firm. Why bother with the media? Because of the exposure to potential new clients. The media can broadcast your name to the marketplace more efficiently than you can alone. And the credibility you gain by being part of a news story is something you can’t gain by advertising. In addition to attracting new clients, current clients will feel better about selecting you as their lawyer.

The Process

Do a little research
Identify those reporters, publications, and TV and radio stations that cover legal news. Get a feel for the type of stories that they cover by reviewing their past stories. Here is some advice from Nancy Loo, news anchor for FOX News Chicago: “There is background and contact information for every anchor and reporter and even our news managers. You can easily research who’s who on media websites.”

Put together your message
What is your area of expertise and why are you qualified to talk about it? You need to convey this message succinctly to the reporter.

Why is this message important?
Why should anyone care to listen to this message? You have to find something current in your community or nationally to which you can “tie” your message. The message has to be relevant to be noticed.

You can make your first contact by e-mail or phone. I prefer the human touch, by phone. Once you get the reporter on the line, ask if this is a good time to talk. Reporters are often on tight deadlines and don’t want to be bothered, so extend them this courtesy. If they can’t talk now, ask when would be a better time to call back. You now have their permission to call.

Here is a procedure to follow once you get a reporter on the phone:

  1. Introduce yourself. Offer a complimentary remark about a recent story the reporter has written to show that you know something about the reporter and have done your homework.

  2. Offer yourself (or your firm) as a resource for future stories as they relate to XYZ issues.

  3. Using the message or issue you mentioned, offer a possible story idea to them. This will allow you to be proactive rather than just reactive.

  4. Ask for a short, 20-minute meeting to introduce yourself and your colleagues and to suggest additional story ideas. The attractions for the reporter include meeting potential sources and listening to ideas to use as a new storyline. (I once secured a morning meeting for myself and one of my partners with a reporter from a major Midwestern newspaper. The reporter called the partner the afternoon of the meeting to interview him for a story he had just been assigned by his editor. The partner’s quotes were used in the story published the next day. Lucky? Yes, but I like to think that being proactive helped.)

    If you use e-mail, tell the reporter why your message is important, unique, and compelling at the beginning of the e-mail. Again, include a complimentary remark about a recent story the reporter has covered to show that you know something about the reporter and that you have done your homework. And of course, provide all of your contact information to make it easy for the reporter to reach you.

Be a Good News Resource

Once you have made contact, here are some recommendations that will solidify that relationship to leverage the media to gain exposure for your practice:

  1. Never ask to be notified when the article will be published and never ask the reporter to send you copies. Some reporters will make this offer but it should come from them.

  2. If you miss their call, be sure to get back to them within the hour. Responsiveness is highly valued. And you don’t want to be beaten out by your competition. When you do call back, try to be ready with some short and catchy quotes they can use.

  3. Call back even if you don’t have what the reporter is looking for. Do some research and get back to the reporter with something, even if you have to offer a competitor’s name. This will make you appear as someone who knows the local legal marketplace and the players in it. Call the competitor to let them know that you suggested them to the media, so now they owe you one even if it’s not expressed.

  4. Stay top of mind with the media by calling periodically with story ideas. “Build a relationship,” Loo says. “Many journalists have a network of legal sources in which we stay in regular contact. Just a quick chat every few weeks by phone or e-mail about particular cases or changes in law can be beneficial on both sides. Perhaps even more so for us when news breaks.”

  5. Make sure the story ideas have substance. “Lawyers are not going to get my attention by sending me press releases about awards they’ve won,” says Ameet Sachdev, business and legal reporter for the Chicago Tribune. “If they are trial lawyers, I want to know about juicy cases they are working on or trends they see in their particular field of expertise. I know this can mean negotiating with their clients but the most media savvy lawyers know how to do that.”

Getting the media’s attention to entice them to use you as a resource is a win-win situation. It’s not rocket science, but to be effective, you must be proactive—do the homework, be prepared, be accessible, and view working with the media as a valued relationship. Treat reporters as valued assets like you would your clients. The media can be a factor in helping your firm get exposure to new clients and reinforcing your status with current ones.

Hale T. Chan is marketing communications director for Willamette Management Associates.

Article appeared in the Texas Bar Journal, December 2007. Reprinted with permission.