Dear legal PR and marketing colleagues, attorneys and law firm stakeholders,

We gather here today in grief and love to remember the revered and sometimes maligned statement of facts and information intended primarily for media consumption — the press release. As we come together, let us take a moment to offer our condolences …

(Insert record scratching sound here!)

Hold up and cut the mic! Not only is the press release still kicking it, no one’s even thinking about calling for last rites. We’ve been checking the press release’s pulse pretty consistently for the last decade or so, what with the media landscape dramatically changing with the convergence and explosion of digital media and AI. The fact is, the press release still is an important and useful part of a comprehensive media relations strategy for law firms and attorneys.

However, if we were to write her obituary … The first press release was reportedly born (first composed and distributed) in 1906 to convey facts to media about a major train accident in New Jersey that killed 50 people and injured 75. A member of the Pennsylvania railroad public relations department issued the statement to describe the incident from the company’s perspective. Legend has it that the media were impressed with this early document, which looks quite a lot like press release templates of today. How’s that for endurance?

In some ways, the press release has become even more useful as a PR tool in the 2020s due to its adaptability, combined with new opportunities afforded by the internet — but today’s press release has evolved. There are now three types, each containing different content and serving disparate ends. Let’s take a look at the makeup and best practices in the use of each type to maximize the potential and effectiveness of the press release as a PR tool for your firm.

The important lesson here is to think about what you want to accomplish with your press releases before you start outlining, gathering facts and supporting information, and crafting messages. Then you’ll know which press release type fits your needs.

The Traditional Press Release — Just the Facts, Please!

This ideal, inverted pyramid of facts and information (when written well and according to industry-standard, journalistic style) is an official statement intended to provide information or make an announcement for reporters and editors to use to build their own stories about said facts/information and/or statement. PERIOD!

Reporters and editors don’t want superfluous information, opinions, editorializing or puffery in this press release. It becomes a less useful tool and necessitates more work for reporters and editors if they have to cut through all the non-factual, unnecessary bits of information and opinion to gather what they need to report the straight news.

When there is law firm news fit to publicize (and that has a fair chance of being reported), such as new lateral hirings, new firm openings and mergers, major case victories, etc., this is the best, most prudent type of release to convey information to the media. Busy, discerning reporters and editors recognize and appreciate the traditional press release when they read it, and they know exactly what to do with it.

The facts-only, traditional press release also is best suited for distribution/wire services that charge by word count, so less extraneous verbiage means more cost efficiency for clients. If you really just want to have your news reported and taken in the most serious way possible, a traditional press release is the best road to follow.

All the Facts, Plus Some Extended Messaging and Storytelling

This type of press release is the infant of the group, really only becoming a legitimate product with a dedicated strategy due to the proliferation of opportunities afforded by the internet to have it published verbatim. This release can be longer than the “facts only” version and include more promotional messages and colorful quotes from firm leaders that benefit the institution or help enhance an attorney’s profile and stature without the risk of an editor calling foul on biased content.

The extended messaging press release is best suited for self-publishing opportunities with legitimate media outlets. Some online newspapers allow readers to post entire press releases to their sites — a phenomenon driven by the constant news cycle and the ongoing need for fresh content, coupled with ever-shrinking newsroom staff. Myriad non-traditional “news” sites will also publish entire press releases in some cases, such as RSS sites that feed content and sites belonging to service industry companies (think executive recruiter firms), local business community/chamber websites, and other trade industry groups that maintain news pages where press releases are welcomed as content.

It's still good practice to follow traditional press release writing rules for the “extended storytelling” release, but there is license to be creative and opportunistic. A bit of boasting couched in journalistic prose is okay. Just don’t distribute this version of the release to major news outlets — it might actually do more harm than good in fostering credibility for the firm/attorneys with reporters and editors.

The Backgrounder

The backgrounder press release is ostensibly a tool for keeping media abreast of news and happenings at a firm and/or about an attorney without necessarily expecting an immediate, placement or publishing opportunity. This press release may contain information important to a law firm or attorney, but most major media will not consider it worthy of press time.

Many (although not all) releases that fall into this category are boastful (about awards, accolades and achievements) or report on happenings that are just too routine (new associates joining the firm, new practice areas or even firm office relocations) to merit reporting. But there’s still value in letting media know about these happenings. Doing so reinforces attorneys’ reputations as thought leaders in their practices, so a firm or attorney remains on a reporter’s radar for the next time they need to decide which law firm or attorney fits into a particular story, or to interview an attorney as an authoritative source on a particular topic.

Of course, not all media have the same criteria for evaluating what’s news. The Wall Street Journal and Law360 won’t cover what the Main Street Village Courier or some industry trade journals might. That means it’s still important for the background press release to include all the pertinent facts on the chance that its content ends up getting published.

Do you need ideas about how to optimize your press releases to serve multiple purposes and media audiences? Contact me, Randy Labuzinski, at rlabuzinski@jaffepr.com.