3 Lessons Learned from a “Superhero” Who Isn’t So Super

Attorney Jordan Margolis thought he’d come up with a great gimmick that would help his reputation, but it ended up becoming a sad joke when he got into serious trouble. superhero

Steve Schmadeke described in the Chicago Tribune how Margolis created a book about a comic superhero called “Excuseman.” He even donned a cape to look like Excuseman, as he claimed to get “those who mess up to ‘fess up’.” His publicity plan included online videos featuring his character, and he seemed to be building something that people would remember. However, he ended up losing everything when he was indicted for stealing over one million dollars from his clients.

At least his situation isn’t totally useless, because his downfall provides business owners with these three publicity takeaways:

1 – Promote a respectable hobby. Margolis’ character was quite silly, and it made him look much worse when he was charged with 36 felony counts. Schmadeke says Margolis wants to be a screenwriter, and even if he does succeed at that new profession, people will see negative stories connected with his name. Business owners should get involved in projects that enhance their professional reputation rather than detract from it.

2 – Harmful actions will catch up with you. What Margolis did was illegal, and an online search for his name results in very few positive stories. However, you don’t have to be indicted to get bad publicity online. For instance, if your clients are dissatisfied, they can post bad reviews on the Internet. Then an online search for your name will bring those reviews to the top of the search results.

3 – Be proactive. To prevent potentially bad reviews from prominently showing up, set up social media accounts and consider a monitoring tool (Social Mention is free). Make sure your website is updated, and post consistently to your blog. You can also claim your business on Google maps. In addition to posting your own articles or helpful links on your personal LinkedIn account, create business LinkedIn and Facebook pages as well. It is also beneficial to position yourself as an expert by contributing to trade publications (which are usually posted online) or participating in seminars and workshops (your name will probably show up online for those, too).

Overall, business owners should think before they act, and be aware of how they are affecting people around them because anything about you can be posted online.

A version of this blog post first appeared at the Law Firm Consultants Network of Chicago.

10 Ways You Can Celebrate the Pro-Life Movement’s First Legislative Victory

In 1976, Republican Congressman Henry Hyde of Illinois successfully barred the use of federal Henry Hydefunds to pay for abortion in most circumstances, and the 40th anniversary of the passage of the Hyde Amendment was on September 30th.

Here are 5 ways that life advocacy groups can use the opportunity to build awareness about the law:

  • Host an informal Hyde-themed coffee, brunch, or dinner for board members or core volunteers.
  • Create a series of social media posts for the anniversary week, including quotes by Hyde or facts about the Amendment’s impact.
  • Submit an op-ed piece to a local media outlet.
  • Add Henry Hyde’s book, Catch the Burning Flag: Speeches and Random Observations, to your staff’s reading list and consider gifting a copy to a local library.
  • Gather outside an abortion clinic and sing spiritual songs, pray, and read aloud Henry Hyde’s Plea to Override President Clinton’s Veto of the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban (taken from the Congressional Record, September 19, 1996) – text found here.

And here are 5 ways organizations can use the opportunity to remember important landmarks and events:

  • The founding date of the organization or birthday of its original organizer
  • Anniversary of a group success, such as the closing of a local abortion facility
  • A somber recognition of a heinous incident, such as a death via a botched abortion, or an annual memorial for all local victims
  • Recognition of a particular accomplishment, such as largest protest or longest vigil
  • Local events, practices, or traditions that celebrate life

When Horsing Around Works


Public relations solutions can be simple. Reporter Chris Lusvardi illustrated this point in the Herald & Review newspaper when he described how a man used a low-tech mode of transportation to get to a courthouse in Decatur: he rode a horse.

Attorneys can take away three principles from this man’s resourcefulness (which ended up getting lots of publicity).

1 – Technology is not always necessary. Lawyers assume that they have to use all kinds of digital tools to get publicity for a case or attention for their clients. However, sometimes a situation doesn’t require any technology at all. One way to be simply proactive is to thank a colleague or client with a handwritten note. A notecard with a message written by pen (instead of a computer) stands out and shows others your concern because you took the time to create something more personal.

2 – Show more than tell. The man rode the horse to the courthouse because his license was suspended, and no one was available to drive him to court. Even without that explanation, just the image of him with the horse spoke for itself, and was easily shared throughout social and broadcast media. Attorneys can also think about how to use images to get attention for their cases. One example is a police surveillance video connected to a court case that can be made available at a firm’s website for the media and public to access.

