Monday, January 23, 2006

Working with Reporters

"My photographer will be there in about 30 minutes." was the call I received on Thursday afternoon at 3:00 PM from the photo editor at the Orange County Register (the daily newspaper for OC). And right behind the photographer would arrive the reporter.

Now it is true that my PR guru had been talking with the Register business editor to get some mileage on the impending 100 year anniversary for the firm... but 30 minutes is a tough deadline for arranging ducks. "Once more into the valley we ride..."

Months earlier we had laid out plans and words for positioning the firm in this occasion (which will repeat itself with other media in our region). I was not uncertain about the message we wanted to communicate.

So I walked the halls recruiting partners to stand for a group shot (requested by the photography editor) and managed a fairly diverse crowd from different practice groups (not all groups, but most). And in the published picture I think we're looking very nice.

When the reporter arrived only two of my partners made themselves available for an "informal chat". One, the incoming Managing Partner (from the litigation practice), and the other a well respected partner from our Public Law practice.

In the interview the PL partner was very dominant in the conversation. He had a seasoned knack for stating quotable sentences. My incoming managing partner held himself well but I could see he was trying to flatten the practice emphasis of my PL partner.

On Friday we sat with the reporter again at an event honoring my firm; And I was able to isolate him with the current managing partner (who is in our Corporate practice). They spent about 40 minutes conversing.

So.... On Saturday the story comes out (free registration required to view article) in the business section of the Orange County Register.

It was a fantastic placement. 1/2 page, above the fold ($30K minimum in advertising if I'd bought the space) on the cover page of the business section. And it was a nice, fluffy, and a complimentary article about my firm. Except....

The reporter positioned us as a firm with a long tradition in representing cities and government entities just now expanding into broader business interests. Not to discredit the reporter; In the very big picture that is true. Before 1960 we were the firm of reckoning in all things civil. But as the region changed so too changed the firm. You can imagine that, as generally complimentary of the firm as the article was, I did catch some flack on the timber of the article....

I am pretty pleased overall with what was published. Our name was big and the article was complimentary; Clients in public, private, and civic sectors were named; We were highlighted as the most successful of locally based firms; and, the article had a note of mystery to it (they leaked that we are about to release a new "brand" for the firm).

Working with reporters is never easy for someone like me (total "A" type wanting full control of everything) yet it is part of what helps a firm achieve sustained success. Believe me, we are working on what happens next time an editor calls and says, "in 30 minutes...."