Levaraging Your Reputation: Make releases matter

Tom Ciesielka is president of TC Public Relations (www.tcpr.net). Tom has over 25 years of marketing and public relations experience, working with individual lawyers and midsize law firms. He is also a former board member of the Legal Marketing Association in Chicago and has spoken at Chicago Bar Associations CLE programs. Reach him at tc@tcpr.net.

I don’t know if people are naïve or are trying to be obnoxious, but sometimes I’m surprised by the vapid or brash styles of press releases that are sent out, even by more seasoned pros. I’ve been thinking about this lately because sometimes we’re in such a rush to get out a press release when there’s an important development in a case, that we have to be extra careful to make sure that we’re being responsible with the presentation and professionalism of what we write.

It’s something we all have to think about: what are we communicating when we send out a press release, not just in terms of content, but in the reason we’re sending it out? An extremely negative example of a press release that should have never seen the light of day came from what a writer called the “Douchebag CEO” who really had nothing to report. He just wanted to appear in the media somehow, and it ended up giving him negative publicity. Actually, by linking to the article I’m also giving him exposure, but let him be an example of what to never do.

Here are a few things you should do when you craft a press release:

1)      Make sure it fits the news. This should be common sense, but some people are so desperate for media attention, they’ll put out a press release without paying attention to the news, which doesn’t put the information in any context. Even if you have a seemingly obscure case or have made some discoveries that seem to be for a narrow audience, find the news within the sphere that your work. Check more specialized publications and websites to see what the latest news is, and create a press release that would be relevant to what’s going on. Otherwise, the journalist will quickly delete what you’ve sent.

2)      State the facts. Some people write press releases that sound more like editorials. The first paragraph should give all the basic facts of a case, and as the press release continues, the information can be better explained. The editorializing should come in a separate paragraph in the form of a quote. Let the media decide what angle they want. You’re there to provide information, and your quoted opinion can help them see what your perspective is so that they can contact you for further clarification.

3)      Use the audience’s language. Attorneys are excellent writers and pay attention to detail, skills which, of course, are valuable to being successful in your practice. However, at times it’s better to simplify communication so that a wider audience would be able to understand what you’re saying. Sometimes websites simply take your press release and post it as-is, which means their readers are going to have instant access to your ideas. If you’re trying to communicate with people who are not attorneys and perhaps don’t have the high level of education that you have, then look at what you’ve written and see if it may be too complex for them to understand quickly. One way to see if your press release is easily comprehensible is to give it to someone in your firm who is not an attorney. If they have to ask you questions for clarification, then it could mean that the press release may not be appropriate for a wider audience. I’m not saying to “dumb down” anything, but to break down concepts and information so that your message is clear.

Whatever you do, make sure to keep communication professional, not tacky or irrelevant like the desperate attention-seekers tend to be. You can still appear intelligent and approachable in your press release if you choose effective ways to express your ideas.

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