Making the most of media attention

By Julie Sobowale Fall 2016

A journalist approaches you in the courtroom. What should you do?

Making the most of media attention

A journalist approaches you in the courtroom. What should you do?

Jason van Rassel has been the “approacher” in this scenario hundreds of times. The former Calgary Herald justice reporter is now the journalist-in-residence at the University of Calgary Faculty of Law, and teaches law students about a variety of media topics – from pitching stories to the media to managing crisis communications.

“Reporters and lawyers don’t do the same things, but both have respective roles in keeping a court open to the public,” says Rassel. “There should be a cooperative relationship.”

Lawyers shouldn’t be afraid of the spotlight, he adds: the media can be a great benefit to your clients and your practice.

To attract media coverage, consider your audience and the story you want to tell.

“You need to ask if this is the appropriate time in the case or transaction to contact the media, and whether it will be beneficial for the firm, the client and the public,” says Stacey Burke, an attorney who runs her own legal marketing firm. “Lawyers tend to focus on self-promotion, telling people what we’re able to achieve. Mainstream media want to know what’s new and how it will benefit society. It needs to be educational, not self-promotional.”

Law firms also need to keep an eye out for requests that arrive via online channels, so it’s a good idea to have staff dedicated to monitoring social media. Requests can range from news outlets looking for experts in a particular area of law to questions for your client.

“Someone must manage your social media, because if the request goes unnoticed after half an hour, you can lose the opportunity,” says Burke. “The law in itself is interesting because it is always changing and evolving. If the situation is newsworthy and not common, it’s an opportunity to educate the public on what’s going on.”

Media Relations 101: Do’s & Don’ts

How should you respond when a journalist gives you a call?

  • Don’t ignore the call. Respond to media requests, even if only to say you can’t give an interview
  • Don’t let your guard down. Assume that all of your conversations with the media are “on the record,” even those over email or text
  • Do ask questions. Find out what topics will be covered and ask if you can see a list of questions beforehand.

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