Legal PR: Five ways to become a reporter’s go-to source

April 7, 2014

Lawyers often ask how they can get quoted in news stories, or be quoted more often. They intrinsically understand the value of being a commentary source and many are naturally adept at serving as sources. It’s their job, after all, to translate complex legal concepts and strategies into understandable and useful explanations for clients. Providing the same value to reporters is a logical extension of that skill.

Still, lawyers often struggle with translating that sound concept to the desired result. Having spent 16 years in the legal press, I’ve seen lawyers miss thousands of media opportunities, and bungle thousands more. It’s unfortunate, because becoming a go-to source is not a complicated process. I reached out to several former business and legal journalism peers and colleagues to see if they shared my perceptions, and we agreed that lawyers can get a gold star in most reporters’ rolodexes if they follow these five simple steps:

1. Reach out

Stay on top of what’s news in your field and be ready to reach out to reporters when there is a major development. If a lawyer or firm works with a PR consultant, this is something they will be able to help with, but the reporters I know say they wouldn’t turn down help from an attorney reaching out directly. Did a court hand down a ruling that may change the way companies have to do business? Did potentially game-changing legislation finally get pushed through Congress? Dash off an email to a reporter or PR professional explaining the news and its potential impact and offering yourself as a source if they decide to write about the story now or in the future. Explain why this is an important story and how it might affect businesses or related laws and cases. Sometimes a small, unnoticed development only becomes a news story when a reporter can place it in context as part of a trend or as the harbinger of broader changes.

2. Be quoteable

More than anything this means being prepared and compelling. Put some thought and analysis toward the various ways a story could affect potential clients. Sources often say things like, “This new SEC regulation about conflict minerals says that companies now need to meet the following new requirements,” but reporters can read the text on their own. The source’s job is to translate that new regulation into a story. Give the writer the hook that helps her develop the narrative of this story: “This new SEC regulation is part of a larger movement toward greater transparency and social responsibility in public companies. It could lead to a sea change in supply chain management, and companies can’t afford to ignore it.”

3. Know your market

Sources must be aware of the publications, both print and web, that write for and about their potential clients, and acknowledge that these may not be the same publications that they themselves personally value the most. These may be trade publications aimed at particular industries or specific roles such as in-house counsel, board members or corporate executives. Influential blogs or even well-followed Twitter accounts also reach large swaths of the various sectors. Know what your client base is reading and work to build relationships with the writers at those publications.

4. Be reliable

Sometimes the most important thing that can push a lawyer from the ranks of the once-quoted to the short list of regular sources is simply being available. When writers are working on deadline and need a timely quote right away, they’ll contact someone they know will pick up the phone or respond to an email quickly. It doesn’t matter if you give the best quotes and offer the best insight. If they know it will be a chore just to get in touch with you, they won’t spend the time trying.

5. Don’t be a talking billboard

Every reporter I know shares the same pet peeve about lawyer sources. When they inevitably ask lawyers for their advice to the companies or individuals contending with a legal development, too often the response is some variant of, “Hire me.” They may couch it in less blatant terms — “The most important thing is to obtain expert legal counsel who can guide them through this” — but reporters see right through it, and they’re not in the business of free advertising. For a quote to make it into a published story, it must demonstrate value, showing potential clients that you’re smart, insightful, capable of offering actionable guidance and most importantly, that you always have their best interests in mind.