A Media & Communications Checklist for Savvy Attorneys Sue Evans, Northwest Media Allies

Understand the fundamentals of communications: your goal drives strategy and tactics. Media, social media and marketing are tactics, not strategy. For most attorneys, the goal is to secure a strong result for their client. The second goal is to generate more referrals.

Start planning your media strategy when you sign your client. Make sure you understand early on what your clients want. Some clients are passionate about sharing their stories. Others prefer to maintain their privacy. Your job as an attorney is to comply with your client’s wishes throughout the litigation process.

 

 Screen your clients. Attorneys must work with real people and real facts. Does the client profile inhibit the case facts? Do the case facts hurt the client profile? Not all clients cooperate. Not all facts favor clients. Not all family members in a case agree on a media strategy. Make sure you understand how your client’s profile and case facts will impact the media strategy.

 

 Budget for marketing and media relations on high-profile cases. High-profile cases attract the media and drain law firm time. It’s inevitable. Maybe the client and the attorney don’t want the spotlight – it won’t matter. Either way, the cost is time. Plan for it. Get estimates from local media relations professionals on what it may cost to assist you in managing the media for you and your client.

 

 How to prioritize media strategies for a high-profile media case

 

 The press conference – The press conference is reserved for high-profile cases that already have a media following or will undoubtedly generate a media following. A press conference allows attorneys and their clients to address a large volume of media traffic at once in the span of 30 minutes. Press conferences are best suited for cases where clients want to actively share their story with the media. Clients and attorneys will need to be prepped with an event script, talking points and press handouts for the press conference. Attorneys should hold a press conference on the day the case is filed, settled or a verdict is rendered. Press conferences are expensive and should be reserved for big cases.

 

 Media availability – Designating a time for media availability is an effective way to handle a large volume of media traffic when the client does not want to be involved in the media process. Attorneys handling the case can make themselves available to answer questions and release a statement about the case at a designated time quickly.

 

 Distributing a press release – Attorneys and clients may want to distribute a press release and forego hosting a press conference. This enables both the attorney and client to drive the message around their case while minimizing costs to the client and involvement of the client. Press releases should be distributed on the same day a government claim is filed; a lawsuit is filed; a lawsuit is settled or a jury verdict is delivered. The media does not appreciate receiving press releases long after a case has been filed or settled. It is also important that press releases be sent to the appropriate reporters and editors. Sending press releases to the wrong media outlet, wrong reporter and wrong editor can hurt a law firm’s reputation with the media. Do not send out a press release every time you file or settle a case. Reporters and editors will quickly tune you out. (There is no such thing as the “embargoed” press release. Once you release the information to the press, consider it public.)

 

 Pitching an exclusive – Pitching a media exclusive helps attorneys get ahead of the media storm to ensure a client’s story is told in a preferred framework that favors your client. It gives the reporter and editor more time to investigate the details of your case. Reporters and editors are more likely to give the case a big spotlight from their outlet if they have the exclusive rights to tell your client’s story first. Pitching an exclusive is often the best option when dealing with controversial or complex litigation. Only attorneys and media professionals who have built trusted relationships with key reporters and editors should pitch an exclusive on a client’s case.

 

When to avoid media – Obviously when clients don’t want their profile in the media, then attorneys should not take steps to generate media. However, if attorneys believe a case is likely to garner media attention anyway, attorneys should prepare talking points or a statement on the case that can be released to the media if necessary. It’s better to be prepared and have a short statement available than to scramble with a reaction or simply say “no comment.” If attorneys believe the client’s profile may hurt the case or that the case facts are controversial or complicated, a law firm may want to consult with a public relations firm for advice on how to proceed before the case is filed. Do not wait until the day before you file the case to ask for professional help.

 

 A word on filing government claims – Major newspapers and television stations routinely check for claims filed against local governments before the case is filed in court. In Washington, government claims require attorneys to provide an estimated value of the claim. The media often relies on these forms and will mistakenly report that clients are demanding this amount to settle their claim. Not all reporters and editors understand that a jury or judge ultimately decides the value of a case if it is not settled before trial. It’s important to educate the media on this important fact:  citizens as juries have the last word.