3 – Think beyond the story. The man’s solution to his transportation problem got him attention, but it also helped his reputation. Chris Lusvardi reported that “an investigator with the Macon County Public Defender’s Office” said that what the man did was inspirational. The investigator also said “It can be a lesson…Some guys can’t seem to make it, and they live two blocks away.” So the next time you create a publicity plan, look at the possibilities beyond your immediate tactics. Whatever you decide, think about how it’s affecting your reputation.

A version of this blog post first appeared at the Law Firm Consultants Network of Chicago.

A Publicity Crash Course

You shouldn’t have to wait for a public relations crisis to create an effective publicity plan. You can develop a successful public relations strategy anytime, even when there doesn’t seem to be any breaking news. Here’s a “crash course” of four tips you can start working on right now: crash course

1 – Ask yourself these three questions:

  • What are newsworthy items at my company (such as promotions and new hires, recent product developments, survey results, volunteer projects)?
  • In what areas is my business the most trusted?
  • At my company, who is the best source for the media?

2 – Be an expert.

Let journalists know what issues you can comment on, and give them some helpful information such as links to resources, articles, and even other people who can help expand their knowledge.

When you want to offer a media professional insight on a topic that is developing, you can send an email such as this:

I saw your article about [insert topic]. I actually have experience with such a situation because I do [specify your specialty]. If you need further information or would like to include some comments about it, please contact me at the email address or phone number below. I also know someone who has experience with [something relevant], and I can give you their contact information as well.

3 – Press releases aren’t always the only solution.

Some people spend a lot of time on a press release and send it out to several contacts, assuming the media will automatically respond. If your press release sounds like you’re trying to sell something instead of communicating a story, they probably won’t be interested. A press release should have useful, concrete information about a relevant topic, especially one that is connected to current trends. Basically, press releases should fit with other parts of your publicity plan (such as social media, articles, videos) instead of being the only trick in your bag.

4 – Create your own content.

I touched upon this above–you should write articles for publications or websites that relate to your area of expertise. You should also look for outlets where your potential clients “hang out.” On your website, offer useful information that people can read or download. For instance, you could provide advice for common issues, or offer a “how to” guide that people can save as a PDF. If you’re using social media, share links to articles that you or others have written, which can help your current and potential clients.

In today’s diversified media climate, it’s important to think creatively to stay top-of-mind, whether events seem major or minor. After all, public relations is no longer about sending out a press release or holding a press conference. It’s about how you can communicate your message most effectively on a variety of platforms.

A version of this blog post first appeared at the Law Firm Consultants Network of Chicago.

Lawyers Measure Their Words (and Need To Also Measure Public Relations Efforts)

measuring-your-pr-successIn the Washington Post, it was reported that social media is no longer a fad in the legal industry. The story referred to a study that found “about 40 percent [of law firms] said blogging and social networking initiatives have helped the firm land new work.” Recently, a study at the American Bar Association revealed more than 60% of large firms surveyed have a blog and use social media such as LinkedIn.

With all that social media use, in addition to getting press coverage in more traditional media outlets, it can seem challenging to measure how well your publicity plan is doing. Here are tips to help you get started:

The biggest. It’s helpful to break down the kind of coverage that you are measuring. There are three categories: owned media, earned media, and paid media. “Owned” is content that you produce on your website and blogs, in your newsletters, and on your social media channels. “Earned” media is what others say about you, whether it’s through comments on other websites or social media, or what is printed or broadcast by journalists. “Paid” media is money you spend on advertising. Continue reading

Attorneys Can Break Through a Crisis with Effective Communications

crisis-communicationAre you ready for a crisis? Even if you think you’ve done nothing controversial, serious allegations or a lawsuit leaked to the media can put you or on the defensive. It might not matter if you are innocent, the negative publicity along the way might ruin your reputation.

In one example, Lumber Liquidators went to court to respond to an investor class action lawsuit. The company said the plaintiffs’ complaint is based on negative publicity. Even if the company is correct, its name has been tarnished. Lumber Liquidators has had to deal with government investigations and more litigation after “60 Minutes” broadcast a story about its products. Increasing problems have forced the company to respond in the media, as well as the courtroom.

Even if you’re in the safe zone now, you should create a crisis communication plan including:

1 – Assessment. Look at your current cases and clients to see if there are any potential problems, and think about what could happen as a result of a crisis. Develop a “scenario” plan to assess how your case could become harmful or controversial.

