We are pleased to present a guest post from Dorie Clark, who presented on this topic for LOMAP’s Marketing Group this past February 5. Dorie, a marketing and strategy consultant for legal clients, as well as Google, Yale University, and the National Park Service, is President of Clark Strategic Communications. She can be reached at www.dorieclark.com.

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There’s no question: reporters can be nettlesome. They ask probing questions, steer the story in directions you may not want, and — at times — may even misquote you. But they’re also pure gold when it comes to establishing your credibility in the legal marketplace. Reporters, literally, are paid to be objective, third-party sources that separate the wheat from the chaff — the trusted legal sages from the ambulance-chasing jokers. Cultivating positive relationships with the media, and getting quoted frequently, is critical to building a solid personal brand — and your ability to charge commensurate fees.

So how do you make contact and become their go-to source? Here are six sure-fire tips.

(1) Know who to talk to. If you don’t have a media list, start building one now. What are the key publications, radio programs, and TV shows that your clients — and other lawyers who might send referrals your way — like to read/listen to/watch? Find out who covers the relevant beat — which could be as general as “business” for a daily metro newspaper, or as specific as “IP law” for a legal-themed publication — by reading back issues to see who’s writing on the subject. You can also simply call the news desk and ask for the reporter’s phone number and email. They won’t have a problem giving it to you — after all, it’s their business to receive information.

(2) Introduce yourself and make friends. Yes, reporters are busy — but they also need to cultivate new sources. Call them up — always making sure to ask if they’re on deadline before launching into your spiel — and explain who you are and why you’re calling (you understand they cover business issues, and you’re a corporate attorney that would be happy to provide comment or background information anytime it’s relevant). Make sure to find out when their deadlines are and what type of stories they’re interested in. Then ask them out for coffee. They’re often too busy and may say no — but you’ve at least cemented your name with a friendly goodwill gesture.

(3) Build a relationship. Connecting with a reporter once isn’t going to get them to call you back. A relevant story may not crop up for months, and by then, you’re long forgotten. Instead, try to stay on their radar screen in two ways. First, be on the lookout for interesting trends and story ideas you can pass along to them. They’re always hungry for ideas, and if you can make their lives easier by doing the research for them, they’ll be grateful. Second, if an appropriate story comes up — let’s say you’re an M&A attorney and a huge corporate merger has been announced — reach out proactively. Write down your thoughts in a short email and send it along, letting the reporter know you’re available for further comment if they’d like. Again, it’s about ease and convenience: reporters don’t like to have to hunt for hours to find a pundit. If you’re points are intelligent, odds are, they’ll go ahead and call you.

(4) Always be available, and always close the loop. Nothing frustrates a reporter more than waiting by the phone for a response. They have serious deadlines — especially given the demands of blogs and online journalism — and will simply call down the list until they reach someone live. You’ll exponentially improve your chances of being quoted — and called in the future — if you promptly return reporters’ messages. Give them your cell number and call them back within minutes. Even if you don’t want to comment on a particular issue, close the loop and let them know. A friendly, “I’m sorry, I don’t have anything for you on that one, but please try me again in the future” is just fine. And it’s even better if you have a good suggestion for them about someone else to reach out to.

(5) Be pithy and quotable. It’s the peril of the profession: lawyers are trained to be as verbose and hedging as possible. To succeed in media relations, you have to overcome that baggage. Before speaking to the reporter, try to boil down your thoughts. Turn them into a few short bullet points. Call your spouse or a non-legal friend and see if they understand what you’re talking about. It’s not about “dumbing down,” it’s about making sense to intelligent people who don’t have a JD.

(6) If there’s a problem, go to the reporter directly. Your fears have come true: you’ve been misquoted! Don’t fly off the handle and immediately call their editor. That, in the world of reporting, is akin to declaring war. Instead, approach the reporter directly and explain that there’s been a misunderstanding. Ask for a correction or clarification in the online edition, so the mistake won’t be repeated. The end. The goal — if the reporter has made an honest mistake — is to be gracious and preserve the relationship for next time. If there’s an ongoing problem with accuracy, or you feel malice was involved, only then go to their editor. You can also choose to conduct all future interviews via email, so you have a written record. But relax — 99% of journalists want to do their jobs well, and errors of any significance are rare.

Follow these media “rules of engagement,” and before long, you’ll be the reporters’ best friend.

Copyright 2010, Clark Strategic Communications, Inc.