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Feeding the Media -- Without Being Eaten Alive

Increasingly, law firms understand that effective media relations are an indispensable part of marketing. Getting client and firm messages in the news - and responding ethically, appropriately and effectively when a client or the firm become a news subject - enhance your image and add to the effectiveness of your other marketing efforts.

Doing that, however, is easier said than done. A panel of local media luminaries offered tips for maximizing media coverage of law firms and their lawyers at the Jan. 31 meeting of the Delaware Valley Law Firm Marketing Group, held at the offices of Dilworth Paxson and sponsored by American Lawyer Media, which publishes The Legal. Gina Rubel of Furia Rubel Communications moderated the panel.

Here are some tips the panel offered:

Do your homework

Remember the "new" in "news" - "Don't send me things that happened weeks ago, especially stuff that was already reported in other publications," said Hank Grezlak, editor of The Legal. Also remember the audience of the publication or broadcast you are pitching. "We're a business newspaper," said Jeff Blumenthal of the Philadelphia Business Journal. "Whatever story you're pitching, we need a business slant to really be interested."

Read the publication or watch the TV show you are interested in pitching before contacting them with a story idea. Sound obvious? You'd be surprised how many people clearly did no research before reaching out, according to Janet Tegley, producer of CN8's It's Your Call with Lynn Doyle. "You have to understand our format and the kind of topics we cover," she said.

Which media?

Some stories are better suited for print than broadcast media. Newspapers and other print media can go into much greater depth than television and radio news programs.

"TV news is an 'in your face' media," said Terry Ruggles, anchor with NBC 10 news. TV generally covers more sensational aspects of stories, and all stories must have compelling visual elements, he said. Be sure to "people-ize" or inject some emotional element in story pitches for TV news.

Radio news has somewhat similar requirements - although most stories are even shorter than the 90-second average for TV stories, according to Brad Segall, suburban bureau chief for KYW Newsradio. "What interests us the most is local news," he added. "Localize the story and speak to the level of the average listener who may have a short attention span."

Radio and TV do offer opportunities on longer-form interview programs, such as CN8's It's Your Call with Lynn Doyle or a weekend show that KYW's Segall produces.

For programs like that, Tegley and Segall recommended that firms pick their spokesmen and women with care. Qualities that Tegley looks for include polish, preparation, personality, passion, insightfulness, energy and enthusiasm. "Also, remind your receptionist that it's important to return our calls immediately," she said.

Even your voicemail message can influence whether TV or radio will consider you for broadcast, Gina Rubel noted. "Producers will listen to see if it's a voice suitable for broadcast," she said.

Several speakers also noted the increasing importance of news Web sites and other technologies and recommended that firms tailor their pitches accordingly.

"Be sure to send me breaking news right away, because we update our Web site several times a day," said the Business Journal's Blumenthal. "And I'm sure Web dissemination will continue to grow in the future."

Use of Web sites, podcasts and blogs is clearly on the rise, according to Mark Tarasiewicz, director of new media and publications at the Philadelphia Bar Association. "Blogs, podcasts and other digital formats are here to stay," he said. "Their use shows clients that you are ahead of the curve." Many firms have begun to brand podcasts to establish ownership and extend their brand equity to the next medium.

Such new media also can be an effective way of pitching traditional media on stories, although both Ruggles and Segall said they rarely peruse blogs.

Work the phones

E-mail is fine for some pitches, and some media contacts prefer it, but for breaking news and other particularly important stories, pick up the phone, the experts advised. Get to know the daily (or in some cases multiple daily) deadlines that rule the publication or broadcast you are interested in and avoid calling at crunch time - unless it absolutely is a breaking news story.

Say no to 'no comment'

Reporters and editors hate "no comment." "When you say 'no comment,' I think maybe you're hiding something," said The Legal's Grezlak. When you refuse to comment, you are allowing other voices to own the story, added Joshua Peck, senior media relations director for Duane Morris. Several ways are available to avoid saying "no comment," including ways of getting your message into the story without seeing your name in print.

Peck, Grezlak and others advised caution in providing information "off the record" or "on background," since those terms can be easily misunderstood by either the source or the reporter.

"We want you on the record, and we want to be able to quote you," Grezlak said. Peck advised that it's best to figure out what you want to say and how you want to be quoted, and find a way to make that work for the publication.

Don't tell a reporter or editor how to write the story, however. "If you want to call or send me an e-mail telling me I made a mistake or I missed something, that's fine," Segall said. "But don't tell me how to write the story."

The media panel program was recorded for podcast by the Philadelphia Bar Association.

BARBARA KAPLAN consults on marketing strategy and client development. She is the former director of marketing at Saul Ewing.

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