Can a Press Release Become the News?

Cashing in on press releases that generate
negative publicity is simply goofy.

I saw an article in the Chicago Sun-Times, “State Sen. Sandoval’s $68,400 side gig: translating news releases,” by Dan Mihalopoulos, Steve Warmbir, and Dave McKinney about how a politician is making a great living by being a consultant for the Town of Cicero, where he was also elected to serve. What caught my attention was not just what State Senator Martin Sandoval is doing to profit from his skills, but that there’s so much news surrounding press releases. That’s because with the speed of communication nowadays, press releases aren’t as important as they used to be.

It used to be that a press release was the only way to connect to the media, but now there are other avenues, such as Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook, which make us not have to rely on just press releases. I still think they’re useful and allow us to summarize client news. Plus they’re a good way to send out information that might be picked up by news websites. But spending thousands of dollars on them? That’s not smart at all.

If you hire someone to translate a press release and distribute it through a service such as PR Web, it should only cost around $300. But according to the article, the Town of Cicero is paying him $4,200 a month to be a consultant, in addition to the $1,500 a month he gets from the village of Melrose Park. That’s a lot of money to spend for press releases, especially when the media has changed, and they don’t pay as much attention to press releases anymore.

Sen. Sandoval has taken advantage of people’s lack of media savvy, and look what it’s gotten him: negative press coverage.


The Supreme Court’s “Comedy Club”

When I think of the U.S. Supreme Court, a serious atmosphere comes to mind because they make decisions that affect our nation, policies, and even life and death. Here in Chicago, law firms also tend to be serious because if every detail is not covered, then the attorneys can lose a case and even affect their reputation for years to come. However, sometimes it’s good to step back and take a look at how attorneys approach their work and publicity efforts because there are times when being lighthearted can be effective.  

I’m suggesting this because I saw a blog post that Jay Wexler, a law professor at Boston University, wrote on his website called “Supreme Court Humor.” Basically, it’s about a “study” that he did to see how many laughs each Justice got in the courtroom. According to the graphic on his site, which came from The New York Times, Justice Antonin Scalia got the most laughs when Wexler conducted his study.  

Who would think that the Supreme Court would be the subject of such research, followed by lots of media coverage about their humor? It’s an example of how doing something unique and beyond the usual boundaries of the legal profession can get you media attention. Of course, you don’t want to make it too contrived, but to augment your own practice. Some attorneys prefer to create interesting websites to promote their firm, such as Kottler & Kottler in Los Angeles, which has a cartoony style. And speaking of cartoons, attorney Bob Kohn filed a cartoon amicus curiae in an Apple case, which is probably the only time such a brief has been submitted.

So the next time you’re assessing the image of your own practice or that of your law firm, think of ways you can lighten up to make you or your firm stand out. You can enhance your image by posting personal pictures of your vacation, pets, or hobbies on your blog or social media, or share information that’s outside the usual seriousness of the legal profession, such as the weirdest sculptures you’ve seen while traveling. In the midst of a heavy workload, sometimes it makes business sense to have a bit of fun.

This public relations tip first appeared in Chicago Lawyer Magazine’s blog.