Anyone can threaten to file a lawsuit against anyone else. The threat, which could be nothing more than a few moments of bluster, really isn't news.
But the actual legal action--now that's a potential story, depending on the parties involved and the details of the suit. At least, that's what I was taught early in my journalism career.
Just because that's how many journalists operate, though, doesn't mean publicists and marketers shouldn't take a shot at securing media attention with the mere mention of "plans" or "hopes" to do something.
Let's be honest: it's considerably less burdensome and time-consuming to talk the talk than to walk the walk. When I venture to a sports club client of mine, I can pledge that I'll actually get in a workout. But when I arrive, it's a lot less taxing to interview a member or take photographs of a tennis instructor for a news release.
Likewise, floating a "could be" story is a much simpler matter than the blood, sweat and tears required of a "for sure" pursuit.
So if you're ever looking to run something up the proverbial flagpole, either as a trial balloon to gauge interest or as a way of attracting publicity on the cheap, threatening legal action is one area in which it's worth taking a shot. Here are two other prominent categories to consider trying:
Political prospects: Let's say you are thinking about running for mayor. Let's further note that you are not sure which way the political winds are blowing and don't want to go to the trouble, just yet, of forming a campaign team or collecting all the signatures to actually get on the ballot.
If this sounds like you, then try wrangling press by mentioning to a reporter who covers the local political scene that you "haven't ruled out" a bid for office. Just be prepared to elaborate on that noncommittal hedging with some of the factors that you will be weighing as you come to a decision.
Business expansion: You have an enterprise of some kind and are looking to move into a new neck of the woods. Doing so would come at no small cost, of course. But it doesn't cost a penny to express some level of interest, and it may well help boost sales at your current location or locations.
Last month, Tom & Eddie's, a past client, benefited from that kind of publicity in a blog for one of the foremost business publications in the Midwest, Crain's Chicago Business. In her post, Tom & Eddie's sets sights on Chicago, Lorene Yue noted that the restaurant's namesakes, Tom Dentice and Ed Rensi, "were looking at sites this month within city limits."
Now, I'm an unabashed fan of Tom & Eddie's. I hope they open a Chicago location, and one in my own neighborhood, and in as many other communities as possible. But as Dentice and Rensi would be the first to attest, there is a distance to be traveled from looking to cooking.
This raises one other relevant factor: the credibility and stature of those involved in a "could be" article.
There are no paparazzi hounding Peter Scolari. But his co-star on the early 1980s sitcom "Bosom Buddies"? When Tom Hanks sneezes, a photographer is likely around to offer a Kleenex.
If an ordinary citizen with no public profile threatens to sue the mayor over rising water and sewer rates, that's one thing. But if that same mayor declares the village is thinking of suing a local civic organization for conducting unauthorized raffles? Get out the notebook and see if there's something that can be bumped from the front page.
And so it is with Tom & Eddie's mention in Crain's. This type of speculative exposure would not have been accorded an upstart with one small suburban burger joint and no prominent industry history.
By contrast, Tom Dentice and Ed Rensi have paid their newsworthy dues along the way: both are prominent former McDonald's executives, plus they have a two-year track record of expansion beyond the original Tom & Eddie's location to four other suburban Chicago locations.
The principle is simple: when you let those trial balloons ascend skyward, the more you have done, the more attention you command.