By Geri L. Dreiling
In part one of this three-part series on the role of press releases in legal marketing I discussed the ideal candidates for a legal press release and the contents that should be included with each release.
In part two, I cover the importance of writing with clarity as well as the lawyer’s need to communicate with his or her client before the release is circulated. Whether the client will be making a statement and if so, what the appropriate statement might be should be discussed.
While working as a reporter, I made the mistake of using the word “tort” in a story. An editor made a personal appearance at my desk with a copy of the story in his hand. “Are we writing about pastries?” he asked.
I launched into a legal explanation of a tort. He listened patiently and, when I was done, said, “I know what a tort is, but that isn’t important. Our readers are the ones we write for, and many won’t know. Change it.”
The point is that most people probably don’t have a copy of Black’s Law Dictionary handy. If your news release is packed with legalese, a reporter will have to spend a lot of time translating it. A lawyer who follows Wydick’s exhortation to use plain English will also make the journalist’s job easier.
In addition to being clear, a news release should be concise. This isn’t easy. As Mark Twain once said, “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.”
An average news story is about 800 words long. The reporter is going to have to make your news fit the space allotted for the piece. If you don’t pare the information down, the reporter will do it for you.
The gold standard for the length of a news release is one page. I don’t always meet that aim, but I never exceed two pages.
Before a news release is sent out, most lawyers will explain to the client why it is appropriate for that particular case. The lawyer should discuss with the client how any media contacts will be handled if a reporter calls.
An article is a story based on facts. For a reporter, the main character—the person at the center of the drama—is the plaintiff. Unless the publication is one geared specifically for lawyers, the attorney is often viewed as part of the supporting cast. That means that a journalist may track down your client and give him or her a call.
Some attorneys instruct their clients to refer all questions to the lawyer, who then answers all questions. Some lawyers will allow the client to be interviewed but only if they are present. Never forget to set up your ground rules with the client ahead of time.
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