Jim Grandone May 13, 2015, 12:06pm


Message Development

A recent client is a well-respected, well known firm. I am sure you have seen their advertising. It is inescapable. In fact, if I were to estimate their ad budget, I would put it in the seven figures. So, everybody knows their name. After all, that is the purpose of a saturation advertising campaign. During a partner’s meeting, I asked them why they advertised so extensively. The answer was “It works.” That is fine, but do they know what you do? Do they know other people in your firm, other than the ones in the ad? Do they know your track record or how you have helped people? Are you on the internet in addition to television?

Silence.

It is all well and good for people to know the name of your firm but they want to know more about you, your successes, your community involvement, how you have helped others.

In the first part of this series on media training (Madison/St. Clair Record Feb. 18, 2015), I used the word “message” several times. This column takes on that term and provides different ways to develop your message and get it across to your audience, whether that is a jury pool, a judge or judges or the public at large.

Before going directly to the concept of message, I want to acknowledge the work of many academics and practitioners whose training include “mind mapping” as a means to identify the key message(s) in an argument. I do not provide that service. I think it is a process of overthinking a problem. “Mind Mapping” or “Message Mapping” are both very thorough and helpful in developing your main and secondary messages. They require a significant time commitment and we will not go into the process here. If you are interested, you can download free software at: freemind.sourceforge.net/ or message mapping at: www.prsa.org/.../Effective_Messagin... Both are helpful if you can get your firm together to go through the exercises.

Your Message(s)

We have referred to getting your message across. First, you have to have a message. The following are some thoughts on message development that you will find useful.

At Grandone Media Strategies, we take a less time-consuming, customized approach. We schedule meetings with each partner or appropriate associate and interview them as to what they believe best describes the firm’s strengths and selling points. For example, what is it that you do different from your competition? What service do you provide that generates the most revenue? How do you promote that service? What incentives do you give your employees to promote your services? How do you currently promote your firm? How often do the firm’s partners meet to discuss marketing?

It is surprising to learn how different the opinions are to these questions from partners in the same firm.

In addition to the value your messages have in media relations, message development is useful in developing Web site content and social media, as well as advertising messages. It is ideal if each reinforces the same messages.

News Media and Your Message

Grandone Media Strategies then synthesizes the results and develops a proposal focusing on key messages for review by the partners. Once everyone is in agreement with the proposal, we develop the stories and send them to the appropriate media outlets. Of course, we include examples that characterize client experience without naming clients or breaching confidentiality or privilege. As always, we follow up with the media and encourage them to use the story in their publication/television/radio programs, as well as interview the key member of the firm.

We do this through a variety of techniques, including press releases, events, press conferences, tweets, leaks, and social media.

What are messages? They include: What is your firm doing different from other firms? Are your lawyers involved in fundraising for cancer research, autism awareness, did they travel to help the people of Nepal? Has someone in your firm invented something unique? These are all potential stories that can be told through the news media. Sure you’ve won awards and been named Super Lawyer or Best Law Firm, and other recognitions. They will be compiled and all put together in a list on the same page and none of them will make television or radio. You want a new story about you or your lawyers’ accomplishments.

Grandone Media Strategies helps identify those stories and works with the news media and press to place stories about your firm. How? We have decades of experience working with reporters, editors and producers in St. Louis and throughout the Midwest.

Prior to agreeing to be interviewed by the press or media, we strongly encourage clients to write down their three key points - the ones you want to get across during the interview. The ones you know the answers to!

In media training, we show clients how to respond to off-subject questions by acknowledging the question and “bridging” to your key message – the points you want to emphasize. If you have watched Sunday morning news shows, such as Meet the Press or State of the Union, you have seen the practice of bridging. Cynically, many guests just respond to any question with their talking points, which is not the way to win over an audience or be invited back for another interview. Bridging requires some finesse.

The three points you use are important because it keeps you on track and forms some structure to your argument. In many cases, reporters do not have any structure and ask questions randomly, often to get the response they want and equally often to make you uncomfortable. They want to see if you can handle pressure or if you will evade the question.

To avoid those unpleasantries, media training shows you how to politely acknowledge the question, to answer it to some degree, and then segue back to your main points. This can be as simple as saying, “having said that, let me emphasize the important issue here…” or “I agree that question must be answered, however, what needs to be pointed out is…”

Never, characterize the question as “good” or thank the reporter for asking. The reporter is not your friend, your partner, your confidante or your buddy.

There is no such thing as going “off the record.” Or to put it in legal slang, you cannot unring a bell. In media training, we show you why you do not go “off the record” and we show you why you do not ever need to say “No comment.”

You have probably experienced the unexpected phone call for which you are not prepared. You do not have to answer it. If you do answer the call, find out what the reporter wants and ask if they are on deadline. Ask if you can call the person back. Do so quickly.

Then write down your three key messages you want to get across. This not only works with the media, but with any important call, friendly or hostile.

Why? Because you have rights in communicating. You can talk, listen, or be silent.

In the first part of this column, I mentioned that saying “No comment” to a reporter is a bad idea. So is being unavailable. If you say “No comment.” the reporter will write the story anyway and possibly with opposing counsel’s remarks. Remember, reporters have access to whatever you file in court. They have electronic access just like you and your staff. So, they know what your argument is before they talk with you. Rather than say you have no comment, just reiterate what has been filed. It is not necessary to go beyond that and breach confidentiality or privilege. Just give them a pithy quote from the filing.

In terms of being available, in media training we go over several points, including the need to get back to a reporter as soon as possible. Reporters are often on deadline when they call you. Be prompt in responding or you will be relegated to the “No comment” or “Unable to reach by press time.” Neither helps you and they raise suspicions that you have something to hide. Just ask Bill Cosby.

Social Media

Social media has increased in importance to the point that it is beginning to eclipse traditional advertising and collateral material, such as brochures. Most people no longer search for lawyers in the Yellow Pages advertising. Television advertising depends on the need of your audience at the moment.

Online

We strongly recommend that each member of the firm, especially the partners, have a presence on professional social media outlets, such as Linkedin, and be active in other areas, including Facebook and Twitter. This is not just for the sake of presence; it also increases the likelihood of your name or firm being found in Google searches, where most people look for lawyers now. Whether you choose to advertise or simply participate is open for discussion. Suffice to say that social media is more like a rifle shot, rather than a shotgun. It reaches whom you want to reach and does not waste money on audiences you do not need to reach.

Sponsorships

Another area where lawyers and firms spend money that can be better utilized elsewhere is in sponsorships. Cardinals’ baseball games, golf tournament signage, congratulatory ads, co-sponsorships of events, such as Law Day, and other means of creating visibility of the firm are fine; however, you have to ask yourself whom are you reaching? Are you reaching your peers or prospects. If most of your business is referrals, presence in those forms may be appropriate. It is, however, hardly as effective as one-on-one communication or even emails to referring lawyers.

Events

Perhaps your marketing funds can better be utilized in an event where you can personally interact with lawyers who consistently refer business to you. Hold a cocktail party (maybe in conjunction with a not-for-profit organization). Make it a “Thank You” event for those who refer business to you. It will be more memorable than some ad in a program with all the other law firms.

These are some of the ways to move forward into 21st century marketing. We know all of them do not work for every firm, but law is fundamentally changing and personal contact – and reaching your audience with your message -- is more important than ever.

This is the second of a two-part series written by Jim Grandone, President of Grandone Media Strategies located in Edwardsville. He can be reached at (618) 444-0971 or at grandone.james@gmail.com

 

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