It’s that time of year again, when beach bags go in the closet and backpacks come out. Flip-flops are stored away while new shoes come out of their boxes to be broken in. The ads for the Jersey Shore have disappeared. Replacing them are ones for Old Navy. Yes, it’s back-to-school season. But it doesn’t just have to be a time of wonderment and curiosity for students; it can also be a time when you as an attorney with communications responsibilities for your firm or organization can get geared up to learn new things. So what’s new in the communications and media realm this school year? Here are a few lessons that I see emerging this year. Sharpen your pencils. Let’s begin.
The first and probably biggest lesson is that communication is becoming almost exclusively two-way (or more). You can’t turn on the news or even get through the credits of your favorite television shows without being invited to follow along or respond in real-time on Twitter with other fans, viewers or even the cast in many cases. Check out the bottom of the screen when watching your preferred cable news network and you’ll witness updates, opinions, viewer feedback and more scrolling across.
The goal for the station, show, network or other medium is to deepen its engagement with you—the audience. If you are engaged, you become more immersed and stick around longer without turning the dial. Who likes this besides you? Advertisers, because you’ll stick around longer if you are engaged and be less likely to turn their commercials off.
You can use this lesson in your own practices, too. For example, when communicating internally, whether with clients or others, you could have a mechanism for them to engage beyond simply responding, such as adding a link to a survey with a chance to win or gain something, or if you’re in the service industry, giving a discount for liking your company on Facebook.
Our second lesson comes from the subject of social studies. This year we’ll become even more social. It’s not enough having Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram accounts anymore. As these platforms become easier to use, navigate and embed in our daily communications rituals, attorneys, firms and other businesses are now better realizing the value of engaging their audiences here too, especially through mobile devices. Are you as the new business development associate making sure that you can be reached in all the different ways that people care to communicate? That means small things like having an email signature listing your social media URLs and handles, as well as recognition that for some the good old-fashioned telephone remains their number one mode of communication.
Third is our English lesson. We’re increasingly becoming our own reporters and editors. The days are past when we could count on traditional media, such as newspapers and radio stations, to publish or broadcast our firm news or executive hires. Now, we craft and tailor our own news briefs and post them on niche legal and business websites with the hope that our target audiences see them. And to make sure, we need to repurpose them in a Constant Contact-like email message and blast. But don’t mistake this lesson for the pending death of our fourth subject: journalism.
While traditional broadcast television and newspaper newsrooms are continuing to shrink head count, this hasn’t translated into a commensurate decrease in opportunities for garnering media coverage for your newsworthy stories. But the threshold for having the media cover your news has gotten higher.
Get out your No. 2 pencils here. If you can’t check off the following criteria then you’ll likely not graduate from the previous lesson:
Is your news or story idea relatable to the outlet’s audience? Is it within their coverage area and focus? Does it have a good or new hook to something going on in the larger world or to something currently in the news? And can your story be covered in a 30-second sound bite or two newspaper columns—i.e., is it brief? If you checked these boxes off, then you’ve got a good shot for seeing or listening to your story out there.
A related journalism lesson, and one especially germane to attorneys, is that as newsrooms shrink, there are more openings for outside experts to contribute to programming. Depending on the format of the news shows, subject-matter experts such as legal, medical and financial experts will have more opportunities to comment on and analyze the day’s news.
Our final lesson falls under the category of computer science (and more). You are always on. And you can constantly be judged and sometimes besmirched. As people go online in greater numbers to get their news and find information, you and your organization’s reputation will regularly be up for judgment in the court of public opinion. This will necessitate more resources (technology and human) going toward monitoring the online landscape, including the blogosphere, the comments sections behind online news articles and mentions on social media so that you can respond when necessary or prudent and keep a strong handle on your most precious professional asset—your reputation.
Jeff Jubelirer is vice president of Bellevue Communications Group. He leads the development and execution of his clients’ strategic communications programs, including media relations, issue and crisis management and community relations. He also is an adjunct professor in crisis communication at Temple University.