When you are starting your own firm or trying to build your practice, it is crucial that you build a brand, show off your expertise, and reach out to a large target audience. Social media and advertising can take you a long way, but with so many options in legal services, it is important that potential clients get more than just a sales pitch, and they want to know that their attorney truly lives up to his or her word.
Think about it. How many burger joints boast having the “#1 Burger in town”? You may tell others that you are #1, but the only way that anyone will believe you is when they hear it from an unbiased, outsider source. One way to do this is by getting testimonials from former clients, but for all consumers know, that former client was your third grade teacher or your little brother’s best friend. If you really want to generate believable and reliable buzz about your firm, it is important to attract the attention of traditional media, such as a well-read blog, national newspaper, local news channel, or community publication.
To help you learn just how to do that, I contacted Lindsey Brown, a news anchor for NBC news affiliate Action News 5 in Memphis. Brown hits the pavement every day in search of stories ranging from feel-good stories about contest winners and local college achievements all the way to political scandals and real-life murder mysteries. She is always on the lookout for news stories that will appeal to her viewers, so I asked her for advice on how attorneys can gain the attention of local news media. Her tips were so informative that I decided to give you the full interview. Before you continue reading, here’s a surprising little spoiler: Twitter might be a little more important than you thought when it comes to attracting news coverage.
What kind of stories do you look for when doing local coverage?
Local news is a tricky balance of what’s important for the community and what will people be interested in watching. News is a business and you have to remember that when pitching to media. True, the journalist isn’t the business person, but every day the reporter/anchor has to sell his or her story ideas to the larger news team they work with. If that story isn’t a talker, often it won’t make the cut.
You cover a lot of good but also a lot of bad. What kind of positive stories appeal to you?
Stories with a human element or a local twist to a larger regional or national story make for good, positive stories. I’m always looking for a story that will allow me to tell it through sound and visual. If you have a story that is very visually interesting, pitch it that way to the reporter or news station. Tell them why it would be great, would pull at the heart strings or be good for the community at large.
Do you accept press releases? If so, what types of press releases do you like, and what types of press releases do you hate?
Most news stations will have an assignment desk that takes press releases. Remember, the desk is getting a TON of releases. Make sure yours gets right to the point. Remember the “who, what, when, where and why” that the reporters learn day one in school. Answering those questions in a very clear and concise format is more likely to get my attention. I despise getting press releases in multiple page paragraph form. Not only is there not enough time to sift through all that information, there is so much going on in news rooms that you are likely to lose the attention of the person reading it. If you have a lot of information to give, I would suggest sending a short, to-the-point release and include a longer description page if necessary. Reporters do love getting press kits, but the info needs to be easy to find when writing or pitching to their news team. If you do send out a release, make sure and notify the desk/reporter if you cancel or change the event. If they show up to an empty room, they are going to be very upset and not forget it. You may have cost them their story for the day and they are going to get heat for it from their producers.
Sometimes writers/anchors can seem hard to reach. If I have a great story that I want to share, how do I figure out who to contact with my story? And then, what is the best way to approach those people?
You should always send your information to the desk first. Then, you need to create relationships with some reporters/anchors that can help encourage that your story gets attention. Creating those relationships can be done in person at the scene of stories or events, or through social media. Just like reporters create contacts, you need to create contacts within the media. Send a reporter/anchor an email, Facebook message, or Twitter DM. Introduce yourself and explain in a non-arrogant way why they will want to remember you and what you have to offer them. Remember, reporters/anchors are always looking for stories to pitch. They need something every day for their meetings. However, you have to really look at what kind of news the stations produce. If they mostly do hard news, sending a release about a ribbon cutting probably won’t be of interest, unless the business opening is unusual, in a strange location, comes with a back story…something more than just a typical ribbon cutting. I can promise you the reporter/anchor won’t pitch it unless there is a twist. You can pitch it to the reporter, but don’t expect it to be covered. If there is a twist, don’t hint to it. Make it clear. We don’t have time for hints.
Should I contact multiple news outlets at once, or should I take a targeted/exclusive approach?
It really depends. Stations love exclusives, though you need to make sure they realize their exclusive tip depends on them doing a story. This only really works if you’ve already created a relationship with the stations/reporters and you can all be up front and honest with each other. Bottom line: you need the coverage. If it’s a really HOT story that you want a lot of people to see, go to the station with the highest ratings. It makes sense, right? Though, giving stories to struggling stations or not as established reporters could increase your chance at getting your stories covered, and more often. However, not as many people will see them. I would decide who the biggest influences are on social media and through traditional outlets, and become their new bud. If it’s a big story, only letting one station know about it could greatly offend the other stations.
If I am not contacting the news media directly, what are some ways I can attract attention, i.e., get the news to come to me?
As a reporter I’m always looking for the next big thing. What is everyone starting to talk about. Get the issue shared on Facebook and Twitter. I’m always on social media looking for what people are talking about. If enough people are talking about it, I’m going to see it and try and figure out where it started and who I need to talk to in order to get it on my station first. I want to break the story first.
What are some other tips you have for attorneys who want to get coverage?
Especially with law, stations always need experts, but people are often very hesitant to offer their opinion on cases. I understand why, but if you want to get your name out there, don’t be shy. Tell the reporter, producer, or assignment editor your knowledge of the situation, even if limited, and they will almost always write the story to make your comments and expertise work. TV just doesn’t work without soundbites. We need them. That’s what we are after. With that said, don’t pitch stories if you aren’t prepared to go on camera and discuss the situation. Nothing is more frustrating for a reporter than someone who pitches stories and wants you to cover their event or issue but refuses to go on camera or find a replacement spokesperson. If there is an issue you are particularly good at discussing, make sure the station or your media friends know to call you when something comes up. I bet they will!