When news breaks, how to fix it?

Debra Pickett is president of Page 2 Communications (www.page2comm.com).  A former newspaper columnist and television commentator, Pickett offers consulting and training services to law firms and lawyers who deal with the media.  She writes here each week on topics related to Law and Media.  To learn more, reach her at deb@page2comm.com.

In the wake of Monday’s ruling on the Arizona immigration laws, as seemingly contradictory headlines popped up around the country, the New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza tweeted out the obvious question: “SCOTUS decisions are really not designed to be covered as breaking news, are they?”

No, they’re really not.

I still have flashbacks to one of TV news’ most awkward moments in recent memory, when NBC went live to the steps of the Supreme Court, where their analyst Dan Abrams was standing, with a just-released copy of the Bush v. Gore decision in his hand.  They were first with the news.  But, sadly, they had no idea what the news actually was.  Abrams was visibly struggling to read through the densely written opinions and dissents and figure out what the verdict actually was.  It was painful to watch.

So, too, yesterday, as MSNBC reported, “High Court Strikes Down Key Parts of Ariz. Immigration Law” and The New York Times posted, “Justices Uphold Key Part of Arizona Law,” you had to wonder if anything close to nuance would ever come to legal reporting in the mainstream press.

Let’s not hold our collective breath.

So, how, then, can you make sure that the media accurately conveys the verdict in your case?

The answer is that you need to do it for them.  And you need to do it quickly and simply.

Too often, law firms decide to send out a press release about a significant decision after the ruling comes down.  Then the attorney gives the details to a marketing person, who drafts a release and creates a press list and submits them back to the attorney for approval.  After a couple rounds of comments and wordsmithing edits, the press release gets sent out.  And no one does anything with it because it’s already old news.

If you want to be part of the news cycle as it happens, your press release must be ready to go in advance.  You need an electronic, fill in the blank template, with pre-approved language to drop in as appropriate.  And you need a contact list, complete with Twitter handles, mobile phone numbers and (least important) e-mail addresses, that’s already preloaded into your smart device so that you can quickly populate that press release and blast it out to the reporters following your case with the touch of a button.  If it takes more than five minutes, you’re doing it wrong.

So, what do you say?  Do you have your Mad Libs pad ready?  Start drafting that press release now – and don’t forget the headline! – and be ready to make news.  Reporters will be grateful, your media visibility will improve and you’ll get all the psychic benefits of doing a little positive visualization.

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