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Making Friends with the "Enemy"

Why do some lawyers and professors find themselves quoted so often? How are they magically on speed dial with certain outlets? Certainly credit goes to their skills as an interview subject, but also to their rapport and relationship with the journalist.

Forging professional friendships doesn't need to be so formal.

When I was a reporter, I had several trusted lawyers and judges who consistently made themselves available to explain issues to me. I didn’t quote them every time we talked (it would have looked like they owned the newspaper), but knew I could rely on them to point me in the right direction.

That is the kind of relationship you want to strive for in working with journalists. Media visibility will bolster your practice and identify you as an expert. Here are some tips for building a long-term relationship with journalists:

  1. Learn about your interviewer's body of work and professional interests. People are interested in people who take an interest in them, however slight.

  2. Show your own personality when possible. If the reporter is not on deadline, share a bit of yourself in a casual manner. If you are working from home and your dog barks, acknowledge it, and then ask if the reporter owns a dog. Any personal connection leads to a more positive relationship.

  3. Don’t try to steer the conversation. Understand their angle, and work with it. This isn’t your piece, it’s theirs.

  4. Don’t monopolize the conversation. Give the reporter the space to ask follow-up questions. Then, answer them. Don’t simply return to your next thought.

  5. Check your ego at the door. If you aren’t a good source for the story, say so. Also, if you are slammed, acknowledge their call or email and reply saying you are unavailable. Both breed tremendous respect.

  6. Suggest sources and resources. It could be a blog (yours or someone else’s), a case, a website, a database or a professional who may have an interesting countertake.

  7. Offer to be available for any follow-up emails or calls. Show (not tell) you want to help them write the best piece. It’s also OK to email to clarify a point, if you are unsure you explained it properly. But be brief.

  8. Don’t nitpick when you are slightly misquoted. Unless it creates a serious factual error, the issue isn't worth pursuing. This is a reported piece, not a legal contract.

  9. Follow-up! Find and read the piece. If you like it, whether you are quoted or not, send a short email saying so. It could be as simple as “Nice piece. Feel free to call again.”

  10. Maintain contact. Occasionally send them worthwhile (not hyped) items of interest, and not necessarily your own work. It could be a case a colleague is working on, or a topic you learned about at a seminar. Even the smallest effort to make their jobs easier will make a huge impression.

If you have a successful career, you will interface with the media often. Stay a sharp resource for them so they keep coming back for more.

Susan Kostal is a legal marketing and media coach specializing in the Bay Area legal industry. Find more great content on Twitter @skostal.

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