Media Trends and Transitions for 2023 and Beyond

Every year the media landscape evolves, and 2022 was no different. For professional services firms looking to stay in front of key audiences, the shuffle of reporters to different beats, to different (sometimes very different) outlets or out of journalism entirely is a challenge. For companies outside the consumer product space, the competition for coverage has intensified while the need for media visibility has never been greater.

Here are a few of the key changes we’ve seen of late to help you set a strategy for 2023:

Rise of national hub/regional spoke media models – We’re seeing the gutting of “local” news desks and on-the-ground coverage in favor of national coverage models supplemented by regional reporting that is increasingly removed from geography. Business journal newsletters (think the American Cities Business Journals empire) are built on national themes, consistent across markets and supplemented with local stories from the weekly print editions. Online only outlets, like the legal industry trade’s ALM/ network, tend to take a similar approach, building out national coverage by aggregating regional coverage under the banner of a national headline and introductory paragraph.

This dynamic has two key implications for communicators: 1) the rise of super-regional editors covering broad topics and geographies means less connection and devotion to local issues; and 2) ever-thinner reporter ranks are increasingly encouraged to “nationalize” news stories that previously may have been local. This includes aggregating trends (such as workforce reductions) into manufactured trend stories. We’re also increasingly seeing “local” articles on a news network that pull quotes from far away sister titles – meaning the commercial real estate source from California is showing up in a Georgia article, sometimes to the befuddlement of the reader.

Longer news cycles and click chasing – As an agency that occasionally helps out organizations in crisis, this trend can be particularly painful. Rather than suffering through a single bombshell story that fades after 48 – 72 hours, crisis communications clients often face multiple versions of the same or similar stories. Social media engagement can not only extend a story’s shelf-life but give rise to secondary and tertiary angles as popular sentiments are explored by mainstream media outlets. Additionally, reporters and editors are more frequently encouraging tips via social media or anonymous, write-in email accounts. And there’s also the curation and replay of coverage by topic – like “tracking the Silicon Valley’s tech layoffs,” which can resurrect unfavorable coverage, drawing clicks again and again. This is a solid evolution if the coverage of your new office opening or latest hire announcement is wrapped up in a developing trend. It’s less favorable, even painful, when the news is not great.

The reason for this somewhat ad nauseum repetition is likely clicks, presumably driving subscriptions and ad sales.

In addition to layoffs/reductions, return to work and office space themes have been among the seemingly never-dying news cycles. These arguably “soft” topics for some channels were added in to nearly every story. The cycle was initial story, then follow-up, then added to a digest article. Rinse and repeat with any new development added in front of now ancient development, sometimes for weeks on end.

Convergence of policy, regulatory, lobbying in reportage coverage – “We don’t want to talk politics,” is a standard, but no longer really tenable, default. In particular, law, finance and policy are inextricably linked and good insights for, say, an attorney’s or accountant’s client are often found in a policy discussion. A yawning void still exists in much coverage of legislation and proposed policy changes. Professional services thought leaders are compounding the challenges of breaking through in a tough media environment by fearing appearing in “political” reporting. This is a trend that amped up greatly during the Trump administration, but arguably more national news comes from Washington than from New York – a big change from even 10 years ago. There is a way to enter policy discussions without being partisan. And it’s critical that intra/interparty clashes be thought of as totally separate from coverage of an affordable housing bill or a tax break for renewable energy. Professional services voices can join the party (of coverage) without being partisan.

Increasing importance of the corporate/firm newsroom – The contraction and convergence of media outlets has been a trend for more than a decade, and it continues. We’ve seen many once thriving media brands ailing in 2022, from CNN killing CNN+ to the Washington Post ending its venerable Sunday magazine.

For in-house communications teams, fewer reporters means fewer opportunities for coverage. At the same time, the perennial media Achilles heel of the internet has also meant that there are greater opportunities to publish directly and skip the gatekeepers entirely. Professional services companies and firms have started opening up virtual press shops, hiring former reporters and telling their corporate stories directly to readers. Clients are being interviewed and deals chronicled, with the narrative controlled and the depth of coverage dictated by the professional services firm itself.

Firms are missing a prime opportunity to tell their own story if they are not embracing their websites as newsrooms — robust information repositories organized by theme – you know, like a newspaper or magazine, with headlines, regional news items, deeper topical dives, opinions and maybe even a bit of culture or entertainment.

On the plus side, as we embark in 2023, there remain ample opportunities for professional services firms and the smart practitioners within them to engage with the media and be part of coverage – national and local – that resonates with their target audiences. While more and more “low hanging fruit” media opportunities drop away or become paid sections (much to the chagrin of those who measure media “success” by raw clip numbers), firms will do well to focus attention on having a viewpoint that resonates with your specific target audiences and translates nationally.

Traci Stuart and Michael Bond

January 17, 2023 at 6:25 pm Leave a comment

Beware the Dying Media Giants and Their Money Grabs

Do you remember Newsweek?

Time and Newsweek in a print-dominant age were the titans of weekly news magazines – sold by legions of industrious schoolchildren to raise money for their schools (my parents in the late 90s had a subscription that ran into the distant future – the mid-2000s!), at airport newsstands and even street newsstands (yes, they existed). I was a long-time subscriber and read a lot of great articles from Newsweek, an outlet that once shared ownership with the Washington Post.

Have you read Newsweek recently?

