Getting featured or quoted in The Wall Street Journal can be a major coup for any lawyer whose practice intersects with the business world. With its reputation as the standard bearer of news for the financial community, the Journal has established itself as the leading news source for information about the markets, business developments and — most importantly for lawyers — the latest developments in corporate, M&A and securities law.
Getting that flashy mention in a Journal feature can do wonders for a law firm. For reputation-building, lawyers get to showcase their knowledge on the ins and outs of emerging business and market issues to the global swath of CEOs, board members, broker-dealers, funds and banking institutions that pore over the Journal’s pages every day.
For online marketing, one or more WSJ backlinks can do wonders for a firm’s SEO rankings, especially for uber-competitive keywords that CPC-centered law firms lurk around. Not to mention the nifty perk of having a Journal hedcut — which, like a Simpsons caricature, is the media world’s way of saying that a professional has arrived.
However, getting noticed by the Journal in the 2020s will be different and more challenging than in years past. The WSJ Law Blog, once a go-to outlet for pitching unique stories showcasing the vaunted and vile sides of Wall Street’s legal community, closed down in 2017. This unfortunate development now forces law firms to become more creative in pitching their newsworthy cases against ongoing developments.
Publicizing partner promotions, therefore, will not fly with the Journal. Not when Elon Musk’s latest shenanigans, rising inflation and supply chain issues could generate more eyeballs and increased advertising revenue. And, let’s not forget, updates about a wide-ranging pandemic that continues to hijack our lives and global economies.
We will not downplay this: getting the attention and interest of Journal editors will be difficult. A firm must have a long-term, ongoing strategy that focuses on nurturing relationships with relevant Journal contacts to have the best chance for success. A law firm must also establish itself as a reliable partner that offers compelling, newsworthy stories of interest rather than braggadocio-infused news releases.
Brent Kendall, the Journal’s legal bureau chief, recently offered some invaluable tidbits to law firm CMOs on how to best get the Journal’s attention with a legal story or development. Fortunately, a firm’s size and reputation do not matter in terms of coverage. Factors that do, however, range from how closely that firm’s outreach strategies cater to the interests of the Journal reporters to even when a firm or its PR agency sends out a pitch. Here are some steps firms can take now to increase their likelihood of receiving a feature or quote opportunity in the WSJ.
Pitch early in the day
Timing is everything for a fast-moving publication such as The Wall Street Journal. Kendall noted that law firms should ideally send their press releases and announcements earlier in the day’s news cycle to ensure he and the other reporters on their team have enough time to review and consider them for further follow-up.
Suppose a law firm or marketing officer is not ready to send out essential news until late afternoon or evening. In that case, it will likely get lost in the shuffle as he and other reporters in the Journal’s law bureau are trying to meet impending deadlines.
Focus on interesting stories
The Journal does not care if it reviews a pitch from an Am Law 100 marketing department or a scrappy group of lawyers trying a groundbreaking case. Kendall and his team at the WSJ’s Law Bureau subscribe to the following mantra: commit to good stories that make an impact. Therefore, the content of a story a firm pitches is far more important than the lawyers, clients and firms involved.
When reviewing a firm’s matter for pitch potential, focus on how the story will impact the Journal’s audience of business readers, if it has a human interest element, and whether it involves an oft-covered publicly traded or private company. Suppose a firm’s case resulted in a record arbitration award or addresses legal issues that have the potential to upend how business professionals conduct business and operate. In that case, it could be worthy of a Journal story — or at least a source quote from an attorney.
Kendall said that the most successful pitches tick multiple boxes for their business and general-audience readers, specifically by addressing cases and engagements with important business implications, industry applications and facts and angles that appeal to the Journal’s readership.
Be flexible in how to make lawyers available for comment
While Kendall confirmed that email works best for pitching story ideas, he recommends that law firms adjust their pitching strategies depending on the nature of the story or deadline involved. If Kendall is working on a story that is breaking or requires a tight turnaround — such as a breaking ruling or Supreme Court decision — he prefers to receive an attorney’s contact information and availability from the top instead of a chain of introductory and scheduling emails.
Law firms, therefore, should work with their PR agencies to ensure that any source pitches related to breaking stories are short, to the point, and contain a lawyer’s contact information and availability. “As with anybody, reporters just don’t want to feel like they’re being micromanaged,” Kendall said.
Build up law firm Twitter feeds
Although LinkedIn is the social media network where most lawyers and professionals hang out, Twitter is a great place to get noticed by the WSJ. Kendall told attendees that if they curate their Twitter feeds right, there’s a good chance he or his colleagues would follow it. He admitted that he follows many legal subject matter experts on Twitter and follows outlets such as Law360, Bloomberg Law, National Law Journal and Reuters. Kendall mentioned that he would hop on at least once or twice a day to scroll through updates and do database alerts for updates.
Consider how a law firm fits within ongoing legal industry trends
Kendall mentioned that the Law Bureau would likely not cover partnership elections, associate elevations or other firm-appointment news. This nugget does not mean that a law firm’s news releases will end up in the WSJ’s junk folder. Even though the WSJ will not necessarily overlook the everyday partnership election release, Kendall mentioned that he is more interested in running stories on trends in the legal community.
The types of law firm activities that could prompt a WSJ story are typically developments that happened at a law firm that plays into a new trend, but do not necessarily carry a story idea on its own. In other words, while the WSJ will likely not run an article focused on a single firm’s DEI initiative, it could highlight it as one of many examples of DEI initiatives across law firms nationwide. Kendall, however, dismissed the notion that the WSJ would run with a partnership or associate announcement — unless it entailed unusual circumstances.
Find ways to build up the expertise of specific lawyers
Kendall mentioned that the most common way law firms get mentioned in the Journal is through source quotes in articles. Some of his best interactions with firms have revolved around interesting cases that could create judicial precedents or lead to split precedent in lower courts and appellate circuits across the country.
He said the WSJ’s Law Bureau is always interested in contacting attorneys who have relevant experience, have served in important positions, and can offer expertise and interesting tidbits for the Journal’s readers. Therefore, a lawyer’s path to the Journal may involve side routes into other publications, social media, podcasts and speaking engagements, which can all prop up third-party validation around a lawyer’s experience and knowledge of particular law-related topics.
Events can be helpful draws, so long as they are in person
Even though the pandemic has caused many firms to shy away from in-person events, hosting one can be a good option for firms looking to attract editors and reporters from The Wall Street Journal’s Law Bureau. Kendall noted that for him, events tend to be “more fun in person” than over Zoom, and that Zoom events entail a more challenging format than their in-person counterparts.
If a law firm were to pitch an event, it would likely need to feature high-profile panelists and sought-after potential sources to make it worth a WSJ editor or journalist’s time. Kendall stressed that journalists today are strapped for time, giving them fewer hours in the day to step out and attend events.
While the road to a Wall Street Journal mention will be challenging, the WSJ’s reputational benefits can make this process worthwhile. By offering intriguing cases and deep expertise, law firms can work with the WSJ to make their lawyers invaluable to the Journal’s reporters and readers — and, in turn, go-to resources for prospective clients.
As always, if you have any questions about pitching strategies and publications such as The Wall Street Journal, feel free to reach out! Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 904-374-5733.