2 – Team. Choose someone to be a dedicated spokesperson if a problem occurs. Your team can include your firm’s partner, a communications expert, outside counsel, and anyone who is close to the issues.

3 – Audience. Think about who would be affected or concerned about a crisis related to your firm or a client. Your audience is internal and external, and includes employees, government agencies, vendors and suppliers, clients, and the media.

4 – Website. A part of your website should have a section that is not public, which can go live during a crisis when you need to communicate with the public. Sections could include statements, links, special contact information, and relevant court documents.

5 – Media contacts. Have a list ready of business and legal media outlets, including “traditional” and digital ones (such as prominent bloggers or social media influencers) that have already covered your case, or will probably cover it. Relationships should be established before the crisis hits, so think of ways to productively communicate with journalists.

6 – Personal inventory. Not all crises are related to cases. They could just be about individuals in your firm, or your own life. Make sure that people’s social media accounts and blog posts are free of any embarrassing, divisive, or controversial content.

Media is more fragmented than ever before, so be aware of the messages about you and your firm. By using Google Alerts and other monitoring tools, you can be ‘proactive in your messaging.

Liability for Lawyers on Social Media

social-media-liability-for-lawyersSocial media can be a liability for attorneys. Yet, many have yet to master the rules to stay out of trouble.

Using social media in a legal setting is a serious issue that it is being researched. A study was conducted titled “Ensuring an Impartial Jury in the Age of Social Media” for the Duke Law & Technology Review. The research provided examples of juror misconduct and discovered that the jurors surveyed take social media instruction seriously. Out of 140 jurors, “only six jurors reported any temptation to communicate about the case through social media.”

To prevent a mistrial or prejudice, the court has to make sure that there are specific social media instructions given to the jurors. Also, attorneys need to be aware of how social media affects the fairness of a trial. Here are 5 things to keep in mind:

1 – Facebook. The company’s website  says there are more than 900 million daily active users. Posts can be quickly shared and “liked.” Smart phones make it easy for jurors to take photos and videos, and post them on social media sites. Continue reading

Watch the News Disappear Before Your Eyes

watch-faceRecently, Gene Marks wrote in Forbes about “Why The Apple Watch Debut Is Worse For Apple Than Glass Was For Google,” saying that sales are down and people haven’t found the need to use it.

There’s something else about the Apple Watch that is troubling. Shortly after it debuted, the New York Times announced that it was going to create “one-sentence stories” for the watch. Those stories sound advanced and useful, especially on the small screen. However, it seems like it’s simplifying, even dumbing down content.

What has happened to established media outlets? They’re becoming tweets in places that aren’t even near Twitter. Of course, when newspapers only came in the form of paper that we could physically hold, those were the only places where we could read articles and Continue reading

Building an Attorney’s Reputation

reputationResearch from Gallup puts into question the credibility and ethical standards of lawyers. In one of their recent surveys, attorneys ranked just three positions above car salespeople in honesty/ethics. This demonstrates why it’s important for attorneys to manage their reputations so that people who look at them will positively differentiate them from the crowd.

Here are ways to do that:

1 – Clarify in your mind your audience. Before you embark on a publicity plan, decide who you want to communicate with: consumers, businesses, or other attorneys to help with referrals. Then decide what is the best way to reach them. It could be through traditional media, such as Law360, or an industry publication, which covers a concentration such as commercial real estate.

2 – “Small” is the eventual “big”. Some attorneys assume that if they want to build a solid reputation, they have to get major media coverage. It could help, or hurt. For instance, if you are working on a case that a national TV show wants you to comment about, but you have had no media training, you could make mistakes, which could jeopardize not only your reputation but your client’s as well. After you’ve gotten media training, it’s better to start out small, either with a local website, a local newspaper, or even a trade publication. That way, you’ll get used to crafting an effective message and be able to set your boundaries. Continue reading

Money Can’t Buy Off a Curse

curseIt seems like all the money in the world can’t buy good publicity. In Forbes, Agustino Fontevecchia did a round-up of infamous highlights from the lives of the Getty family in “The Great Getty Curse.”

Paul Getty was at one time the richest man in the world, so it seems with that success would come many other blessings. However, his sons had broken marriages, a grandson was kidnapped and addicted to drugs, and another grandson was found dead this year in a pool of blood. Fontevecchia also wrote a longer article about the Getty Family, “A cautionary tale.” He starts with J. Paul’s life, which had lots of romantic drama. So it seems the family has dealt with major controversies for generations, and probably will continue to feed the gossip mill for many years to come. Continue reading