 

 How you write your complaint brief can impact how the media covers your case. Attorneys either use form complaints or customized complaints to file a case in court. The media scours court filings in search of interesting cases to cover. Whether you want the media to cover your case, how you draft the complaint is likely to influence how the media frames your case in the headlines and on camera. Try to include as much factual information as you can. Many attorneys will go into great detail on a settlement demand letter, but scarcely cover the details in the complaint they file in court. More information in your complaint can help influence how the media covers your case. It is important to remember that complaints are public documents and hold much more power over how the media covers your case than a press release.

 

Prepare your staff and clients for the media. ALWAYS, ALWAYS direct your staff and clients to refer all media calls to your office or a designated media spokesperson so that you can coordinate media coverage as a team. You want to make sure your clients are on message and do not needlessly reveal details about their cases that could damage them. Make sure receptionists, paralegals, investigators or expert witnesses working on a case understand who is the designated media contact for each case. Attorneys and clients who will be participating at press conferences or media interviews should be prepped with talking points and media coaching.

 

How to respond to the media ambush. There is no such thing as a media ambush if you’ve done your homework and prepared your case for the media early on. As a rule, all clients should be instructed to refer all media calls to their attorneys – period. Attorneys should develop a plan for media that includes a strategy and protects the integrity of the case. If possible, attorneys should try and work with the media where possible and develop personal relationships with reporters. Be honest about what you can answer and what you cannot. Some helpful responses for reporter ambushes include the following:

 

 

1)    Let me get your name, media outlet, phone number and deadline and call you back ASAP. I’d like to pull up the case and take a look at it so I am prepared to answer your questions. Can you give me an idea of what you want to know?

 

2)    We are currently investigating this case and would be happy to discuss more details after we’ve completed our investigation.

 

3)    What are your questions? If I can answer them now I will. I may have to fact check a few things and get back to you. What’s your deadline and phone number?

 

 

A word on social media going viral………………………

 

Make sure your attorneys and law firm have accounts for Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and YouTube. You cannot impact social media if you are not a part of the social media stream. That means you need to be following relevant reporters, editors and media outlets that cover your issues and region before you file a case. Designate a law firm staffer to manage your law firm social media accounts. Do subscribe to a social media platform like Hootsuite so you can respond and track multiple social media streams at once. This is not a task you do on the day you file the lawsuit. This is a task that should be completed months in advance. It takes many months and time to build a following on social media streams.

 

 

Responding to comments on online media platforms and social media streams. Redirect hostile or misinformed comments to a statement, press release or favorable media story listed on your website politely. Do not argue, but simply redirect people to the facts like a press release on your website. Encourage clients to ignore online media comments and social media streams regarding their cases and inform them you are handling this for them. Too often, clients feel persecuted and obligated to respond to comments in a manner that could negatively impact the case. It’s not their job to respond. It’s the job of the law firm to determine the appropriate response.

 

 

Do not engage on social media about your case without a complete media strategy. Sometimes attorneys will engage on social media and online media before they have launched a press event or filed a case. Do not engage on social media or online media unless you have a complete media strategy for your case. Advise your clients that their social media accounts will be reviewed by media outlets if the media is covering their case. Attorneys should screen client accounts.

 

 

Build your law firm brand around your practice areas and expertise. Engage with opinion leaders, reporters, advocates and allies in the media and social media streams that share your values and reflect the issues of your practice areas. For example, attorneys should be targeting senior editors and reporters who cover the courts, social justice issues, public safety, health, government and specific industries of their practice.

