Legal PR pitching: Tips from an editor
August 14, 2018 • 4 minute read
As we bid farewell to our summer interns, we’re publishing a series of posts they wrote based on interviews with Infinite Global staff.
A media pitch looks very different to PR professionals than it does to a newsroom. Even though a pitch can turn into a well-received, creative story for a publication, it can be difficult to convince reporters to run with a story based solely on a phone call or an email. Jennifer King, associate vice president at Infinite Global and former vice president of editorial at Corporate Legal Times, has the perspective of both an editor and a legal PR professional. Coming from an editor’s point of view, she explained that there are a few key things that junior legal PR people should take into consideration when contacting journalists.
Build relationships with journalists
It is no trade secret that people are more inclined to help those whom they know rather than a stranger. Therefore, one of the most important aspects of successful contact with media outlets is building relationships with reporters.
“Reputation carries a lot of weight,” says Jennifer. “When I was an editor, I always took calls from certain legal PR professionals. Because they understood my publication and its audience, their ideas were valuable.”
Building relationships comes with time, but it is possible to speed up the process by showing that you understand the publication’s readership, its editorial focus and the reporter’s beat. Using saved media lists from previous pitches and stories seems efficient, but they can be outdated. Publications and journalists change as fast as the world around them, so it is worth updating media lists frequently.
With constant news flowing all around them, journalists have anything but extra time to comb through PR emails and try to decipher the big picture. Avoid using unnecessary words and be obvious about the main idea.
Journalists often use the inverted pyramid writing style, and PR people should consider adopting it for their pitches. “The meat needs to be at the top of a PR pitch and the least important details at the bottom,” says Jennifer. Putting the important stuff right at the beginning of a law firm pitch will be to the PR professional’s benefit.
Legal PR has its place, but be respectful of journalists’ time
Both media outlets and law firms can benefit from effective PR efforts. However, PR people need to recognize that journalists may not operate on the same schedule as they do. It’s natural to be impatient, but be respectful of the journalist and his or her time — follow up too many times and you’re likely to annoy the journalist, which could tank the pitch. Get to know when and how often it is appropriate to reach out to a reporter during his or her writing process.
“Keep in mind that we all have jobs to do,” Jennifer says. “It’s important to understand the reality of the journalist’s job when following up on pitches. For example, if you know a media outlet has a mid-afternoon deadline, follow up on non-urgent PR pitches in the morning or late afternoon.”
Know when to be a facilitator and when to be a gatekeeper
A key element of a legal PR professional’s job is to be a liaison between law firms and reporters. A lot of work needs to be done to ensure smooth interactions, but do not overstep those boundaries. “As PR people, we need to walk a fine line, because sometimes we act as facilitators, and sometimes we act as gatekeepers,” says Jennifer. Facilitators streamline interactions between reporters and their sources, while gatekeepers control when and how their clients speak with the press.
Both roles are needed in this industry, but it is important to recognize when to act as one or the other. Lawyers who have little experience working with the media may expect their public relations team to act as a gatekeeper — sitting in on calls and pushing to review quotes before publication. Rather than acquiescing to these requests, which can jeopardize a relationship with a journalist, instead encourage spokespeople to undergo media training, which will give them more confidence when working directly with the press.
Ensure your spokesperson is fully briefed
Clients use public relations departments and firms, in part, to identify and facilitate opportunities to comment on news stories. It is then the PR person’s responsibility to brief lawyers on exactly what to expect from an interview.
“When a PR team doesn’t brief the client before an interview, it makes for an awkward and uncomfortable situation for everyone involved,” says Jennifer. Interviews and quotes look and sound much better when the speaker is prepared.
Pitching can seem strategic and pre-meditated, but creativity is key. Significant changes and announcements within a law firm need to be broadcast to the public, but that is not necessarily a journalist’s primary interest. “Press releases have their place, but the best stories rarely come from press releases,” says Jennifer. “Consume media that’s relevant to your law firm spokespeople and talk to the lawyers for whom you do PR. What emerging trends are they seeing? What topics are keeping their clients awake at night? That’s the creative way to identify great pitch topics.”
Pitching to reporters is not an exact science, and that is exactly what makes this industry so interesting for both journalists and PR teams. “Remember, one of the most important things PR people can do when pitching editors and journalists is to think like a journalist,” says Jennifer. Use these tips as a guide to the pitching process and ensure successful media pitches.
Interested in a career in legal PR? Check out Infinite Global’s job openings.
Lindsey Lubowitz is completing an internship at Infinite Global before returning to Northwestern University, where she is a rising sophomore majoring in Journalism.