Contacts and Consideration in Legal PR
The Six C’s of Legal Press Releases
By Geri L. Dreiling
In this final installment, the importance of contacting the relevant beat reporter as well as the need for consideration if a journalist is on a tight deadline are explained.
Contact the Relevant Beat Reporter
As a reporter, the news releases that caught my attention were ones sent specifically to me that were relevant to my legal and investigative beat. If I received a press release announcing the opening of a new restaurant and I had time, I might forward it to the restaurant critic. If I didn’t have time, the release was ignored or deleted.
In my experience, the most effective news release is the one with a carefully crafted submission list. Legal reporters may be interested in a lawsuit filed over a catastrophic trucking accident. Journalists who cover the traffic beat should be included on the list, and any reporter who covered the original incident should receive a copy of the news release as well. Include the local office of a wire service such as the Associated Press on the circulation list.
Newsroom resources are scarce, and the ranks of reporters grow thinner each day. Chances are, a media organization located in an area with no connection to the plaintiffs, the defendants or the incident will not be eager to assign a reporter to the story. However, it may run an article written by a journalist at a wire service such as the Associated Press.
A reporter who receives a news release doesn’t simply decide to write a story. He or she typically must pitch the story to an editor before a green light is given. It may take some convincing before an editor gives the OK to a story, but once an article has been assigned the editor expects that it will be turned in.
A reporter has gone out on the limb for you to write the piece. Don’t leave him or her hanging.
Have a file-stamped copy of the lawsuit that can be faxed or e-mailed to the journalist. The reporter will need to personally verify that a lawsuit does indeed exist and makes the allegations that were summarized in the news release.
Be available for questions. One of the most frustrating things a reporter can encounter is a news release contact who is unavailable. Tight deadlines may mean that an article must be turned in only a few short hours after it is assigned. A television news reporter may need to hastily set up an on-camera interview. Unreturned voice mail or e-mail messages result in a great deal of anxiety.
A lawyer who quickly returns a reporter’s phone call and anticipates requests for copies of lawsuits instantly creates goodwill. The lawyer gains a reputation as someone on whom the reporter can depend. Just as judges compare notes about attorneys who appear before them, journalists share sources and tell one another which ones are likely to call back.
To summarize: Select your candidates for news releases as carefully as you pick your clients. Write the release in a clear, concise manner, and be sure to include content that helps the reporter verify the information. Communicate with your client before the news release is circulated to the relevant contacts, and be considerate of the reporter, who is often working under a tight deadline.
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