We frequently talk to lawyers and law firms that want to be quoted in newspaper and magazine articles as well as interviewed on radio and television. Media relations is a process, and frequently a process that cannot be rushed. We have a high “batting average” at The Legal A Team of getting our lawyer clients quoted in mainstream media, and often.
The logical place for lawyers to start to be quoted is in the legal trade publications. We tell them that media relations is like online dating. Here are the parallels:
Falling in love. There you are, on eHarmony, EliteSingles, JDate, or Our Time, and you’re looking at photos. And then you find “the one”—the profile and the looks are perfect. That’s your target man or woman.
Some Legal A Team clients want to be interviewed by a particular journalist or be on a specific show. ‘Oh, if only s/he would interview me and write about me, I would be deliriously happy!’ While that’s possible, that narrows down your options of getting more media coverage. It also presupposes that the journalist is interested in your story—a big assumption.
Sending a “flirt.” In media relations terms, sending a pitch to a reporter that says “I’m available for an interview” is the dating equivalent of an online “flirt.” It says “I’m here, look at me!” So what? The reality is that all journalists have hundreds of interview sources they can quote in a story. In every industry, from law, to accounting, to high tech, the competition to get quoted is tough and getting tougher.
Worse, it is likely that your target journalist already has preferred sources: lawyers who give ‘good quote’ and make it a priority to get back to the reporter within one hour. For all you know, your perfect target is already in a relationship with someone else and hasn’t bothered to change their ‘relationship status.’
Asking for a date. You go the next step and send an email. You are not only starting a conversation, you are starting a relationship. Many lawyers send media pitches that are way too long; sending 20 paragraphs is a waste of time. That’s over-sharing; it overwhelms many and irritates some journalists.
How is your pitch, or story idea, different?
The goal of a media pitch is to get the journalist’s attention to either call or email you. And then write a story after having interviewed you.
The same pick-up lines don’t work on everyone. Sending a reporter an email—the media pitch—is hard work. You need to do some research about the types of articles that the reporter has written recently, and even more important, what kinds of issues the reporter cares deeply about.
The best media pitches: a) are relevant to the topics or subjects that the journalist covers, b) relate to hard news that his happening now, c) have the news media outlet’s audience in mind, and d) are mercifully short.
To quote the Terry McKay character, played by Deborah Kerr, in the 1957 tearjerker An Affair to Remember: “Tell me, have you been getting results with a line like that, or would I be surprised?”
Speed dating. The media relations equivalent of speed dating is the news release, a short statement that contains useful information for a broad variety of journalists. News releases are distributed via networks like Canada News Wire and Marketwired. Like speed dating, it’s a numbers game. The more people that read your news release, the more you increase your chances of reaching a journalist who is interested in your topic.
Cold shoulder. Most journalists won’t respond to either a pitch or a news release. Further, an increasing number of journalists prefer email interviews to interviewing someone on the phone. Newsrooms that used to be noisy are now eerily quiet; BuzzFeed has one of the most quiet newsrooms in the industry. You can always call and leave a message, but you cannot compel a journalist to talk to you.
As a reality check, most journalists receive between 300 and 500 news releases and direct media pitches per day—volume no reasonable human can deal with to get anything done.
Building a relationship. Interestingly, what journalists and those looking online for a significant other have in common is they both want a relationship. Journalists want to cultivate relationships with interview sources. Both want someone out there to care. In order for any relationship to work, you must have a genuine interest in what the reporter does.
Faking interest doesn’t work with reporters or online dating. Instead, adjust your attitude to “be of service,” in other words, be helpful to a journalist with observations like “that’s commonplace” and “this is a game-changer” for your particular industry. This way, your media relations efforts will be much more successful. Keep caring over time and you will get quoted.
Stalking. Pestering a reporter about a story that s/he is not interested in doesn’t make much sense. It can get you blacklisted and blocked, just like online dating.
The monogamous relationship. Some news outlets are known for wanting an exclusive. If you have pitched the same story to a number of different news outlets, the main network you want to be featured on won’t be interested. From the standpoint of getting exposure in a variety of news sources, you may be better off getting quoted and published in a broader range of media.
Jealousy. If you offer an exclusive to a media outlet and it is accepted, keep in mind that you are likely alienating all other news outlets. Just saying.
The breakup. Most of the time, breakups happen in media relations because a reporter retires, is re-assigned to cover another industry, or is laid off. There is not much you can do about any of these scenarios. For successful media relations, you have to build relationships all the time.
It is rare that a breakup of a journalist and an interview source happens over a “dust up,” such as being misquoted or being on-the-record when a conversation was “for background only.” All the journalists we have dealt with during 30 years strive for accuracy and balance.