Newsweek today exists, if barely. The magazine is currently in litigation with its former parent company over money-laundering charges. While messy, this is just the latest in Newsweek’s sad state of affairs. The company was caught buying web traffic to boost ad rates in 2018, and in 2019, it was reported that it incentivized reporters to write clickbait stories. And, clickbait stories continue to dominate its social media stream.

Why Does it Matter?

Newsweek’s editorial devolution outpaces its reputational one.

For the media and PR professionals, the publication’s value is clearly greatly diminished, and its editorial stance – argued to be far more right-leaning than before – should give pause when pitching or responding to requests for comment. (While all outlets and reporters have biases, heavy leans to any direction, are generally best avoided.)

But, if Gen X and older organization leaders are surveyed, the past reputation of Newsweek often carries through to today. While they will likely not recall the last time they read it, they will insist that it’s a national outlet and quite prestigious.

This is the danger zone.

As media outlet economics continue to evolve, more titles will change hands and attempt short-term clickbait and awards-driven strategies to stay afloat. They will lend their hard-earned name to stories and honors that would make their original editors and reporters cringe – and none of these moves will actually lead to better journalism or growing circulation.

Separating the Remaining Wheat From the Growing Chaffe

A favorite tactic by pushy awards organizers it is to blanket email or cold call professionals. As PR and marketing reps, we get forwarded inquiries that say, “I’ve been nominated by this national weekly magazine as a ‘Top Accountant.’ Is this real?” More and more the answer is no. Though sometimes the fishing expedition works: a busy professional signs on to a dinner show circuit thinking they have won a major award.

It is critically important that professional services organizations have resources to scrutinize these offers in place. Without these safeguards, companies and professionals are apt to spend money for basically nothing and are prone to lending commentary to formerly middle-of-the-road outlets that now have clearly hard ideological bents.

We’re seeing moves by Newsweek and other fading media stars – destined to burn out into total irrelevance. However, until they do, their name and reputation will be strip-mined of all remaining goodwill.

Don’t be fooled.

Michael Bond

August 8, 2022 at 6:54 pm Leave a comment

For Client Relationships, Media Success – Local Matters

Remember Johnny Cash’s song “I’ve Been Everywhere?” Well, that’s me. Started in the Philadelphia area, went to college in New England, moved to California for six years, then Upstate New York for three and now the Washington, D.C. Metro. I’ve also driven cross-country twice (in a sub-compact car no less!). Granted, I’ve never lived in wide swaths of the country, but I still feel I have a decent sense of just how different regional rhythms are generally. And this perspective has proven instructive as I work with clients geographically distant from me.

Made more acute by widespread work-from-home and reduced travel, two damaging dynamics plague consultant and in-house communicator relationships:

The PR pro fails to develop and build trust with clients/professionals – not just in terms of results, but with compassion, empathy and genuine care.

The communicator has no idea what the community or communities a client/professional lives and works in are like, including their local media landscapes.

You Don’t Know Me or Us

Communications are rooted in trust. The most competent PR agency with the deepest set of media contacts may notch some notable placements but will struggle and ultimately fail if their people don’t understand – on the professional and personal levels – their clients. Our most productive, multi-year partnerships with clients include a wide-range of activities – and most are rather routine. By being interwoven into firm culture, all end products benefit. As communicators, we learn the “voice” of key spokespeople and understand the comfort and discomfort levels – along with learning how best to reach and dialogue with busy professionals. Some want emails, some calls and some prefer text messages. There are necessary and unavoidable limitations to one-time, fly-in engagements.

Relationships Matter in Communications

Beyond understanding individual comfort levels, a high level of engagement with clients includes developing professional and personal relationships. We often learn about client’s families, their hobbies and interests and sometimes personal challenges they are facing. We, in turn, reveal more about ourselves – as per any friendship. This all contributes to a deep reservoir of trust – and insight.

It is a costly and often repeated mistake for outside consultants or in-house communicators to operate as purely hired guns and mercenaries. The most effective public relations and marketing is conducted across campaigns together in the trenches, not with disconnected one-off volleys.

Knowing the Local Landscape

The pressure and the challenge to produce measurable media results on a local level is intense. Squeezed by newspaper staff and coverage cuts, media professionals are working to hit a moving and shrinking target. This means that “news” actually needs to be news. More and more, clients and firm communicators must be discerning about promoting internal developments and “other outlet’s” awards because they are expending capital with harried and selective reporters.

Success, we have found, comes from two key ingredients:

Knowing when to hold em’ – Earning the leadership’s confidence to be able to say “no” or “hold off” on pushing out internal developments or non-news stories.

Knowing your reporter audience – Actually knowing (sometimes, again, on a personal level) local reporters is crucial, especially as we work across disparate geographic locations. You need to know what they need and you have to read, listen to or watch what they’re producing to find success.

A Quick Litmus Test

If a PR/communications professional doesn’t know these regional elements, they probably don’t know you and your firm well:

The local weather, especially extreme weather.

The biggest local news stories, regardless of applicability to the firm.

The key media outlets by heart – newspaper, business journal, TV news stations and FM all-news/NPR radio station(s).

All three of the above are easily knowable and followable in a super-connected world. Daily familiarity with these sources long term yields meaningful media placements.

Business relationships should transcend the purely transactional. I genuinely care about the people I work with. We track and note birthdays (thanks nominations!). And for big sports fans, we congratulate on triumphs and offer empathy for disappointments – all as friends do.

