Late last year, I had the pleasure of speaking with Paramjit Mahli, founder of the SCG Legal PR Network in New York City, about my experiences in legal journalism over the past dozen years. Our discussions led to an Q-and-A interview about how law firm communications and legal PR professionals should and should not interact with members of the legal media, which Paramjit has circulated to the members of her network. Today and throughout this week, I’m going to reproduce that interview in five short posts here at the Law Firm Strategy Blog, to give you some perspectives from the editor’s chair that could guide you in your future interactions with the media.
Today’s segment: what not to do when dealing with a journalist.
Q. What are the top three faux pas that legal media folks commit when approaching legal reporters?
1. You’re just conducting a mass email. I would get a pitch for, say, an article that discusses the ramifications of a Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals decision, which was really annoying because I edited a Canadian legal periodical that doesn’t report on U.S. case law. Same thing for proffered articles on the David Souter legacy or the Americans with Disabilities Act or what have you – I was clearly just on a mass-emailing list plucked from a directory somewhere. It was lazy and unprofessional, and all it did was get the sender added to a blacklist. Unsolicited and uncustomized emails from marketers lasted about five seconds in my inbox, if that.
2. You haven’t done any homework on the periodical. National rarely if ever published articles written by law firm lawyers on a new development in an area of law, and any marketing professional who’d even skimmed the last few issues would know that. So I got really tired of having to constantly write back to law firm marketing people to explain that we don’t publish those types of articles. It’s an example of the most common and most damaging aspect of legal PR: making pitches based on what the firm cares about, not what the periodical can use. Send journalists a message that you’ve read at least one issue of their magazine or have paid some attention to their editorial mandate. There’s no excuse for sending a pitch that’s not customized for the specific publication in question.
3. You’re addressing me by my first name and we’ve never met. This may be completely idiosyncratic, but it always bothered me no end to get a chirpy “Hi Jordan!” greeting from a complete stranger. Unearned familiarity is not the way to start a professional relationship. (This is worse for female journalists, by the way – John Smith may often be addressed “Dear Mr. Smith,” but Jane Smith will usually be addressed “Hi Jane”). In this, as in so many things, I take my cue from Ben Stone on Law & Order: “In polite society, sir, you don’t call a man by his first name unless he’s given you permission. I never did that.”