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, theses are my top tips for achieving coverage.
In a recent interview with The Times, Stephen Watson, the chief constable of Greater Manchester Police called for the police to get off Twitter and get on with the job they are paid to do, saying he wanted officers to avoid online “fluff and nonsense” and get on with catching criminals and answering 999 calls. Watson’s back to basics approach certainly appears to be working – he has pulled the force out of special measures in less than two years, reduced the time taken to answer 999 calls and seen a rise in the number of suspects charged.
Circus owner Phineas T Barnum is credited as saying the immortal phrase ‘there’s no such thing as bad publicity’, but he didn’t consider the car crash that is Matt Hancock appearing on I’m a Celebrity. To be fair to Phineas he was speaking in the 19th century and nobody could have ever predicted a reality TV show appearance that was so misjudged and ill thought out. Whilst watching Matt ‘Westminster’s very own Alan Partridge’ Hancock eat the nether regions of a marsupial may on the surface be amusing for most, there is a serious side that makes his appearance not just a PR disaster, but unbelievably cruel.
Legal journalist Catherine Baksi (@legalhackette) raised a few eyebrows this week with her tweet about a law firm press office. It read: Absurd that @lathamwatkins will not give me, a journalist, the email address of the person at the firm who deals with enquiries from the press. I point out the absurdity and am told that they can't give the address to me because it would breach privacy! Aside from hoping a law firm would have a basic understanding of privacy law, it highlights a not uncommon problem amongst law firms which seems to have got worse since the pandemic.
This week criminal barristers go on indefinite strike at a time of record backlogs in the criminal courts. The story has received considerable media attention since the historic strikes were announced, from making headlines on major news channels and in the broadsheets to featuring in LBC phone ins, on Good Morning Britain and even Channel Four’s the Last Leg. Reading and watching the media coverage, it has been apparent what a mountain there is to climb for criminal barristers trying to get their message across and the considerable challenge they face to gain public sympathy.
As PR disasters go, Rebekah Vardy suing Colleen Rooney for libel will take some beating. In terms of damaging your own reputation through vanity litigation Vardy has set a new gold standard.
Legal history was made last month when, for the first time in England and Wales, cameras were allowed inside London’s Old Bailey to film the sentencing of a man convicted of manslaughter. Televised court proceedings are not new and have been permitted in the senior courts for a number of years, albeit infrequently and not on the scale of countries like the US where The People v. OJ Simpson attracted 100 million viewers at its peak.
Law firms are constantly looking for ways in which they can differentiate themselves in a hugely competitive market. Plenty of firms will state that they are innovative, forward thinking and client-centred, but to stand out enough to win and retain clients, firms have to go much further. Those responsible for driving much of this work are the marketing and business development (BD) directors. Their position in the firm is quite unique, working across all functions, practice areas and sector groups they provide a 360° view of the firm.
There’s nothing that gets the press excited more than a good litigation battle. From tabloid heaven like the Wagatha Christie libel trial, to legal and financial press delights like ENRC v Dechert, high-profile litigation nearly always makes the headlines. As a result, the need to have litigation support in place, both for law firms and clients alike, cannot be overstated and could have long-lasting impact in the court of public perception.