From a media monitoring and engagement perspective, I nearly drive myself batty with notifications popping up on my phone from newspapers and local TV news from far off places. But this familiarity is an expectation, a big strategic advantage and is virtually costless.

Trust, More Than Ever

With dispersed workforces, even living in the shadows of their office buildings, communicators need to build trust with every interaction, no matter how small. Can you really trust someone you don’t know? And can a PR professional really expect to excel in a location if they pair physical distance with little-to-no effort to understand their client’s community or communities?

Michael Bond

January 10, 2022 at 5:56 pm Leave a comment

When It Comes to Media Value: Show Me the Money

I’m starting to admit that I’m getting old, well, “older” anyway. I started in earnest in agency PR in 2010, and the tools we used, the results we achieved and client expectations were all very different. Fast-forward to today and law firm marketing departments are ever more “professionalized” and increasingly populated with B-school alums who ask incisive questions and look for actionable metrics.

Historically, law firm media relations KPIs have boiled down to a handful of rudimentary “measurements”:

A new client called after reading a thought leadership-oriented piece you placed in a trade magazine.

This is like winning the content lottery. There’s rarely such a bright and direct line between PR and new business, but when there is, this is the sort of success story PR pros tell for years.

One of our more demanding or biggest rainmaking attorneys won an award, was quoted or published.

Activity of this nature is the backbone of many law firm PR programs and the dynamic remains time-eternal. However, keeping a proverbial and perennial simmering pot(s) from boiling over is not a strong measurement of media program success.

The PR team reports the firm’s program is “doing great” and cites the “data,” a counting of total firm mentions (or clips) broken down and analyzed: “22 total. That’s three more than last year: we must be doing something right!”

“Doing great” is relative, subjective and pretty empty. Discerning minds should seek details. “Your 401K is doing great!” is a lot less meaningful than, “Your 401K is up 8% this year, 20% over the past five years, and we project – with modest assumed growth of 5-8% – that you will have a million dollars in your account when you retire at 65.”

Clip counting means little for professional services “brands” in today’s noisy and crowded media marketplace. Quantity of placements can be easily (and pointlessly) juiced by using paid (or free) newswires and focusing on submission- or membership-based online placements (the “low-hanging fruit,”) not to mention clipping totals organically fluctuate with the firm’s business activity (e.g., high-profile trials, deal flow, lateral activity). Unlike consumer brands that benefit from sheer quantity of exposure, law firms benefit from quality – reaching high-value (in terms of business development) target audiences – far more than quantity.

We Don’t Live in a World of Widgets or Donuts

The season of rabid consumerism is upon us. Each year, in addition to shopping for others, I find myself succumbing to temptation and indulging in personal purchases (despite a firm “no-buying-things-for-yourself” rule imposed by the wife). Relative to the law firm and professional services realm, the business-to-consumer (B2C) “funnel” is infinitely cleaner and the price points are (generally) multiples lower. This is to say selling widgets or donuts is very different than forging multi-year, multi-disciplinary law firm client relationships. But nearly every line of thinking – from the “funnel” sales model to how media value is calculated – imposes the B2C playbook on the business-to-business (B2B) world.

The professional services sector involves multiple “transactions” that occur, in essence, every day. It’s much closer, although, not identical to a subscription model. Many relationships have a “base” level of activity that sometimes spikes up with deals, litigation, employment issues, etc. In the donut world, while a company is no doubt working to mint loyal, daily regulars, they are foremost trying to sell a donut. That’s it, and maybe some coffee – leading to this, somewhat simplified, breakdown:

For the Donut Seller

If I want to sell a lot of donuts, I need to reach a lot of people. My audience is very large, as my price point is very low. My product is simple (with all due respect to the cronut).

For the Law Firm

If I want to generate new business by bringing in clients, I need to reach discrete groups of people that can hire me. My audience is limited, and my price point high. My product is complex and specialized.

The donut seller’s media activity and its value in dollars are very different than the law firm’s.

The donut seller is primarily interested in raw eyeballs – spread the news of the new donut far and wide. Adults, teens and even kids who will bug their parents/guardians are all potential customers.

The law firm should be less interested in raw eyeballs (clip counting). Most adults who might buy a donut will have limited (if any) law firm relationships, and no toddler ever bugged their dad to enter into a retainer agreement. Law firms want to be in front of valuable, and carefully defined, audiences. These might include in-house counsel or industry-specific executives who are reached through leading trade outlets and top tier business media that appeal to these audiences (think New York Times, NPR, Washington Post, all-news radio stations).

Understanding this dynamic is critical to decoding the value of third-party media mentions in the professional services space. Finding workable and saleable (to marketing heads, operational executives and managing partners) data is the first step to establishing what media activity is “worth.”

With a Framework, Structure Takes Shape

In getting to good data around PR value, firms must start with the basics – accurately tracking all media mentions involving the firm (including the proactive ones as well as the tangential ones).

From there, one can assign reasonable ad-equivalency dollar values, undergirded by transparent formulas, setting up the ability to say that media coverage generated X dollars of ad-equivalent publicity last month, last quarter, last year, etc.

Ad-equivalency value is exactly what it sounds like: what is the value of this “earned” editorial coverage if we instead had purchased it as “paid” ad space. In addition and to account for the implied third-party credential that comes with “earned” coverage (readers consistently report that non-paid editorial content is perceived as more impactful), a multiplier (generally 3- to 6X) is applied to the ad total in determining the PR value.

