April 14, 2015 by Androvett Legal Media & Marketing at 10:00:00 am
After 30 years as a journalist and more than a decade reporting on the legal profession and high-profile trials for the Houston Chronicle, Mary Flood has a distinct perspective on how lawyers and the news media interact. We asked her about her transition from journalism to PR.
You covered hundreds of trials as a journalist – notably several Enron-related trials – but is there another lesser-known trial experience that has stuck with you over the years?
The fact that I was in trial a few times when I practiced law is my least known courthouse experience. As a reporter, you worry that readers won’t understand what happened if you aren’t good enough. As a lawyer, you worry that your client’s life could be significantly altered if you aren’t good enough. Now I go to court with lawyers and their high-profile clients to work with the media. Now I worry about it all.
What is the biggest misperception lawyers have about reporters that you wish you could change?
Lawyers sometimes think reporters have an agenda other than to try to explain what’s going on fairly, accurately and quickly. Sure, a few reporters have an agenda. But most just want to get it right in whatever small amount of time and space they have. Reporters usually need something quick, clear and preferably colorfully explained. The lawyerly instinct is the opposite. Trial lawyers are the easiest to train because communicating with journalists is a bit like talking to juries.
What makes for a fulfilling experience in working with your clients?
I love knowing I’ve really helped a client, whether it is publicizing a firm generally; helping a client understand how the media will cover a high-profile case; or developing a marketing message that resonates. When I left 30 years of journalism behind me, I was worried about feeling fulfilled in my new role. But in this job, I use even more of what I’ve learned over the years to help our clients, whether that means being a lawyer, writer, investigator or someone who brings a creative point of view.
What are some of the positive things you see law firms doing to better position themselves from a business development perspective?
The best thing a lawyer or a firm can do is realize they are a business, and they need to compete in a marketplace where word of mouth doesn’t always cut it. I have a boutique client I love working with. The lawyers there don’t shy away from PR or marketing, which has helped them triple in size in the last few years. They deserve the burgeoning reputation they have gained. But you can’t get that even by winning cases if no one knows it happened.
What’s one thing that people don’t know about you?
I come from a whistling family. My older brother (who holds a Ph.D. in economics) can even whistle and hum at the same time. I have tried to carry on the tradition by whistling Happy Birthday to a few folks. The older I get, the more notes go off key. Smartphones have been a blessing to my friends. I can send the whistle attached to an email and they don’t have to listen if they don’t want to.
Are you really the Olivia Pope of Houston?
Nope. It was very nice of the local ABC station to characterize me that way and for lawyer Rusty Hardin, who I respect immensely, to suggest it. I do know something about working with the media in a crisis. As a reporter, I saw the best and the worst and I’ve been able to build on that. But the fabulous Olivia has a wardrobe worth more than my home, a lover who lives in the White House and a subordinate who kills and maims. Me, not so much.
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