Tag Archives: Public Relations

Litigation PR: Why ‘No Comment’ is no good

Nick Augustine is the principal of Pro Serve PR Marketing, a firm that provides marketing and public relations advising and services for law firms. Nick’s niche in litigation public relations grew out of time spent in litigation trenches. Nick is a frequent national speaker on law firm public relations, risk, strategy and public opinion management. Nick earned a communications and rhetorical studies degree from Marquette University and a law degree from The John Marshall Law School, where he is an active Alumni Board member.

When the media calls, you should respond or your credibility might suffer. There are few instances where absolute silence is appropriate; the standard responses, “our policy is not to comment” or “we haven’t yet read the complaint” don’t satisfy the curious reader. Too often, lawyers think they are making the best decision to keep quiet, but in a 24-hour news cycle, most people form their opinion on first impression – there are no second chances.

Public support and awareness of litigation can affect the value of the parties’ claims. Under pressure from the public and within an industry, cases are managed and settled with reputation and goodwill in mind. To balance the courts of public opinion and law, smart litigators work with public relations professionals who quickly research and prepare appropriate statements and communication plans. Working together, the attorney and publicist guide the dialogue to advance their best position with the public. Being aware, relevant and timely is imperative in litigation public relations.

Be aware. Many of us no longer learn about news in a top-down format. Headlines attract readers’ comments on social media sites where many of us find the daily news among our friends’ status updates. Savvy readers want to know what’s going on quickly and they are used to a quick synopsis of relevant information. When a law firm declines to comment, the reader is left to imagine what happened. Do you really think the busy reader will go back later to see if the law firm commented? Likely not.

Be relevant. The definition of relevance is broader in public opinion than in law. In litigation, attorneys consider the admissibility of information before making disclosures. Attorneys reasonably fear that statements made to media might show up again, in court, and offered by an opponent as admissions. Likewise, plaintiffs’ conversations, both private and public, are subject to scrutiny and deposition questions. How do you balance these competing risks? Engage a professional media consultant.

Be timely. Well prepared comments for media should be prepared before you file anything. Remember, in court, counsel gets a chance to plead and carefully state theories of their case or defense. In news, counsel must say something substantive and reach the public quickly. A non-response to litigation sends a message that the lawyer doesn’t care about the public reading the story.

Leveraging Your Reputation: 2 tips for avoiding strain

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 Association CLE programs. Reach him at tc@tcpr.net.

Even though I’ve been doing public relations for several years, I still see a couple things that happen again and again that could damage a firm or attorney’s reputation and even strain their relationship with their publicist. If you’re going to develop a public relations plan, keep these two things in mind:

Make sure that you create a press release that really is newsworthy.

Recently, a firm wanted media attention for something that seemed on the surface to be controversial, which usually would get coverage. However, when I looked more closely at the situation, I realized that it would have resulted in manipulation of the media, which would have negatively affected the firm’s reputation for a long time. There was no news, but they wanted to twist an event to make it appear that way, just to get attention. This is dangerous because if the media scratches the surface and sees there’s nothing there, you will not get access to them in the future, and people will eventually think that you’re a phony. So make sure your news is real, solid, and is truly something that the media is interested in.

For instance, if you’re based in Chicago and want to get some publicity in New York, then personnel changes in your Chicago office is not going to be news, no matter how you think you’re spicing up your press release. It should be relevant to the market and something that people would really care about.

If you’re working with a publicist, don’t send gifts or letters to the media behind the publicist’s back.

Giving a gift to the media to garner positive and more substantial coverage is unethical and unprofessional. Members of the media choose what they will cover, and you have to earn the space that they give you in their stories and reports. A gift will damage your reputation, and the media might even see you as sleazy for attempting to convince them with something that seems like a bribe. So while it’s wrong to give a gift, doing it without the publicist’s knowledge makes the situation even worse because it shows that you don’t trust whom you’ve hired.

Sending a letter may seem more benign than a gift, but it can also strain your relationship with both the media and your publicist. First of all, you might irritate the media if the publicist has already contacted them, and you could end up confusing the message that you want to communicate. Plus, the publicist will be frustrated because there’s a public relations plan that does include you, but usually at a later stage. Just let the publicist do his or her job, and relax until you get a call for an interview.

Leveraging Your Reputation: Review your past to help your future

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 Association CLE programs. Reach him at tc@tcpr.net.

