Media Relations: Do's and Dont's
DO get to know members of the media. Have lunch with them. Invite them to your meetings and seminars. Encourage others in the bar to get to know them. Let reporters and editors know you'll be calling with stories and ideas - but that you won't be offended if they don't use them.
DO read the papers and listen to broadcasts to find out exactly what they need and want. Get to know the various formats - which paper will print new officers, which radio stations have talk shows. Look for opportunities to be a resource to the media.
DO keep a media contact list and update it often.
DO read the morning papers and listen to the early broadcasts to be prepared for phone calls when you get to the office.
DON'T play favorites. Release news on the same terms to all, at the same time.
DON'T overlook special-interest publications that may carry your news more readily than daily papers.
DO respond immediately to an inquiry from the media. If you don't know the answer, tell the reporter you'll call back, and then do, quickly.
DON'T ever ask a reporter to let you know when the article appears or to clip it and send it to you. They're too busy, and besides, you're supposed to be reading the paper.
DO look for opportunities to hold briefings or seminars for the media on timely issues.
DO keep photo possibilities in mind and mention them to reporters.
DO send a list of your officers annually and give them a guide with lawyers to call on certain subjects.
DO write a letter to the editor (and the reporter) thanking them for a balanced, thoughtful article after an article appears. If the story has a few mistakes, ignore them. If the mistakes are serious, write a letter pointing them out politely and calmly. If you know the reporter, a call might be in order so the reporter won't make the mistakes again.
Welcome the reporter -- this is a wonderful chance to tell your story. Take the attitude that reporters represent the public and the public is entitled to know. Have your calls held and devote your full attention to the reporter. Avoid legalese - use words everyone understands. The more informal your language is, the better . Your answers should be short, positive, to the point. If a reporter asks several questions at once, you might say, "Well, you've asked several questions. Let me respond to the main point, first..." Decide the major points you want to get across; at the earliest opportunity try to capsulize your main point. Be realistic in your answers--look at each question from the public's point of view. Don't repeat a reporter's terminology unless you want to; don't let the reporter put words in you mouth. Don't say anything you wouldn't want to read in the paper, or hear on a broadcast the next day. Remember, there is no such thing as "off the record" during an interview. If a reporter wants information you can't release, don't evade. Just say you can't release it and explain why.
Try to relax and enjoy it, if you can--you and the reporter may start a friendship from which you both could profit.
RADIO AND TELEVISION
Be sure to include the broadcast media in your plans. Give them advance warning on anything special that you know is coming up. Send them a news release, as you would the newspapers--but triple-space the copy.
For television, think VISUAL. It's a medium of pictures and they need interesting features. If an event is especially visual, even though it's not very newsworthy, television may want to cover it.
When you're called by the broadcast media, it's even more important to be quick about getting them resources or answers. (Remember, they will get an answer somewhere, and it is better if it comes from you.)
Investigate the public affairs programming on various station; approach the news directors at these stations with an offer to serve as a resource, furnishing ideas for programs and good people to appear on these programs. The same goes with talk shows; they need a constant stream of ideas and interesting people to interview.
FEATURE STORIES, COLUMNS AND THE EDITORIAL PAGE
"Features" are used in both print and broadcast media extensively; they're full of human interest and get very high readership. As opposed to the daily drama of crime and politics, they are considered "softer," and deal with something unusual, a trend, relationships between people, the famous, the heroic.
Feature stories should be described either verbally or in writing to a reporter or editor, unlike news releases which are written and typed out completely, If you have photo ideas to go along with a feature story idea, it probably will be even more welcome.
Some ideas might be: Day in the life of a juvenile court judge-what slice of life does he or she see?; prepaid legal insurance; a judge with a fascinating hobby; how to get your own divorce; the role of women and minorities in the bar, etc. Features such as these humanize the law, attorneys and judges, and take away some of the mystery from the legal system. This is some of the best publicity you can get.
Columns written by someone in the bar association are often a standard in some newspapers. Ideally, they should appear weekly, address subjects of general or current interest, be brief, and above all, be accurate. The last paragraph should credit the attorney who wrote the article and mention the bar association. Columns should be typed neatly, double-spaced and submitted at least a week before they are to run.
The editorial page of the local newspaper should get much of your attention. You can submit a complete editorial, such as a reprint from a bar journal or a letter from the bar president. The paper may run these as editorials on the "op-ed" page. An editorial suggestion sheet, with facts on the subjects listed, could be mailed to the editor, inviting a comment on those subjects. Also, don't forget letters to the editor. These usually have a high readership and newspapers are glad to run brief, less than 200 words, well-written letters. If television stations offer their editorial opinions, they may well welcome suggestions on subjects. When they take a stand on something in the legal system, they will probably offer you a chance to speak on the other side.
SOME PR PROJECTS TO CONSIDER
Weekly newspaper columns
Bar association newsletter (even several times a year)
Public education projects in local schools
A bar-press committee
Award recognition programs (for volunteers and the public)
Legal series on public radio station
Any community service project you can support (and wear t-shirts with your bar association name of them)
Projects providing free legal services to the poor
Booths at fairs, community events
Projects that help your members with office management (computers, personnel services, form standardization and access, etc.)
Do-it-yourself divorce clinics