What makes a good story to pitch to legal journalists? It’s not as straightforward as you might think, according to the panel at the PRCA Legal Group’s Meet the Legal Editors event.
Legal Group Chair Gus Sellitto of Byfield Consultancy led a discussion with Rose Walker, news editor at Legal Week; freelance journalist and former barrister Catherine Baksi; Eduardo Reyes, features editor at the Law Society Gazette; and James Booth, a reporter at City A.M. covering legal and insurance topics.
No matter what industry you’re working in, the panel’s advice can be used by PRs to shape their pitch and build meaningful media relationships.
Like any other area of PR, know your audience and understand what they want
Catherine Baksi said that as a freelance journalist she needs to know the publication thoroughly in order to sell a story and PR professionals need to do the same – read several issues, know the audience inside out, and be certain that the story you pitch is what you would expect to read in that publication. When she’s writing for the national press, she’s looking for a wider consumer angle or impact.
James Booth also said his readers aren’t focused on legal intricacies. They’re in a hurry and have little specialist knowledge or interest in law firms so they want to hear about City scandals, pay-outs and financial angles, or huge court cases and appeals rather than corporate news. However, both Rose Walker and Eduardo Reyes had recently turned down stories around divorce law as their readers focus on corporate law, or are already clued up on family law.
What makes a good story for the legal press?
Scandals; ‘firsts’ like a ruling, case or failure that has happened for the first time; and exclusives, particularly if it offers novelty or controversy. Your story needs to be fresh and not something that’s ’months old’ or has been used recently, even in another publication – again this is where being familiar with the outlet you’re targeting will help. (Eduardo Reyes said if you can get a picture of dog in the story, that will help…).
The difficulty with good quotes
James Booth said that he will often turn to a reliable source he can trust to offer quotes that are colourful, challenging or entertaining as well as accurate – and that this is easier said than done. Eduardo Reyes reminded PRs to brief their law firm clients that while accuracy is crucial, media quotes don’t need as much precision as when offering legal advice. Catherine Baksi also asked for novel, interesting and succinct quotes in plain language, from spokespeople confident about speaking to the media. Both Baksi and Reyes warned against asking to check quotes or headlines – both time and ethics mean this is impossible. Another tip was to remind clients to sound ‘more like a person than a lawyer’ and avoid starting quotes with bland clichés like “I’m delighted…”.
One audience member said that it can be difficult to get a client to accept their PR expertise to make a quote interesting and not just accurate. The panel suggested asking further questions can help to get an interviewee to say something in a different way and result in a quote that’s more punchy, non-generic and easy to digest – and ultimately one that’s more headline-worthy. Going back to your client and saying confidently ’this is what the journalist says they need’ can help.
What does ’exclusive’ mean to a journalist and when can you offer an exclusive to another journalist?
This is all about honesty and clarity. The panel agreed that an exclusive doesn’t come with qualifiers – it means it’s something that’s not been covered before, in any sector or outlet, and you’re sharing it with that journalist or publication alone. However, you can give a clear deadline so that if they aren’t interested or can’t use it, you can offer it to another outlet. If you offer an exclusive to a journalist and they accept, you should commit to that or it can damage your relationship with that outlet or journalist in the future.
This also applies to your own company or client blog. The panel again agreed that you should offer news first to journalists, who don’t have time to monitor individual websites. If a journalist picks up your story (including appointments, reports, or opinion pieces) you’ll reach a wider audience than if you post it on your company blog or website first.
The mechanics of pitching
Give plenty of thought to your email subject line – this helps a journalist decide quickly on whether they want to use your story (or find out more). This should contain the sexiest bit and the first line should sum up the story. Catherine Baksi said it’s important for there to be contacts available to answer further questions after you send out a story. If you’re offering a range of spokespeople on a topic, partners can be more confident and quotable than associates who may lack confidence, but fresh and diverse voices are also good for journalists.
Building a relationship with journalists
All the panel agreed journalists are increasingly short of time, especially with the ’24-hour deadlines’ culture of online content. Email overload is still a problem and at the same time they’re monitoring social media for trends and stories and facing more scrutiny. However, you can support your journalist contacts by following them and sharing their content on social media (just don’t DM/@ them unless they say that’s their preference – a well-targeted email or phone call remains the best way to contact them).
Meetings in person need to be brief (coffee rather than lunch), convenient (near to their office) and have a point. Rose Walker said one hour out of the office can mean missed deadlines or losing the opportunity to make several phone calls so it’s important that the journalist gets something concrete out of a meeting – for legal PRs that could mean bringing one of the firm’s partners along.
Do read the publication you’re targeting
Do follow the journalists you want to work with on social media (and a retweet doesn’t go amiss)
Do support your client to come up with colourful, succinct quotes
Do ‘treat journalists like human beings and they’ll reciprocate’
Don’t ask to check the quotes
Don’t offer an exclusive that’s not exclusive
Don’t use jargon (either PR or legal)
Vuelio can help you identify the journalists, outlets and influencers relevant to you and your clients. This allows you to quickly target contacts and build new, lasting relationships based on a genuine understanding of what journalists want from you. Find out more.
(Image by kind permission of Byfield Consultancy – http://byfieldconsultancy.com)