For a firm that transitions from, “We had 33 clips last year and 34 this year,” to, “We estimate that our media activity generated the paid advertising equivalent of $230,000 in 2019 and $333,000 in 2020,” a much greater understanding of the value of PR efforts and firm spend ensues.

The firm is paid in dollars by clients. It pays its employees in dollars. This same scale should be applied to measuring media value. “Clips” is a measurement without meaning. Media value is an important and emerging legal marketing KPI.

…And Comparisons Are Possible

For law firms that are actively looking at the ad-equivalent dollar value of their PR activity, the next step is to monitor and track close competitors – and in getting to “apples-to-apples” comparisons, it’s critical to choose “competitor” firms that are relatively similar in attorney head count, geography and practice breadth.

Applying the dollar value of firm A’s publicity to firm B’s, communicators, marketing heads and managing partners can more accurately compare communications efforts. When the numbers show a disparity, a deeper dive may show that firm B had a series of valuable “hits” on national media (yielding big audiences and large ad-equivalent dollar values). These sorts of “signature” moments are part luck (timing) and part circumstance (topic), but never happen without proactivity. You can’t catch lightning in a bottle if you don’t even have a bottle. They typically occur as irregular spikes tied to comprehensive and constant background media efforts.

Communicators simply can’t answer the question of how a firm is doing relative to its peers by either citing clip numbers or reverting to subjective sales-talk. Such a dodge might have worked when marketing was the domain of a particularly interested (but otherwise distracted) rainmaker partner rather than a team of dedicated and trained professionals.

New Realms of Measurement, Launching Campaigns

By getting a good sense of ad-equivalent dollar value for media activity and relative performance compared to peers, communicators and marketers can move to adding more detail and focus to outreach. Clips can be labeled by sentiment: “positive,” “negative” and “neutral.” This is an important lens for viewing activity and gives an even deeper understanding of the value beyond dollars. A press release that mentions the firm’s name regarding a lease renewal is “neutral,” not yielding much either positively or negatively for the firm. A substantive byline article should be “positive,” as it credentials an attorney and positions the firm as thought-leaders. Allegations of misconduct by a firm partner should be labeled “negative.” Without understanding sentiment, a rough quarter in terms of public perception might be mischaracterized, skewing future comparisons because context was never applied.

Firms also can and should deploy subject-specific (and cross-practice) “campaigns” measuring outreach on topics and results yielded – in ad-equivalent dollars and readership. These “slices” of media activity can prove illuminating as priorities are determined.

Knowing a firm’s media value is essential and provides one answer to the question, “What are we getting for all this spend?” It also allows communications departments and outside agencies to stop using the nice-sounding but purely trust-based adage, “The PR we’re getting is very valuable.”

The response to such a dodge is simple: show me the money.

Originally published by the Legal Marketing Association (LMA) – Mid-Atlantic Region.

December 21, 2021 at 4:47 pm Leave a comment

What the Pandemic Teaches Us About Clear Messaging and Crisis Communications

The pandemic has been marked by times when the public health messaging driving mainstream behavior has been altered, or even reversed in short order.

  • No need to wear masks.
  • You need to wear a mask.
  • You need to wear two masks.
  • You don’t need a mask unless in certain circumstances, provided you are vaccinated.
  • Everyone needs a mask, regardless of vaccination status.

These enormously impactful directives have caused people from across the ideological spectrum to grumble, or worse, cease complying. The pandemic has been the crisis of our lifetimes and a messaging challenge like no other. What lessons can law firms take from 18-plus months of confusing guidance? Let’s examine:

Deliver a clear message, even if you don’t have clarity. The ironic, tired idiom, “Hindsight is 20/20,” has taken on new meaning. Initial public health guidance, from the likes of Dr. Anthony Fauci, clearly stated what was known at the time. Law firms navigating themselves or their clients through a crisis need to work with knowns and avoid messaging or commenting on speculation.

Change your message promptly when new information is available. Depending on the situation, sensitivities and need for transparency, firms should be ready and able to pivot messaging points, based on new information. For example, this may be necessary after the results of an internal review – whether the firm’s or a client’s. Misleading or trying to misdirect the public and the media is a recipe for failure and has long-term, negative consequences.

Data needs a decoder. The general public and the media have had to learn about dense concepts like “preprint databases” and wade through an array of forecasts and charts that are opaque, and potentially misleading, to all but those trained in fields like epidemiology. As a society, we increasingly expect access to source materials. This should not be unfamiliar as law firms have experienced this phenomenon for years with many court filings just a click away. Strategizing in advance on messaging and privately preparing talking points through contentious litigation protects the client and the firm. And press releases and media statements remain vital in centering issues and developments. Much like we see with public health, there are very real and meaningful limits to what “doing the research” as an outsider can yield.

If it’s not your data, consider being the decoder. Reporters of all stripes covering the pandemic have sought out experts to demystify conflicting statements and sudden reversals. Attorneys can and have played this role. If a firm has lawyers who are consistently complaining that the local daily or national news outlets aren’t understanding an issue with legal implications, ask them to step forward and offer to educate the scribes. Media-engaged attorneys often develop true working relationships with reporters, yielding “go-to” thought leader status and comfort and trust in sorting through information, even if “off the record.”

