A picture can tell a thousand words
There were plenty of raised eyebrows when The Artist was named as the big winner at this year's glittering Oscars ceremony.
How can a silent movie be such a hit with the film hierarchy when not a word is spoken throughout, was a question on many people's lips.
The golden age of silent film back in the early part of the 1900s saw phenomenal success. The Birth of a Nation, made in 1915, grossed $10m at the US box office, while Ben-Hur made in 1925 made $5.5m and The Ten Commandments in 1923 earned $3.4m. Ben-Hur, incidentally is the second most expensive silent film ever made at $3.9m – second only to the new multi Oscar-winning The Artist which cost $15m and has already taken more than a whopping $100m at the box office.
Admittedly, back in the early 1900s, cinema and moving pictures was a revolutionary new concept and obviously drew huge crowds. But surely the interest would have dwindled after a while of sitting in front of a large screen, watching grainy pictures?
Far from it. But what made the silent films so successful? Answer: the cinematography, the pictures and the action which made them so enthralling, so exciting, so entertaining; to ensure that words are not necessary.
With that in mind, when you are looking at putting out a news release to the Press, think photographic. Is there a photo possibility that could help to bring the words on your news release to life?
They say that a picture can tell a thousand words. There is, without question, a lot of truth in that adage. I am sure News Editors would much rather see a great, well-defined interesting photo to back up a 200-word news release, rather than just a 500-word release.
Great photos help to bring pages of news publications to life. Obviously there will be occasions when not all press releases have the potential for a photo; but always have it at the back of your mind.
Newspapers are always looking for great photos to go on their "show pages" – the right-handers – and I am sure there have been occasions, if you think back, when you've done press releases which really could have done with a picture. If you can afford to hire a professional photographer to help – so much the better; but if you can't – always put at the foot of your news release that "photo opportunities" are available if required. Remember if you can't see a photo opportunity to go with a news release, a News Editor or reporter might. A picture tells a thousands words… as The Artist has proved… sometimes… silence is golden.
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Clients aren't the only people law firms need to communicate better with
This week the Legal Ombudsman's report came out saying that law firms need to treat their clients as customers and communicate better with them over pricing. We shouldn't forget that there are other stakeholders that law firms need to make relationships with to grow their businesses too - and that is the media.
In my own relationship building with journalist contacts up and down the country I often ask them what makes News Editors and reporters "tick" when it comes to press releases landing in their e-mail inbox from law firms or the public relations firms they instruct.
The overwhelming response I receive is that the news releases have to be, strangely enough(!), newsworthy! They tell me that they get so angry and frustrated when they get endless press releases from PR firms and law firms which are just utterly boring, devoid of news value and pure advertising.
One reporter told me that he had received a press release about a chap who runs an oven cleaning business and saying that Spring was the best time to clean your oven! Newsworthy....sadly not, although I hasten to add I’ve got nothing against people who run oven cleaning businesses. I'm sure if you wanted to read about the art of cleaning your oven you could go into "google" or there might even be a specific oven cleaning magazine? Who knows, but one thing I do know... is that oven cleaning does not make News Editors or reporters "tick". He also gave me plenty of examples of law firm related releases which ranged from focussing on their office opening times to listing the services they provide.
And what makes journalists even more angry is when they receive similar irrelevant and boring news releases from the same PR firm about the same company or from the company itself. You might be working for the best law firm there is to work for, but if you are unwittingly aggravating the media with poorly conceived and poorly written news releases, you won’t be enhancing your company’s reputation.
That ethos should be taken on board by all firms and the PR companies they use: ensure that what is going out in your company name is newsworthy/interesting.
The same reporter who told me about the dull oven cleaning shenanigans also told me that he, for example, takes more notice of a news release which is well-written.
He said that young trainee reporters seem to be told these days they have to re-write every press release which lands on their desk. That is not so, in his opinion; if the press release is perfectly well written in the first place, why change it?
He said there is no doubt that he subconsciously takes more notice of the e-mails which arrive from the PR companies who he knows will produce the goods with well-written copy. And he also admitted that the e-mails from the PR companies who he knows will not produce good, clean, crispy copy, don't immediately get opened.
You know what I'm going to say next… my own sales pitch… but this is not a press release… if you want your firm to get noticed in the media for the right reasons… drop me a line!
Customers want communication
This week the Legal Ombudsman's report on complaints made a point of highlighting customer concerns about the transparency of costs.
Many felt charges and fees were not clear, or higher than expected.
There is something to be said for the Ombudsman's point that lawyers need to treat clients as customers.
However, there is a spectrum on this. Consumers of legal services are not like consumers of supermarket goods, or the latest fashion. Those customers go to the shops with a clear idea of what they want. Often, with legal services, the customer (let's call them that to keep LeO happy) doesn't necessarily know what they want or need.
Take will writing. A customer decides they want a will, maybe even shops around and gets an idea of price. However, once they have chosen their solicitor it emerges that they in fact have a very complex estate which requires considerably more work from their solicitor and therefore the cost is more than the customer expected. Does this make the solicitor bad at customer care?
At the other end of the spectrum, clearly some solicitors have failed to explain that the more complex the work, the more money it will cost, and in those cases there is a clear communication breakdown, which no customer or client of any service should put up with.
It is perhaps this inability to clearly price-label the services of a law firm that has led to few firms and few consumers using comparison websites for legal services, as the Legal Services Consumer Panel's recent study found. However, I don't buy the LSCP's line that alternative business structures (ABSs) will change all of that. It will be equally possible for an ABS to hand a bill to a customer which is higher than the customer expected.
There is clearly a middle ground in the customer-lawyer spectrum on pricing. I am not convinced that price - the lowest price - is the most important factor when people choose a lawyer. Many will act on a recommendation, seek accreditations or even base it on a previous experience. However, solicitors shouldn't bank on that. There still needs to be a clearly communicated message on pricing.
If a firm is not going to offer a fixed fee "no matter what" approach, clearly explaining not only the possible change in the price from the outset, but also highlighting your firm's qualities, will go a long way. Transparency on price is an opportunity for a firm to clearly spell out why they charge a particular fee structure - because they are good at what they do - and their brand deserves it.
Customers appreciate honesty on pricing, and resent being kept in the dark, as LeO's report shows. The concept of a client goes well beyond simply relying on professional advice. Do you want your business to work because you attract consumers who buy because you happen to have the good or service they need, or do you want to attract someone who relies on your professional advice and guidance? Or is it both?
Legal consumers are sophisticated. They have complex needs and not a shopping list… one thing is for sure: full and open communication is priceless.