Things can be going well with your practice and career, and then there can be a glitch: a media outlet brings up a past mistake that you’ve made, and you don’t know what to do. Even if you’re moved on from your transgressions, “No comment” or “I don’t want to talk about that” is not the best response because it will make the media dig even further. The best way to prevent any anxiety about your imperfect past is to prepare now by thinking about what you’ve done and what kind of response you’re going to have just in case it comes up.

So as the year is still new, take some time out of your busy schedule to evaluate your past. Be honest with yourself: Is there something that you think would hinder your public relations success? Were you sued for malpractice 10 years ago, and even got some bad publicity from it? Everyone makes mistakes, but your past actions don’t have to affect your future.

Suppose you used to practice real estate law, but a deal went wrong. Perhaps you went to court, paid fines or were sued, or simply went into business with someone who was shady, and decided you had enough and wanted to move on. Now you’re doing tax law and are thinking that those ugly real estate deals are behind you. Then a news story comes up about a building you handled that’s in dispute, and your name has emerged in connection to it, even though it was over 20 years ago. Someone asks you about it. What do you do?

If you’ve really made a change and are clear of problems, then you can turn the situation into a positive and let the writer or reporter know that you no longer practice real estate law, but used that experience to help you with your current tax practice. You could say that you’ve learned it’s important to pay attention to details, which is what you do now in every case that you handle. You can also generalize the lessons so that the audience can learn something, too. That way, you acknowledge your past and use it to help your present. The key is to turn a negative into a positive.

But to avoid being put on the spot like that, prepare now. Think about and practice your answers so that you can respond to friendly and hostile people’s questions. That way, you’ll keep yourself under control instead of crumbling and saying something you’ll regret or that will make a negative impression.

Leveraging Your Reputation: Remember that the media is savvy

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 Association CLE programs. Reach him at tc@tcpr.net.

A while ago, I went to a public relations conference where some television producers were speaking. They offered helpful advice about how to contact them, the types of guests they wanted, what their audiences were like and why they chose certain stories to cover. They also answered the audience’s questions and seemed friendly, so people approached them to talk.

After the presentation, a man walked up to one of them and handed her a package, trying to pitch his idea for her show. He seemed pushy, and I think such behavior was inappropriate for the situation. After all, they were just there to speak, but instead, at least one of them had to listen to the man as he tried to persuade her to give his client an opportunity.

I still think about that man’s behavior, especially since the media is changing and there are more ways to contact them, which makes it seem like the walls are totally down. However, it’s important to remember that there are still standards, and media professionals are just as smart as they were before. With social media such as Twitter and LinkedIn, contacting them seems to be more casual, but we shouldn’t forget that manners count, and the media is still savvy, no matter how easy communication seems to be.

For instance, people think that a fancy media kit will get media professionals’ attention, but if the content doesn’t fit what they’re talking or writing about, then it doesn’t matter how sparkly the package is; you won’t be able to convince them. Sometimes all it takes is an e-mail to make something work for you. I have met people who only use e-mails to contact the media and have been consistently successful because they are offering content that journalists or hosts are interested in.

Attorneys are highly educated, and while members of the media may not have the same types of degrees as lawyers do, they still have been exposed to a lot of information and people, and they know what they want and what would work for their audience. So if you hear a “no”, then it’s best to accept it and move on, and offer to be a resource for future stories. Your politeness and professionalism will go a long way, and they will be open to your connection in the future.

Leveraging Your Reputation: Time for an e-mail review?

Tom Ciesielka is president of TC Public Relations (www.tcpr.net). Tom has about 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 Association CLE programs. Reach him at tc@tcpr.net.

Even though there are now a lot more ways to communicate other than e-mail, it is still frequently used, especially professionally. However, it seems that people are not paying as much attention to how their e-mails can help their reputation because the trend is to emphasize the importance of Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and other social media. If it’s been a while since you’ve thought about how your e-mail can be more effective, here are a few things to consider:

Enhance your signature. Your signature probably includes your name, firm, and contact information, in addition to a legal disclaimer or privacy notice. You can add one more line that could be a link to an article that you wrote or was featured in, or a link to something else that you want to share. You might have just written a book or have an upcoming speaking engagement. Remember to share whatever you’ve done or are going to do, and keep the language simple so that your recipient doesn’t feel like your signature is a commercial.

Lighten the graphics. I know people who take a lot of time to create beautiful e-mails that resemble a brochure more than a piece of electronic communication, but the problem is that your audience can view your e-mail on various kinds of monitors, browsers, and phones. Make sure that your e-mail is simple enough for people to view and open. Sometimes if there are too many graphics, your message can go to someone’s junk mail, or may simply not be legible. It can also take a while to load if it is too complex.