Know that self-appointed “citizen ombudsmen” are legion. The abundance of data, combined with the availability of low-barrier/high-visibility feedback mechanisms (such as Yelp and AVVO), heighten reputational risk. Expect and look for snarky comments, meanspirited (and often entirely unfounded) reviews and public scrutiny. Be sure to monitor for developments and have each and every attorney with the potential of being in the public eye “batten down the digital hatches” – scrubbing and privatizing social media posts and accounts and scrutinizing any past public commentary.

Be prepared to counter misinformation. Misinformation spreads incredibly easily in a social media-centric world where a little web design knowhow or modest design spend can birth viral content and slick-looking “news” sites. Firms (and their clients) in the public eye need to both know what is being said and use their platforms and brand resources to aggressively push back on damaging narratives. Don’t engage the trolls, but don’t ignore them either.

Expect the unexpected in a crisis (including the really unexpected). When the FDA tweeted that humans should not consume horse medicine, surely the makers of the veterinarian version of the drug Ivermectin must have shaken their heads. They have been forced to consider messaging points for their own “black swan”-esque event. The makers of Lysol experienced the same as early-on messaging about bleach was misinterpreted to tragic results. Both instances serve as reminders that a crisis fire can break out anywhere at any minute. Be prepared and have skilled crisis communications plans and communicators at the ready. Rapid responses preserve brand integrity, can help protect against litigation and – in the above cases – may even save lives.

Thankfully, the scale of a pandemic dwarfs any crisis an individual firm or client will ever face. But crises will surely come. Some may amount to sparks that fade into the night while others may turn into major conflagrations.

Clear, concise and thoughtful communication plans and at-hand resources serve both a preventative and restorative function. Firms should not wait until a problem arises to seek guidance. A crisis messaging team will literally be with the firm and its principals in the trenches with heavy fire all around. These volatile situations are not ideal times for getting to know each other, and they require mutual trust.

The pandemic’s public health messaging lessons are not new; rather, they are tried-and-true principles on steroids. They do, however, serve as an imminently accessible teaching moment for law firms, their marketers and their attorneys.

Originally published by the Legal Marketing Association (LMA) – Mid-Atlantic Region.

December 13, 2021 at 7:30 pm Leave a comment

Are You Taking Advantage of “Special Offer” Media Opportunities, Or Are They Taking Advantage of You?

The pandemic impacts hit the U.S. business markets in mid-March 2020. Conferences and events, and the fertile business development grounds they provided, were cancelled, postponed or pivoted to online formats that were unfamiliar (at least way back in 2020) to most professionals.

“I generally speak at the Name-That-Conference for industry professionals and get a few solid new business leads out of that engagement each year…,” was the start of many a pipeline-focused conversation. But that pipeline ran dry with a highly transmissible virus attending all the same gigs.

Smart professionals and their firms turned their attention to content – and in most cases, this was what we PR-types refer to as “owned” content (the firm controls and distributes it without going through any gatekeepers, a.k.a. editors/reporters/producers). Webinars, newsletters, resource centers, blogs and even forays into the broadcast realm – in the form of podcasts and video series – proliferated.

This desire to educate, share and engage with potential clients in new ways was music to many in-house professional services marketers’ ears – and in the absence of third-party engagements, focusing on firm-produced media channels seemed the perfect pivot. But there is a dark side.

With the launch of these owned media channels, particularly podcasts and “online magazines,” there’s an emerging new category of “media” out there, and it appears to be confusing even the best and the brightest – somewhat intentionally.

Using recently encountered real-world examples, allow me to describe three different wrinkles on this media trend that should raise questions for communicators, marketers and business developers:

  • Example A: An A/E/C industry-focused “online magazine” with a well-targeted title and corresponding URL is “honoring” firms with various self-selected awards (think “top interior designer” or “best plumbing contractor.”)
  • Example B: A podcast has emerged in the IT space with a flattering name, online presentation and a cool-enough concept: the episodes profile the cream of the IT crop and discuss issues of interest to the top players in the space.
  • Example C: A family of podcasts in the legal industry, managed by a single producer, targets lawyers, identifies the podcasts within the family of managed productions that align with the lawyers’ expertise, and lines them up to participate.

Here’s the “owned” media catch: there is another brand behind each of these media channels.

  • In Example A, an A/E/C software developer produces the online magazine – and pushes pop-ups and other company promotion to viewers. (We had to dig in a bit to get to this as it is not overtly disclosed.)
  • In the case of Example B, the IT podcast is obviously and proudly branded by a service provider. We’ll discuss why this can be a red flag below.
  • In the legal podcasts described in Example C, while not obviously branded as law firm or legal tech productions, each is sponsored by and aligned with a specific legal brand.    

Companies create these owned channels for fairly transparent reasons:

  • Access to potential clients (whether their ultimate target is your firm or your firm’s clients).
  • Desirable audience overlap between their brand and the goodwill brought by your firm/professionals (and keep in mind these channels include “subscribe” and “follow” buttons – as well as active chatbots in some cases).
  • A halo effect that your firm brand can bring – providing them credentialing implied by your participation (and, therefore, approval) of their channel.
  • “Shared” media cross promotion on social channels as you help to amplify your participation.
  • Real estate on your website when you post your participation on your domain of authority.
  • SEO fodder.

