4 tips for law firms to gain media coverage
This month Kerry Jack, CEO of Black Letter Communications talked to readers of the First4Lawyers’ panel law firms newsletter
What makes a good news story? Good question. And one that has become increasingly difficult to answer in recent years.
Major events such as Brexit, the Covid pandemic, the war in Ukraine and the cost-of-living crisis have dominated the headlines, leaving little room for anything else. The political circus could, at times, have filled a rolling news channel by itself.
All these have changed the mainstream news landscape immeasurably, legal media to a lesser extent, but the bar for both remains high.
With more than 25 years’ experience working in legal PR and with the media, the following are my top tips for achieving coverage.
1. Know your audience
Law firms often confuse what they deem newsworthy with what actually is important to their intended audience and, more importantly, a journalist. Few national newspapers have dedicated legal correspondents these days so it’s all the more important that what you’re pitching cuts through.
I advise clients to first think about their end target – the audience they want to reach and which news outlets are most likely to help them do that. You may have your heart set on being in the FT, for example, but will potential clients see you there? More than a few lawyers I know have scoffed at the idea of being quoted by a tabloid such as Mail Online, but it has an audience of millions.
Carefully consider whether your story will be of genuine interest to them. If the answer is yes, make sure it’s told in plain English rather than legal jargon and gets to the point quickly.
Research the relevant journalists and personalise your approach where possible – there’s nothing worse than a blanket email to get them reaching for ‘delete’. Be patient and remember, unless it’s a major breaking story, it’s unlikely they will respond straight away.
While email communication is now preferred and so prevalent that I’ve come across journalists who state they just don’t answer calls, I still advise picking up the phone where possible, not least to check that your email has not been missed.
2. People power
PR is about showcasing your expertise and what better way to do that than through happy clients. Journalists will almost always ask for case studies as they want to hear about injustices from the horse’s mouth, so to speak.
Don’t assume that clients won’t want to do media – they can often find it comforting and cathartic, a way of highlighting what has happened to them so it doesn’t happen to anyone else. This is where litigation PR specialists come into their own. Rather than risk a client going off piste and contacting the press themselves or missing an opportunity because they’re wary of speaking to journalists directly, you can guide them and help to control the narrative. Litigation PR consultants will also be able to ensure that your firm gets name-checked too.
It’s a common misconception that cases can only be publicised at the point of settlement. We have the most success when clients are fighting for justice, not when they’ve already got it which is also often several years from what drove them to bring a claim in the first place. Drawing attention to the case while litigation is live may also put pressure on the other side.
The bar for news being what it is, certain stories also do better than others such as those that are particularly shocking, out of the ordinary or have a multimedia element like graphic pictures of an injury or video footage of a crash.
3. Add value
Comments – particularly those issued on breaking news in the national press – should be pithy, punchy and offer a genuine opinion that adds value to the story. Don’t waste your time writing reams as journalists will rarely use more than a few lines.
A strong human-interest story from a client can sometimes carry a bland comment from their lawyer, but typically that’s quid pro quo from a journalist for giving them the exclusive.
The legal press is more forgiving and much more interested in comment on industry developments such as the seemingly never-ending raft of PI reforms. As the longstanding B2B PR agency for First4Lawyers, we have had considerable success in this space by keeping on top of opportunities and reacting promptly.
4. Timing is everything
For comment, almost as important as a strong opinion is the speed with which you respond after a story breaks. How many other firms will be looking to get their name out there? Competition is fierce, both from lawyers keen to be quoted and journalists trying to get their story online first. Draft something in advance if you can or at least forewarn your spokesperson to make themselves available and ideally issue comment within the hour.
In cases of ongoing litigation, draw up a PR plan to identify a timeline of different milestones at which the case may have news value. A good example of this is group litigation where PR is likely to be secured when a certain number of claimants have come on board, when the claim has been filed and at any subsequent hearings.
For releases, send first thing rather than later when news desks will have already mapped out what stories they’re covering that day and at a time you know you’ll be available to answer any questions.
Needless to say, it’s also wise to check the news before you send a story or comment out and see what other headlines you’re competing with that day. Major breaking news means yours is unlikely to get traction so it’s best to wait until the news cycle moves on.
The media is a competitive market but follow the above advice and you will hopefully reap the rewards.