Leveraging Your Reputation: Start small

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 is on the Public Affairs Committee of The Chicago Bar Association, where he has spoken at CLE programs. Reach him at tc@tcpr.net.

Sometimes I speak to people who want a publicity home run right away. “I want to be in the New York Times,” they say, or on national TV, or some other big outlet, whether it’s important nationally or right here in Chicago. They assume that they’re ready for the big leagues and get frustrated when they don’t encounter such opportunities, even if they have never been in the media before. Some attorneys “luck out” by appearing in a major outlet early in their career or when they have no media experience at all. Those attorneys appear in major media without any experience probably because they are working on a case that is exceptionally newsworthy and the media wants to talk to someone closest to the situation to get the best information possible.

If you’re not working on something that is newsworthy but still want publicity, then you should start small. Not only will it build your “media dossier,” but it will allow you to practice speaking and communicating in such a way that by the time you reach the big leagues, you will be ready and will sound professional and polished.

For instance, if you’re not good at speaking in “sound bites,” then you will sound long-winded and people will tune out if you get the chance to be on TV or on a radio show. By dealing with a small outlet, even something as simple as a podcast or online video, you’ll be able to practice simplifying your message so that you will sound sharp by the time you make it to the “Today Show” or another national program (whatever your target show is).

Even being quoted in a publication takes practice. It’s important to train your mind to think in such a way so that you remain savvy yet give enough information so that a reporter will be satisfied with your answer, which will make you look good as well. After all, you have to be careful because once you make a statement, you can’t retract it. By allowing yourself to be interviewed by small, local publications or websites, you’ll get a feeling for what your boundaries should be when speaking publicly on an issue or your work.

I often notice that attorneys are great speakers, but when they speak in the media, they end up struggling with communication. That’s because the rules are different and you’re communicating with a different audience. So you have to be sure to get the media training you need and to practice anywhere you can. The best approach is to not assume that you’re ready and to seek out the small outlets to practice so that you’re ready to shine on a larger “stage.”

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