And that leads us straight to the questions these “opportunities” should raise. Before you jump in wholeheartedly, ask yourself:

  • Is it wise to align our firm brand with this brand? Do we know the sponsoring outfit and its reputation with our own audiences – including clients, prospects, referral sources and the industry generally?
  • Do we want to provide our “implied approval” of this vendor and/or their product(s)?
  • Might our involvement or participation signal an “allegiance” – however tangential – that could be misconstrued by others in the space?
  • Is the sponsoring brand’s audience desirable to our business development goals?
  • Is the production value reflective of our firm’s standards?
  • Is the “sales” approach acceptable to us and our connections? (For example, will the channel spam our clients if they follow or register?)

Beyond these questions, as you evaluate these opportunities compared to traditional media outlets, consider that:

  • There are no audited circulation or subscriber numbers, so the audience noted may or may not be as advertised. Even if the numbers are there, they may or may not represent a large extended family of the producer, rather than solid targets for your business development efforts.
  • The traditional ethical canons associated with the fourth estate, don’t apply. There is no semblance of editorial independence here – so the rules of balanced reporting, separation of editorial and paid content, and protocols for handling correction requests may not be applied.

Now please don’t get me wrong, there are some seriously impressive owned media channels out there. It has long been a goal to land a client in the Costco Connection or to have the cult-like following of a channel like the Trader Joe’s Fearless Flyer. My only caution is to do the work to identify the sponsor of the media channel before replying to the come-on, granting interviews, posting accolades on the firm website or sharing the content with your entire LinkedIn network. Otherwise, you could very well end up doing someone else’s marketing while undoing your own.

Traci Stuart

September 20, 2021 at 4:10 pm Leave a comment

Pandemic Roiling Your Media, BD Plans? “Embrace the Suck”

We’re past Labor Day weekend and the “Hot Vax” summer has seamlessly transitioned into “Back to School/Back to the Office” life. We’re almost back to those 2019 school buses, cubicles and bridge-and-tunnel vibes!

Actually, no.

We are, instead somewhere in our fourth (or fifth?) COVID wave, with lots of office opening delays and ample school anxiety. And, while we may have been able to compartmentalize work and home in the before times, it just isn’t possible now. For us as individuals and as professional services providers, we are just going to have to “Embrace the Suck” as the military mantra goes.

The Wall Street Journal reporter Elizabeth Bernstein recently authored the piece, “How to Deal With Stress in Your Life: Embrace It,” where she broke down the expression:

My Uncle Sidney, a retired U.S. Navy physician and Vietnam veteran, has a military phrase he uses as advice for what to do when life is lousy: Embrace the Suck.

He’s dispensed this colorful guidance to me in several stressful situations—when I’ve been anxious on deadline, dealing with a difficult family member, and, most recently, struggling through the pandemic.

“The point is, when you’re stuck, surrounded or suffering, you need to assess where you are, learn to live with it, and try to advance,’’ Uncle Sidney says.

From a media relations standpoint, nearly every story is seen through COVID-tinted glasses. To break through, it’s crucial that thought leaders avoid trying to act as though a total “reset” button has been pressed. This massive elephant remains firmly in the room, despite our best efforts to move it along, and is spawning media-rich developments like vaccine mandates, health care surcharges and employee testing.

Individually, or as a firm, you may not want to talk about the pandemic; but, you really can’t not.

Collectively, we remain in a lousy situation. However, as the pandemic grinds on, there are emerging “winners” and maybe not “losers,” but definitely folks who missed their media rocket rides.

What are the consistent elements of success?

  1. Availability and willingness to express uncertainty.
  2. Being a quick study.
  3. Understanding that today’s media topic du jour can be displaced in minutes, with stories scrapped as new information becomes available.

COVID’s waves have had media topic counterparts: bankruptcy, tax, labor and employment, health care, more tax, more labor and employment, traditional labor, etc… As we continue to wind our way (hopefully soon!) toward the exit, opportunities will remain abundant.

Professional services thought leaders and practice and industry group heads also need to guard against the karmic drag of the pandemic sapping their creative spirit and entrepreneurial focus.

Later in the article Bernstein quotes Dr. Robyn D. Walser, an assistant clinical professor in psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, on the importance of staying focused, “‘Just because there are these super-wicked problems in the world does not mean you give up on what matters to you.”

What matters personally is paramount, but, what matters for your firm and your practice is also crucial. Business development plans inked in 2019, early 2020 or even last September need to be revised. New goals need to be set. And a willingness to ride the wave of a news cycle where you can’t always give definitive answers needs to be embraced to help for you and your brand to stand out – and, ultimately, advance.

Michael Bond

September 10, 2021 at 6:15 pm Leave a comment

Should Professional Services Firms Podcast? It’s Complicated.

Podcasts are an ascendant media form right now. According to a recent report from Edison Research and Triton Digital called “The Infinite Dial 2021,” approximately 28% of the U.S. population over the age of 12 listens to a weekly podcast, a 17% increase from the 2020 survey numbers. In addition, 62% of the same group listens weekly to online audio, with more than a third owning a smart speaker.

For professional services firms looking to creatively market and communicate with clients and prospects, podcasts are ripe with potential. However, just like the blog dialogue that has gone on for more than a decade, careful consideration is warranted.

The internet is littered with the tombstones of abandoned domains that once were blogs. Accounting, legal and real estate companies enthusiastically jumped into blogging only to lose momentum. The prime culprits?

Audience opacity – Measuring audience (including filtering out internal/cell phone/working-from-home employee hits) is very technical – ripe for exaggeration by outside measurers (number padding) — and often too complex for in-house resources. How much of our target audience “read” our blog last month? Much of the time firms simply aren’t sure or are looking at bad data.

