I have kind of a standing recommendation for organizations regarding their websites: every few months, review your site, identify the 10% least relevant pages (based on page visits, links, lack of currency, etc.), delete those pages on the spot, and see if anyone notices. No one has yet had the gumption to take me up on that, but I’m inclined to think it would pay off. Websites grow like crazy these days, adding new pages and directories all the time; and as with anything that grows fast, you need to prune it every so often to keep it healthy. Targeted web page culls could be a monthly event in IT departments; I expect IT personnel would view it as a treat, a virtual Cinco de Mayo of web page deletion.
Anyway, I’d also be willing to wager that among those 10% purged pages would often be the one marked “Media.” A lot of law firm Media pages are devoted to compilations of published articles that the firm’s lawyers have written or for which they were interviewed. If you view the page’s subtext as “Our lawyers’ appearances in the media,” basically a marketing tool, then that makes sense — although I’ve come across very few clients who like to scroll through a giant list of published articles when choosing a lawyer. However, if you view the page’s subtext as “Information for members of the media” — which, by the way, reporters and editors tend to do — then it’s not exactly helpful in that regard.
Here’s what I think a Media Page should include:
1. Points of Contact: Even if your Media page is otherwise a blank screen, it should include the name, phone number and email address of people in two categories: (a) an overall firm spokesperson and (b) individual contacts for press inquiries on specific subjects of your choosing. “This is our managing partner.” “This is our communications director.” “This is our immigration media contact.” “This is our white-collar crime media contact.” Each contact person’s responsibility is to reply to inquiries, find out what a reporter wants and by when, and make absolutely certain that the inquiry ends with a conversation that meets the reporter’s needs insofar as the firm is able. And each contact must be reliably responsive: there’s no better way to alienate a journalist than by specifically offering on the Media page the coordinates of a person who fails to return calls.
2. The Business Side. Not every reporter’s inquiry involves law-related issues — increasingly, especially in the legal press, stories involve the business side of practice. Yet even savvy Media pages usually offer contacts only in substantive-law areas. At the same time, firms might reasonably resist the idea of a staff member (even a director) acting as a spokesperson, and professional employees themselves are often reluctant to speak to reporters. If so, identify a lawyer who can speak to a business-side subject: the chair of the marketing committee, for instance, or the partner in charge of hiring. No matter who’s your business-side contact, however, make sure he or she is willing and able to respond to media inquiries under the same criteria listed in #1.
3. The Firm’s Media Resources: What if reporters were clients? What if you wanted them to understand what your firm can do for them in as short a time as possible? You might create a section on your Media page explaining what your firm can deliver that matters to them: “We provide objective commentary, both on and off the record, on emerging legal issues.” “We offer free subscriptions to, and free reproduction of any content in, our newsletters and blogs.” “We are happy to make the following media contacts available for TV appearances and/or audio interviews.” And you could throw in some caveats, too: “We cannot discuss any matter covered by lawyer-client confidentiality.” This also ties in nicely with the next recommendation:
4. A Series of Primers: Not to paint with too broad a brush, but the level of legal literacy in the mainstream press is not terribly high. Consider creating a series of primers on your Media page that explain basic legal concepts on issues that appear regularly in the press. If you have a criminal law practice, offer a section on what “reasonable doubt” means or why evidence wrongfully collected can be excluded from trial. Family lawyers could provide information on why spousal support is usually mandatory and defining the “best interests of the child.” Even high-end corporate firms could offer a glossary of terms that commercial lawyers use every day but that even business reporters might not recognize. Benefits include less time spent explaining the basics over the phone, greater chance of accurate reporting, and goodwill from under-the-gun journalists.
What should not be on your Media page? Many of the following items are regularly offered but are of little interest to the media. Consider moving them off the page altogether, or at least cross-linking the subjects to their own separate pages.
- Your lawyers’ published appearances in media outlets: these are marketing materials, and they belong with lawyers’ biographies, or on Practice Group pages, or on a separate “Our Lawyers In the News” page.
- Your firms’ awards, recognitions and rankings: see above under “marketing materials.”
- Your firm’s newsletters: just because these are publications doesn’t make them of interest to publishers. (But see #3, above, re: offering subscriptions.)
- Your firm’s history: it’s not news and no reporter cares about it; if it’s important to your firm, create a separate “History” page.
- Your press releases: you shouldn’t be creating these anyway.
There’s an old expression: “You may not be interested in war, but war is interested in you.” I think something similar could be said about the press: even if you don’t want to talk to them, it’s quite likely they want to talk with you, and they may have good reason. Some law firms, especially mid-size and smaller ones, show little interest in cultivating relationships with members of the media and don’t provide anything on their websites to encourage them. But the rewards are considerable for the lawyers whom the press finds: I’d estimate that 95% of the time, media connections lead to positive outcomes. A properly structured Media page is the way to facilitate those inquiries.