Give ways to share. If you’re sending an e-mail that you would like someone to pass along, such as a promotional e-mail about a seminar that you’re organizing, then include ways for the recipient to share it with other people. Also remember to write the e-mail so that anyone would be able to understand it, instead of making it too customized to just one person. People who forward emails to others often don’t delete your personal message to them, so keep such communication short, yet friendly.

And here’s an obvious tip: Proofread your e-mail to ensure it doesn’t have mistakes and can’t be misunderstood. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has had to smooth over misunderstandings after I hit the “send” button too quickly before realizing that I wasn’t clear, or had embarrassing errors.

Leveraging Your Reputation: 3 ways to not annoy the media

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 Association CLE programs. Reach him at tc@tcpr.net.

Now that a new year has begun, you’ve probably made some resolutions about how to boost your reputation. If your plans this year include organizing an event, speaking at a seminar, or sharing your expertise, then you’ll probably be contacting the media. It’s a great idea to connect with them, but it’s important to not annoy them. Here are three tips for not being a pest:

Be available. A lot of attorneys are busy with cases, research, and professional obligations. While you have to honor your commitments, you still have to be available for the media to contact you. If you are working on a case or are an expert in an area that is unique or important enough to get media attention, then they will contact you, and they’ll want an answer right away.

For instance, some attorneys are simply quoted in a newspaper article, and then are barraged with calls from radio and TV shows because they see you as an expert. Be sure to answer your phone or return a call promptly if you are not available at that moment. If you put out a press release, then expect the media to contact you if they see your event or information as helpful. Respond to their emails quickly, and make sure your contact information is correct. Otherwise, the media will get frustrated, especially if they have a tight deadline, and you might not get another opportunity with them again.

Speak well. Attorneys usually don’t have a problem with speaking, but if you’re a better writer than speaker and want to appear in the media, then make sure your speaking skills are superb. You might write a great article in a legal publication or provide an interesting quote, but if you’re not able to sound as dynamic as you appear in words, then radio and TV shows will not invite you back. If you want to get an idea of how a good speaker sounds, then listen or watch various news shows. You’ll notice that the legal experts they use are excellent talkers.

Make content fit. You’re not in sales, but your e-mails can sound like sales pitches if you’re too pushy, especially if what you want to promote does not fit with what they usually do. Before you contact them, make sure your content matches theirs by reading their articles, or listening or watching their shows. Then, based on what you’ve learned, create a customized email that shows you understand what they are doing. For instance, you could mention a previous story they did that would link in with what you’re currently promoting. Even if you’re not successful on that first attempt, that media outlet will be open to you contacting them in the future because you seem knowledgeable and respectful of them.

Leveraging Your Reputation: Two ways to be an expert online

Tom Ciesielka is president of TC Public Relations (www.tcpr.net). Tom has about 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 Association CLE programs. Reach him at tc@tcpr.net.

There are various ways to become an expert through speaking, media appearances, and writing. Here are other two ways that you can become an expert, which will enhance your reputation even more:

Use LinkedIn. Join a LinkedIn group in the area in which you specialize and get involved in discussions and answer group members’ questions. And here’s something that will make you really stand out: start a discussion where you offer some proprietary information to the members. For instance, if you’ve published an article about how a particular law will help your members in their profession, or you’ve published an analysis of legal trends, then share that with the group.

An even more effective way to connect with group members and to raise your LinkedIn profile is to make a Top 10 list of something that will help them. If the information that you’re offering is specific and beneficial, they will want it. After you’ve created your list, let the group know by starting a discussion thread, and tell them to email you if they want a copy.

I’ve seen it work effectively: Several months ago, someone posted a message in a group that I belong to, saying that she created a checklist for fundraising, and asked people to e-mail her to get it. So many people contacted her and made comments below her post, that she is one of the most influential people in the group, and her profile has been at the top of the page as a key influencer for several months.

Create Videos. Many people post videos on YouTube or Vimeo and gain a following if their content is helpful. Think of tips or insights that you think people need to hear. First look at other videos and see what people are searching for and watching, and come up with effective search terms and content that will make your video attractive. If you’re not sure about how to create quality videos, see my tips that I’ve shared here before.

Overall, think about how the information and experience that you have can help others, and find the best outlets to express your expertise so that people will see that you’re an attorney to whom they should turn.