Audience size and growth – With or without good data, lots of blogs fail to attract many eyeballs. Building a core audience, sustaining the group and tacking on modest – but not infinite growth – should be the goals. However, lots of blog stewards see early numbers with big jumps up and down and react like overconfident or panicked stock investors, pushing a flood of content or shutting things down.

Losing a “champion” – Blogs should have a stable of active writers and, ideally, an editor overseeing the content to fit the puzzle pieces together. The editor, star writer or invested marketing/BD partner is often its “champion.” When they leave or lose interest, a blog often struggles.

The “next big thing” – Blogs beget social media which beget podcasts. All of these initiatives can work in synergy; but, cohesive content planning takes effort and a fair amount of manpower to pull off. When marketing departments are sent to explore new communications vehicles, they are often pushed to launch new channels without considering the impact on existing plans. “We need to have a podcast because I love The Daily” shouldn’t be the sole factor driving a program’s development.

All of the pitfalls of blog launch, maintenance and growth apply to podcasts. Here are some “must haves” if you are really serious about the space:

Technical acumen – Whether in-house or partnering with an outside provider, podcasts need to both sound professional and be visible on major platforms.

A host or hosts – One or a rotating set (up to three) of familiar voices who set up episodes and often conduct interviews is ideal.

Something unique – This is probably the most challenging one. Here’s the hard truth: No one is going to choose a law firm podcast over their favorite true crime series. You are competing, not for leisure hours, but for working hours – and you need to offer actionable content. Reading client alerts aloud isn’t it. Tell stories, field questions, unveil data and reports. Then, do it again.

For all the interest in podcasts, measuring ROI remains challenging. Creating a content-hungry channel can exhaust contributors and drain resources away from existing and under-consideration developments. What’s the alternative?

Be a guest – Identify and develop a relationship with a podcast that reaches your target audience. Land a booking, and let the producing team handle the rest. Once posted, you and your company promote the heck out of it.

Do a limited series – Find sufficient content and technical tools to skillfully publish a multi-part series. Then, just end it. Evaluate the results and consider if you want to do it again or try something broader.

Podcasts are an effective tool for reaching audiences, but they should be part of a balanced media and content diet. Consult your marketing and communications professionals for the approach that’s right for your firm.

Michael Bond

March 25, 2021 at 3:46 pm Leave a comment

The Pandemic is Changing Professional Services Communications, And That May be a Good Thing

Broadcast has always been the hardest medium in which to secure opportunities for clients. The reasons are numerous, including its focus is narrower than a daily newspaper’s, commentary openings are time-sensitive and go quickly, and they often require a trip to the studio – a friction point. The last point has changed, dramatically, and maybe for good. It is now expected that every professional services spokesperson has a webcam and some level of Zoom (or equivalent) proficiency. For broadcasters, it is also now not expected that every on-camera source be made-up and lit to the highest standard. Many of us are Zooming from our living rooms that have been converted to classrooms – and that’s OK. From our perspective, media outreach now regularly includes more broadcasters. We’re less concerned about getting clients to TV studios or arranging for crews to visit offices. The general acceptance of lowered production standards in broadcast actually is part of a broader, even pre-pandemic, trend of “casualizing” communications.

In the early-to-mid 2000s, paper was still king. Working in-house at a professional services firm, my duties involved layout (on Quark), coordinating production with printer vendors and envelope stuffing of client alerts and newsletters. (As a reminder, the internet existed at this point and email was already a thing.) Around the time of the Great Recession, more and more firms started shifting to email communications, as protestations from more senior partners gave way to cost efficiency and a grudging acceptance that everyone was reading on their computer or their BlackBerry/iPhone. Glossy stock became an email template, and arguably, production “quality” at best shifted and at worst went down. The move was in keeping with the times, and we have never seen a return to the paper days.

The shift from paper to email client communications meant that turnaround time was greatly reduced. Client alerts could go out the same week — or even day — the developments occurred. We’re starting to see a similar shift emerge on the video side. In addition to freeing up commentary sources for quick turnaround broadcast opportunities, fluidity with technology and comfort with being “on camera” is poised to push more professional services firms to experiment with “novel” (to their industries, anyway) offerings such as Facebook Live webinars and Instagram stories. From a communications perspective, this is welcome. Technology and its associated distractions have made all audiences moving targets, and professional services firms need to go where the eyeballs are. It’s not even inconceivable to see a day when the emailed client alert morphs into a Facebook Live session.

The fallout and changes from this unprecedented period aren’t fully known yet. But, no doubt professional services communications are being impacted and will look different. The adoption and use of technology and social media have been sped up by necessity. This isn’t a bad thing. While handshakes and hugs (hopefully) will return, our old way of communicating, and associated production standards, may not.

Michael Bond

September 25, 2020 at 2:41 pm Leave a comment

Understanding the Timeline: When Will a Lawsuit Be Covered by the Media?  

In law school, the correct answer to in-class queries was frequently “it depends.” In law, often there is no black or white, right or wrong – it all depends on the facts and the analysis of the law. This dynamic also applies to media coverage of lawsuits.

Lawsuits are filed in every court in every state every day. No two lawsuits are created equal, and thus, media coverage won’t be equal – it depends on many factors and the lawsuits’ various stages.

