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Not Your Grandma's Public Relations

This post originally appeared at Attorney at Work on Feb. 18, 2016.

In yesteryear, if you wanted to circulate news, you yelled it over the fence. In two minutes your neighbor had all of it. In 20 minutes it was around the block, and in two hours it was all over town.

Not your average grandma.

Fast-forward. In the 1980s, corporate communicators relied on faxed press releases and wire services such as PR Newswire and Business Wire to disseminate need-to-know news.

Now, the 24-hour news cycle, the Internet, mobile technology and social media have changed the public relations landscape entirely. We’re back to yelling over the fence, but now the whole neighborhood hears you. So, do lawyers today need to pay distribution wire services — at $2 a word — to spread their announcements? Borrowing a line you’ve heard from countless lawyers, “That depends.”

Let’s consider some scenarios and strategies.

Public Relations for Firm News: Social Media, Local News Outlets, Video.

Focus on social media and the local legal news outlets for partner announcements or publicity events.

Twitter should be your best friend by now. Use it to speak directly to clients and followers and drop information and helpful links in 140 characters or less. Adding a photo draws more attention to each tweet. You can also post the photo to Instagram.

Then, depending on the weight of the news, email a press release to a few local legal reporters and editors. Make sure to post the press release on your website and include a link in your e-mail.

Emails to media should have all information in the body of the email; never send attachments. Reporters won’t open them and many media IT systems automatically reject them.

If you’re feeling creative and have the bandwidth, have a new partner introduce her practice on YouTube, or host a Periscope chat (video live streaming) about a niche topic. Good publicity that goes viral will enlarge your digital footprint, so your next announcement will have much more visibility.

Public Relations to Announce Changes on the Horizon: National Press Release Wire Services, Local Legal Media, Social Media, Video.

Use a national press release wire service to announce a big merger. Turn to local legal media if you’re a regional firm with big news. A newswire press release allows you to spread a specific message with the appropriate background information, on deadline.

Again, include all information in the body of your email to reporters, and post your press release on your website. And, as the story develops, post updates on social media and direct followers to the link to that original news release.

A goal of “new” digital PR is to achieve viral notice. Consider posting information about the merger on Quora, or use video marketing like Snapchat or YouTube to send a welcome message from the new leadership or the acquiring firm.

LinkedIn posts, either published by the firm or by partners, are also a great way to reach large audiences.

Public Relations for Big Clients and Big Courtroom Victories: National Press Release Wire Services, Social Media.

Use a newswire service for the big fish. As with any press release concerning clients, make sure to confirm it with your client first.

In trials involving publicly traded companies, your client will control the press campaign because they must comply with SEC rules about releasing corporate information that may affect stock prices.

If it’s a privately owned company involved in a national, noteworthy or high-profile case, likely there will be press at the trial. Here, it can be wise to send out a press release using paid newswires, to remind media outlets of details of the case that may not be at their fingertips on deadline, such as length of the trial, the number of witnesses and documents and key rulings in the case.

As always, follow up your newswire with a release on your website and on social media.

What About Bad News?

When you are dealing with a courtroom loss or partner defections, you want to control the content and attempt to put out a balanced message. It is likely to be a time of chaos. Making an announcement via a PR newswire service allows you to put out one single message to all media outlets that are interested, while you concentrate on more immediate (often internal) crisis control. These press releases should be short and to the point, reminding outlets, for example, that you will appeal, or that the firm remains stable and solvent.

These press releases should be short and to the point, reminding outlets, for example, that you will appeal, or that the firm remains stable and solvent.

Keep it classy: simple, direct, neutral. Stay off social media unless you can spin it very positively. No one wants to see bad news come up in their LinkedIn feed.

So Can I Do This Myself?

Yes, you can do it yourself. Typically a public relations firm will not do a “one-off,” unless it’s a very large announcement and they hope to get your business afterward. PR firms work on retainers. In major markets, that can mean at least $5,000 per month.

Whether you email the release yourself or know you will use a newswire, set up a plan for who will disseminate the release and how. Practice with smaller announcements. When appropriate, draft several releases, based on multiple outcomes, so you have them on hand.

PR Newswire and Business Wire have experienced former reporters to shepherd your announcement through its system. You can contact them 24 to 48 hours before your expected press release, set up an account with a credit card, and be ready to hit “go” when the time comes.

Ready, set, go … disseminate! Good luck.

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