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Breaking News and Making News

By Richard Lavinthal, PRforLAW, LLC

There is a big difference in media relations between breaking hard news and making the news. When you break hard news you invariably make news, but the reverse is not true.

Little League or World Series, in baseball the pitchers lead. And when competition is the most fierce and winning is critical, the ace relievers, "pitchers' pitchers," come in to take the mound.

In PR, media relations professionals are "pitchers." They take the lead placing feature articles, announcing initiatives, and piggybacking onto fresh news to advance clients' positions, reputations and businesses. Less often, media relations pros respond reactively when crisis events break into the news.

Media relations has ace relievers — men and women who break fresh ground for clients by announcing hard news that becomes public for the first time. And when someone else breaks heretofore-unknown hard news (usually legal, regulatory, business or political) media relations ace relievers are already wound up, ready to respond instantly, to deliver accurate fastballs and skillful curveballs to outflank competition and grab a foothold in the resulting hard news. In media relations the most high-tension, high risk/reward niche is winning in the breaking news arena, especially when your client has no control over the timing of hard news to be broken.

Unlike pitching cold to place features, profiles, etc., breaking hard news opportunities are rare and without preparation the opportunity to capitalize on one will fail. Trying to handle breaking news on the fly won't succeed. In media relations, if you want to effectively claim a piece of news real estate for your client, substantial preparation is required to create and deliver a message.

First you should know about the impending news event as far as possible in the future. There's no better feeling than sitting with a detailed strategy mapped out, all plans, personnel and collateral ready to be executed in an instant. It can be weeks, even months before the news is expected to break but the instant the client calls to issue the news all that is needed will be a new date on the release.

To craft breaking hard news strategy, drill down into the subject, well past whatever you've been given. And do your own research. Pepper your client with questions. Read everything he/she can provide. You are looking for a key message, a needle in a haystack that will sew up reporters' or editors' interest.

If your competition is breaking the news and controlling the time of release, you want to try to get a piece of their news coattails. For the best chance of doing that you must find that needle in the haystack, a compelling angle, or factoids that won't be in the main news story released. (If you simply announce whatever has just been announced and tack on your client's, "Me too," no reporter or editor will notice, or care.)

But if you have synthesized a solid message that's not in the main story you've got a chance to appear in the main report. And, if you've used all your media relations skills, properly chatting up reporters, knowing what your target news outlets want, you may even land a sidebar that is all your story. When you can break news like that, it's the best you can earn in earned media.

If you are able to break the news on your terms, the plan is set and the collateral is ready you need to determine who is going to get the story first and possibly who could get it exclusively. It's simply a matter of lining them up and disseminating the news when it's public.

When the other side has the keys to the story, i.e. breaking the news when it is ready, it can complicate the placement process. If the subject is legal and the civil or criminal matter is not yet public you'll have to move at lightning speed when the event is announced. But if you've prepared you still have a shot at getting your message out.

What kinds of events qualify for aggressive breaking news media relations treatment? Four prime legally oriented candidates are:

  • Your client will file a lawsuit with expected local, regional or even-wider media interest;
  • Your client, individual or corporate, is to be indicted;
  • A jury is poised to possibly render a decision in your client's favor and the case already been covered extensively by the media; or
  • A government will announce a large settlement of a civil matter that's sure to generate headlines but with several law firms involved, your law firm client and their client want to be recognized.

For example, when the federal and state governments settled with GSK for $3.2 billion in July 2012 we managed to place our own unique angle on the whistleblower component of the civil settlement which generated a standalone international wire service article, an NPR, All Things Considered actuality and a long-form story in Pharmalot, the most influential blog in the industry segment. And earlier in December for another whistleblower case with more than 10 lawyers and multiple whistleblowers our client and his whistleblower client were featured in a long story in the business section of the New York Times.

Richard Lavinthal (www.Lavinthal.com) of PRforLAW, LLC is a former wire service and AM daily reporter who later served as spokesman for the U.S. Department of Justice in New Jersey, and then the New Jersey (State) Attorney General's Division of Criminal Justice. At PRforLAW, LLC he serves attorneys across the U.S. at small firms with big cases, civil and criminal. Lavinthal has handled breaking news media relations in some of the biggest cases of their kind in the U.S.

© 2013 Richard Lavinthal. All Rights Reserved

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