In gauging your suit’s coverage potential, let’s explore a simplified run-down of the timeline and cycles of lawsuit coverage. For now, we’ll focus only on civil lawsuits (as opposed to criminal).

What Is Covered?

Before we get into triggers for lawsuit coverage, it’s important to understand which lawsuits attract media attention and why.

Both the parties to and the subject matter of lawsuits determine whether they will receive media coverage. Civil cases brought against large corporations, celebrities or billionaires generally get the most attention, simply because the case revolves around someone or something we know. Similarly, lawsuits coming from the U.S. Supreme Court attract extensive coverage, as the issues they address tend to be controversial and national in focus – or both.

Cases with strong business implications are often newsworthy – and if not within the context of a daily newspaper, these are often issues covered in industry-specific outlets. For example, a California-venued case involving an environmental emissions may not make it to the business section of the San Francisco Chronicle, but it may be important to manufacturers of food products nationally – making it a hot one for a publication like Food Safety Magazine or Food Quality & Safety Magazine.

Generally speaking, the most “media-genic” lawsuits involve issues to which a preponderance of the population can relate – civil rights, employment, privacy, consumer protections, and the like. Class actions tend to command coverage when they threaten to strike a blow against large companies or well-recognized brands.

Geography – of both the court venue and the parties to the case – are often factors in which lawsuits are covered. For example, if a suit is filed in Los Angeles or targets a Los Angeles-based company, it might be covered more extensively in the Southern California area than it would in other cities.

Filing of the Complaint

A complaint sets out the facts and legal reasons a plaintiff believes are sufficient to support a claim against the defendant – essentially, it outlines the justification for the lawsuit. When a complaint – noteworthy for any of the aforementioned reasons – is filed, lawyers (and their clients) can expect media attention as these filings are public, and there are often astute reporters assigned to the courts who review such filings.

At this stage in the process, it’s all about the allegations. Take, for example, a lawsuit against a major food brand alleging false advertising claims on one of its products. Once the complaint is filed with the court, it will likely be covered nationally by daily newspapers, as well as in the legal and food industry trade publications. Depending on the brand and reach of the claims, broadcast coverage is also a possibility. This said, the same filing and allegations against a smaller or more regional company may only merit a passing mention in trade media – if at all.

Usually, interest in and the potential for coverage of complaints is short-lived — dying down in the days shortly after filing, unless it is a controversial or particularly timely topic. And unfortunately for many companies and brands, the interest in the outcome – say a quick dismissal on summary judgement – rarely sees the coverage the filing and initial allegations saw.

Pre-Trial Phase

Many activities are set in motion when a case is pending trial, but they aren’t all necessarily newsworthy. This does not mean that what happens in the pre-trial phase is any less important – in fact, the events might be the most critical in determining who wins the lawsuit – however, media coverage is triggered by big developments rather than the more nuanced legal wrangling that takes place during the pre-trial phase.

Discovery, motions and court hearings are important in uncovering the evidence that either side may use in trial or to support an array of motions. The majority of this information is limited in its availability to members of the media, and the only publications likely to cover any significant updates tend to be the legal trades – whose ranks are often filled with reporters and editors more educated on the ins-and-outs of trial practice. There is one motion, however, that you’ll often see in media coverage – a summary judgment motion.

A motion for summary judgment is filed by the defense counsel urging the court to find that the plaintiff has not established a material fact to continue the lawsuit. Essentially, the defense is asking the court to declare “the plaintiff has not established this case; therefore, the lawsuit is dismissed.” If the case is actually dismissed and has generated coverage upon filing, you can generally expect coverage of the summary judgement. This said, a seeming “technical” dismissal is not nearly as information rich as the filing of a complaint, so lawyers (and their clients) are often left unsatisfied by the disproportionate attention given to the “nasty allegations” and the limited reception to dismissal of said allegations.


With 95 percent of lawsuits ending in settlements, media consumers rarely learn exactly how matters – even those much ballyhooed upon filing – end. The details of negotiated settlements are often confidential. And while news of a settlement may drop at any time during the case trajectory, the subject matter, parties and available details – especially settlement amount – determine whether or not this sort of resolution draws headlines.


If a lawsuit makes it through the pre-trial phase without a settlement or summary judgment, then we’ve reached the stage with the most media potential – the verdict or judgment. How the jury or court decides in a certain case makes for great news, especially if it is precedent setting – either overriding a state law or conflicting with another recent decision on the same issue. As with the ongoing worker classification lawsuits in various states (known as AB5 in California), every decision is covered, and they occasionally conflict.

How long does media attention last? Well, that depends on how earth-shaking the decision is. Staying with the worker classification example, the issue has been topical for more than two years, and court decisions continue to be covered extensively. These high-impact issues tend to fuel reports until they’ve been resolved one way or another (like a U.S. Supreme Court decision…).


If a lawsuit is appealed (a near-certainty in major matters) this development will get some degree of media attention – again, especially if it involves a major corporation or issue. Appellate proceedings can take several months before oral arguments, and, like pre-trial motion play – the trajectory for appeals is nuanced. As a result, only the biggest and broadest appellate decisions make waves in the media.

Altogether, factors like subject matter, companies involved, location and lawsuit stage play crucial roles in the media interest in a lawsuit. Just like in law, the answer of when a lawsuit will get media attention versus when it won’t is simple – it depends.

Michael Panelli

September 9, 2020 at 3:01 pm Leave a comment

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