Law Firm Budgeting for PR and Communications
A look at the numbers behind how law firms budget for PR and communications activities today.
By: Ryan King and Cheryl Bame
Just in time for budgeting season, LMA’s Public Relations SIG is releasing the results of its first survey that asks the question: How much do firms invest in public relations and communications activities?
Responses from LMA members and other communication professionals shows us that while overall budgets vary across firms, PR remains a top priority.
The corresponding infographic provides a brief snapshot of the results. (Shout out to James Crissman for producing the infographic.)
A look at the respondents shows that 96 percent are in-house. More than 50 percent of respondents come from firms with fewer than 100 attorneys; while 27 percent of respondents from firms with 100–499 attorneys; and 18 percent with firms that have more than 500 attorneys.
Overall, two-thirds (67 percent) say they have a PR department or dedicated in-house PR/communications personnel. Looking deeper into this statistic, internal staffing appears woefully inadequate given the abilities of today’s legal PR professional. Nearly half (49 percent) of respondents said they only have one person handling PR. About a third said the PR team is between two to five people. For most of us, five or more people is a dream.
If nearly half of survey respondents (49 percent) said their firm uses an outside agency to conduct PR related activities, it raises the question: What's the other half doing? Is it that those firms handle the work internally? Might these be smaller firms? Or, at worst, does the firm not value or understand how PR can positively impact revenue?
In addition, 16 percent of respondents said that not only does their firm use an agency, but that it relies on it exclusively. For these firms, we wonder how many have an internal PR resource. Could it be that an agency reports into marketing or business development? It’s possible, but obviously more valuable if the agency works hand-in-hand with an internal PR person or team. More importantly, it’s a positive sign pointing to firms understanding and wanting PR because they are willing to spend over other initiatives. Unfortunately—or perhaps wisely—respondents declined to say how much they spend on a variety of activities.
Nine percent of respondents spend more than $250,000 annually; with another 9 percent spending between $100,000 and $250,000. A combined 15 percent said they spend between $50,000 and 100,000. About a fifth of respondents have budgets that are less than $50,000, with 44 percent saying N/A. We read this to say survey respondents are either holding this information very close to the vest, or, as is more likely, they do not have a dedicated budget for PR programs and activities outside of salary and benefits for those serving in an in-house role.
Prioritizing the PR Role
Firms historically have set marketing budgets at 2–3 percent of revenue. Assuming this allocation is for a range of traditional marketing activities, budgets for PR appear to be modest, save for those who allocate any amount north of six figures. Respondents indicated that they are least likely to hire an agency or outside consultant for social media strategy and related activities. It’s also very unlikely that firms will use agencies for their recognitions/accolades. Instead, firms were most likely to hire a PR agency for media outreach and crisis communications, which is not surprising since these skills are always in demand.
Overall, when it comes to PR, law firms have a long way to go. However, we’re optimistic law firms will continue to recognize the value of PR and invest in the resources necessary to make it a successful endeavor.
We’d like to hear your thoughts on this survey, especially if you think the scope of work firms are paying for is aligned with what PR pros offer. After all, general counsel is demanding firms provide more value for the dollar, so consider whether those scopes of work identified in the survey deliver the most value or represent the best use of time.
Share your thoughts in the comments section below or drop us a note. Our contact information is below.
Ryan King and Cheryl Bame are the co-chairs of LMA’s Public Relations Shared Interest Group, a resource for professionals who fulfill the public relations and communications duties within or for law firms.
Cheryl is widely recognized for her innovative work with law firms. After a decade in the broadcast news business, Cheryl has spent the last 15 years implementing communications programs that involve media relations, social media, networking and speaking engagements, and other professional reputations strategies. A frequent blogger at The Legal PR Blog and speaker, Cheryl has a passion for her craft and her clients’ successes. She can be contacted at email@example.com and on Twitter @CherylBame.
Ryan has the unique experience of having worked in-house as a strategic communications counselor for an Am Law 100 firm, in the media as a producer and in a PR agency setting. As the director of communications at Ogletree Deakins, he leads and directs the public relations, media relations, communications, content marketing and social media for the firm’s 49 offices. He has won multiple Your Honors Awards from the Legal Marketing Association for his work. Ryan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @RyanATL.