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When plaintiffs attorney Reed Kathrein agreed to be interviewed on a program that’s piped through passenger headsets on some of America’s largest airlines, he didn’t balk at shelling out several thousands of dollars for the opportunity. Many lawyers like the Lerach Coughlin Stoia Geller Rudman & Robbins partner find attractive the possibility of being featured on Sky Radio Network’s Forbes Radio Channel. The program has featured impressive names such as Alan Dershowitz, David Boies, Dan Webb and California Attorney General Bill Lockyer. But despite the appeal to lawyers’ egos, many in the marketing departments of big firms aren’t so enamored with the advertising opportunity. Not only do marketers question how many travelers listen to the programming, they also object to the producers’ sales techniques. “It’s frustrating from a marketing standpoint,” said John Buchanan, director of communications at Heller Ehrman. “[Producers] go to the attorneys, and the attorneys don’t have the bigger picture. They say, ‘You are one of the leading attorneys in the country.’ That is not actually accurate in some cases.” For Kathrein, it was seeing the names of some of his competitors that compelled him to agree to be interviewed. While Kathrein didn’t name any of these lawyers, the company’s Web site features prominently, for example, Melvyn Weiss, a partner with Milberg Weiss Bershad & Schulman. “I wanted to test it to see if it reached any audience,” said Kathrein. “It reached mostly lawyers, but that’s good in a sense. In this business, a lot of what you do is referrals and reputation.” Sky Radio Network producer Stephen Murphy said it costs about $5,900 for each attorney to go on the program. Some of the guests, such as Kathrein, enjoy discounts, and with 30 percent of the show paid for through corporate sponsorship, some of the biggest names don’t pay. For instance, Dershowitz, Boies, Webb and Lockyer didn’t pay to go on the show. Larry Konini, according to the show’s producers, did. “It is a pay-to-play model,” said Murphy. A typical package might offer a four-minute segment that would run for a month on American Airlines’ 29,000 worldwide audio-equipped flights and include a potential audience of up to 4.2 million monthly passengers. Other participating airlines include United, Delta, U.S. Airways, Northwest and America West. Murphy said he’s unsure of how many passengers listen. And that’s precisely the problem, say firm marketers, who believe movie offerings are more attractive to passengers. “I’m not convinced that the service is truly effective at reaching the intended audience,” said Paul Webb, firmwide communications director at Morgan, Lewis & Bockius. Several other firms whose lawyers have been featured on Sky Radio’s programming — among them Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman and Wilson Konini Goodrich & Rosati — said they have no further plans to “advertise” on the program. A couple of years ago, Joanne Doroshow, an attorney with the Center for Justice and Democracy, publicly criticized the program for not indicating that it featured paying guests. Murphy said he’s since added a short disclaimer on his Web site, inside the in-flight magazines, and he thinks — although he isn’t sure — at the beginning of each program. Doroshow, whose organization actually contacted the Federal Trade Commission over the disclaimer issue, said she thinks it still is misleading to listeners who believe they are hearing the country’s top lawyers, when in fact it is only those who agree to pay. “It’s a vanity piece,” concedes Kathrein. “I do think that it is so well done that everybody comes out pretty well. The interviewers are very good. They’ve got these deep voices.” Farella Braun & Martel partner James Bruen, who went on the program more than a year ago as a means of touting his environmental law practice, said the show’s exclusivity is indicative of its quality. While some firm marketing departments object to the lack of focus in the program’s target audience, Bruen liked the idea that he might be heard by postal workers, college students and grandmothers returning home after Thanksgiving. At Thelen Reid & Priest, Vice Chairman Michael Elkin tried the service after several of the firm’s lawyers were solicited. Although he found the interviewers to be professional and the program to be well executed, he doesn’t think he’ll repeat the experience. “I thought it was a good experience, and not too much of an expenditure of time or funds,” said Elkin. “But I didn’t think it was such a worthwhile adventure that I would have other lawyers do it.”

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