 

 

Distribute your message about your case via social media streams. How often you do this depends on the social media stream. Since social media is an interactive platform, you drive the frequency of your interactions with followers and friends. Here are some suggestions: Post an interview or press conference about your case on YouTube once a day. You can post a Tweet about your case on Twitter hourly from 8 am until 7 pm. You can post on LinkedIn and Facebook twice a day. More if you have a high-profile case that commands attention. Hashtag (#) key words that mark the case issue and client name if you want to promote the case. Distribute favorable media stories about your client’s case on all streams as they emerge in real time. Educating the public about your client and case facts is an opportunity to educate the potential jury pool in your favor. Social media platforms like Hootsuite allow law firms to schedule social media posts throughout the day in advance. Nobody needs to stare at their social media streams all day to be effective on social media.

 

 

The rules of engagement for social media are slightly different than traditional media. Generally speaking, expect sloppier, mistake-ridden posts on social media streams because anybody can participate. Traditional media outlets generally have stricter guidelines about fact-checking stories. But in the age of social media, all media types (bloggers, Tweeters, Facebookers, online media, traditional media, etc.) are working harder to drive content out to the public faster and in real time. If you or your law firm mistakenly send out wrong information on Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn, the general rule is to acknowledge the mistake and provide the correct information – not to delete the post. If you repost content from another party, you are expected to credit the author or source and note if you’ve altered the content. For example, on Twitter, if you modify a Tweet, you repost with MT (Modified Tweet) to acknowledge you’ve edited the original Tweet by another party.

 

 

Collect photos and video from clients early on.

 

Photos and videos of your clients help tell your clients’ stories. You may need them for a settlement-demand package or trial, not just the media, so do not delay in acquiring digital versions of old photos. Purchase a scanner to scan old photos if you do not have one. Train paralegals and staff to collect these items from clients early on and make sure you have a variety of quality images. You will want photos of property damage, crashes and injuries. In wrongful death and catastrophic injury cases, you will also want photos of clients during happier times to illustrate the impact of injuries or loss of life and relationships. Don’t just ask for standard family portraits. You want photos and videos of milestone moments, hobbies, sports, birthdays, graduations, weddings and births to capture your client’s narrative in an emotional way. The media always appreciates access to these kinds of photos. Open a Dropbox account so you can collect digital images quickly over the Internet with clients.

 

 

Communications planning builds brand ambassadors.

 

There is no such thing as a “media ambush” when you’ve done your homework. Build relationships with traditional media, social media, clients, allies and advocates – they are all potential brand ambassadors for your firm and practice.

 

 

 

 

 

Why I love Tumblr and gifs

 

Nobody has time to investigate every social media app or stream every second of the day. But I’ve fallen in love with Tumblr, Instagram and Gifboom, here’s why. Sheer impact. Like an asteroid aimed at Earth, these images give you pause. They tell stories that captivate your imagination and heart instantly. You either dig it or hate it.

More than 90 percent of the way we receive communication is visually driven.

 

One snapshot on Tumbler, Instagram or Gifboom slaughters words and blogs with instant, creative visual messaging. Take any of these social media streams for a ride and you will instantly fall in love with strangers who echo your heart or twist your mind in pictures.

 

I’m in love with ridinggirl10 on Tumblr. She sees horses the way I want to see them – big and bold. Tumblr is more interesting than Pinterest because it forces you to focus on the image. Pinterest overwhelms you with images: like a shopping spree you can never afford.

 

On Gifboom, I’d like to see more sophistication. Too many teens on Gifboom are stripping and posing. Gifs and photos on Tumblr are more sophisticated and provide little bookmarks in history that capture a moment in time. They allow an intriguing pause on life. I dig it when I can.

 

When you are forced to tell your story in pictures, you witness a new narrative you never knew existed. It’s more emotional, spiritual and grounded in what you love the most. What you choose to share in pictures is very different than what you share in words. And that’s an adventure worth having.

 

 

 

 

Social media – the free focus group

I’m a social-media binger. I jump on the merry-go-round of social media and then jump off to clear my head and stay focused on strategy and objectives. But my No. 1 objective when I jump on is to listen.

Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn are still my preferred streams, easily managed through Hootsuite. They help drive the conversations and constituencies of my clients and their brands. I have explored Google+, Pinterest, Feedly, Storify, Paper.li, Youtube and others. While lots of them are equally fun and engaging, I have to eliminate the streams that do not enhance the volume of relationships and feedback necessary to deliver the biggest results for my clients.

It’s easy to rant and rave on social media. I’m profoundly good at it. It’s much harder to shut up and listen. When you close your mouth and open your ears to a targeted group of people, you can identify obstacles that divide you from future relationships and business.

Social media is a free focus group for every constituency whether it’s a consumer or potential client. Listen to what they are saying about you. Listen to what they are saying about your competitor. Listen for praise, listen for rants, listen for complaints, listen for suggestions and listen for ideas. By listening, you help inform your research, marketing, media outreach and overall market position.

When you say “I don’t have time for Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn” you’re essentially saying you don’t have time to listen to the people you need to succeed. Those people will simply shift their attention to the people who do.

 

 

 

Visualizing the world we want

I posted a photo on Pinterest of a salad I made. The photo of the salad lied to my tastebuds. Nobody on Pinterest cared. It was too pretty.

The salad was visually stunning. The caption read: “Strawberries (substituting for a bad watermelon), Feta, red onion, toasted almonds on a bed of crunchy Romaine.”

Sue's beautiful salad that tasted bad

The salad was beautiful to look at, but sucked when I ate it. That did not stop Pinterest followers from re-pinning it. On Pinterest, beauty trumps truth.

Pinterest is not about foodies and fashionistas. Pinterest is really about social-streaming a message visually. The human brain is wired to receive 90 percent of all messages visually first. We believe what we see. That’s why my bad salad is still popular. Feta and strawberries do not agree on the tongue, but they agree on the eyeballs.

I’ve spent the past week on Pinterest to see how easily family, clients, friends and strangers are manipulated by its beautiful pictures.

A view of Mt. Rainier from Puyallup River.

Pinterest allows users to create board themes with visual proof points uploaded by users like you and me. It’s the ultimate “love it or hate it” message board. If you love tattoos, horses, macaroni, Obama, Paris, French-country flowers and savvy quotes, Pinterest allows you to define your brand, style and life philosophy in a visually compelling palette of images and photos organized by the boards. You can re-pin images from followers and friends or upload your own and define a new trend. It’s fun, easy and addictive.

In one afternoon, I created a spectrum of images that define my business, my life, the life I don’t have and want, and the life I fight for.

Cannon Beach

High notes:

1. All pictures of my two German Shepherds taken by my cousin MollyDillphotography.com are getting re-pinned by the hour.

2. None of my client’s political opposition has caught on to this trend. This is short-lived because they are reading this blog.

3. I also discovered through my uploads that I’m not the only person who loves whales, German Shepherds, Obama, Cannon Beach, Absolutely Fabulous and earthy, weather-beaten housewares.

Mut and Brinx running on the beach.

Pinterest requires you to be connected to Facebook and conversely allows you to “like” your pins to Facebook to broaden your reach. It’s where the poster boards of witty quotes and vibrant photos on Facebook are now born.

I am mostly amazed at how much the foodies dominate the stream. If you were born on another planet, you’d think we all are starving for pretty food.

People like me are coming to Pinterest with bigger motives and agendas. We are plotting and planning to fill your brain with our ideas and our vision for the world. Consider this visual plug for my friend Gael Tarleton, a standout Democratic candidate for state representative in the 36th Legislative District.

Learn more about Democrat Gael Tarleton at voteforgael.org

My vision for the world has lots of critters, good food and pocket reviews of my favorite movies, TV shows and preferred political candidates. It also includes signage and images for a better world that can be realized through progressive engagement, voting and thinking.

Pinterest is destined to become deeper and more philosophical as more people catch on to its power. Pinterest will compel all of us to visualize the world we want with the images in our brains or on Pinterest. I can visualize my children’s future on Pinterest. And that makes me happy.

 

My kids at Yellow Stone par