Sports Illustrated Features IJ Case

October 2007

Sports Illustrated
Features IJ Case

By Chip Mellor

Media coverage of IJ cases and events doesn’t just happen.  It comes from a carefully and consistently implemented approach applying proven techniques.  We personalize, humanize and dramatize every case to enable the media and the public to appreciate the importance of the principles we seek to vindicate in a particular case and how those principles affect countless others.

Like everything we do at IJ, this is a team effort with a great deal of preparation up front.  After the team drafts a mission statement that includes communication goals, members take action.  Attorneys write litigation backgrounders distilling the case for lay audiences.  Strategic communication objectives are crafted, op-eds are drafted and website designs are created.  We then launch the case with a news conference.  And that’s just the beginning.  The entrepreneurial approach that characterizes IJ translates into tenacious efforts to generate media interest and appreciation for each case.  That is why we are able to secure a high volume of media coverage.  And that is why it is not unusual for us to receive favorable treatment in marquee national media outlets.  Lawyers, communication staff, web designers and other team members are all expected to look for and create opportunities to generate coverage.

Our recent challenge to eminent domain abuse in National City, Calif., demonstrates how IJ succeeds in the court of public opinion.  We represent the Community Youth Athletic Center, a successful nonprofit boxing club for at-risk youth.  We announced our challenge with a news conference and rally outside the gym.  The media, both local and national, received a news release and a kit containing detailed, accessible background information, all written for reporters on a deadline.  IJ phoned all local media and targeted national media with personalized pitches explaining why their specific outlet should care about this case.  We wrote and placed an op-ed in the San Diego Union-Tribune explaining the importance of our fight.  We received a gratifying response. 

But we did not stop there.  As a key part of our strategy, we decided to pitch Sports Illustrated, which, it is safe to say, had never covered eminent domain before.  Vice President for Communications John Kramer pounded the phones trying to reach any of about a dozen editors at the magazine, knowing that it was crucial to secure a one-on-one opportunity to make a pitch and explain how special and important the story was.  Associate Editor Trisha Blackmar passed the story on to renowned sports columnist Rick Reilly, who in turn received our media kit and supplemental materials.  Reilly visited the gym and interviewed our clients.

In an effort to quash the story, however, National City’s mayor wrongly claimed to Reilly and other journalists that eminent domain hadn’t been threatened; the story seemed poised to slip away.  But IJ attorneys Dana Berliner and Jeff Rowes, along with Kramer, quickly responded to Reilly and the San Diego Union-Tribune editorial page providing letters sent by the city and the developer threatening the gym with ouster under the threat of eminent domain.  This took teamwork from our IJ team and our clients.  One misstep or false note would have destroyed everything.  Reilly stuck with the story, comfortable that there was a genuine conflict that had to be written about now.  The result was an inside back-cover feature that rightfully called the mayor’s credibility into question and underscored the importance of what our clients and IJ are trying to achieve.

The Sports Illustrated feature brought the fight against eminent domain to millions of readers previously unfamiliar with it.  We were grateful for the alacrity with which the author and the magazine covered the story.  But this is just the beginning of the coverage of National City and eminent domain.  Applying “The IJ Way” to our communications strategy will continue to yield exciting results.  Keep your eyes open and you’ll see favorable coverage of IJ and our clients in many more unexpected places.

Chip Mellor is IJ’s president and general counsel.


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