How Technology Is Changing Legal Public Relations
Leaving the LMA Annual Conference this year, my mind was abuzz with information and new ideas about the practice of legal marketing. With the Las Vegas Strip in the rearview mirror, I couldn’t help but reflect on the profound impact the digital age has had on one area of marketing in particular: public relations (PR).
I’m not too shy to admit I have more than a few years under my belt as a PR professional. This makes the digital revolution of the past 10 years more mind-blowing than I could have imagined. I wondered if my clients in the legal field felt the same way, so I asked them to share their thoughts on how technology has changed legal PR, the impact it’s had on their daily jobs and what trends they’re watching.
Ann Morris: In what ways has the rise of technology changed the way we do PR for law firms in the past five to 10 years?
Michael James: The pace has increased and lead times have shortened, but there are also many more opportunities out there for coverage. There are so many more ways to disseminate thought leadership: online magazines, blogs, social media, conferences, seminars, webinars, podcasts … the list goes on. One upside is that reporters are more willing to ask a series of questions via email, which is often more appealing to a busy, risk-averse attorney than hopping on a call to answer questions on the fly. The challenge as a legal marketer is to hone in on the opportunities that make sense for your attorneys and the target audiences they’re trying to reach. You can’t (and shouldn’t) say yes to everything.
Katherine Miletich: The main change I see for our firm is the rise of social media. While the PR mailing list and relationships with key reporters still matter, we also have this huge distribution channel (social media) available to us. The way that people search for legal services is different now with so many avenues, and we need to ensure that our firm and our lawyers occupy the right digital spaces out there to get noticed. Adding social media to the mix helps us help our attorneys brand themselves, network and gain new clients.
Piper Hall: Long lead times have mostly disappeared and been replaced by a 24-hour news cycle, allowing attorneys to be quoted or to publish content virtually on the spot. This also means constant deadlines, which require both PR professionals and attorneys to be ready and willing to engage with media as news breaks. Digital media has certainly created more opportunities for PR exposure. Online news sources, blogs, video and social media have created a greater number of publishing prospects.
AM: How has technology changed the way you do your job every day?
PH: These days, contacting a reporter can be done in several different ways, so figuring out the preferred method takes time. Social media has proven to be an acceptable, and even preferred, method for connecting certain reporters with sources. Many of the attorneys I work with are successfully using social channels, especially LinkedIn and Twitter, to engage directly with clients and reporters. While exciting, this way of engaging presents new challenges for PR professionals in terms of monitoring conversations, vetting content and measuring results.
MJ: Thanks to technology, information is everywhere all the time. It’s a daily challenge to navigate the constant influx without becoming overwhelmed. Technology has also made all of us overly reliant on email. While the speed, convenience and efficiencies are undeniable, there are also plenty of downsides. For example, it’s easy for an email discussion to get put on the back burner. Sometimes you can accomplish more in a good old-fashioned five-minute conversation than an endless chain of emails.
KM: We are building out a sophisticated new system that will allow us to answer questions from reporters much more rapidly. In the old world, we only knew about the important matters and information that the lawyers had time to share with us. With new technologies, we can now scan many years’ worth of matters in a few minutes to find relevant credentials to answer questions from the press or from clients.
AM: What technological advances do you think will have the biggest impact on legal PR in the next five to 10 years?
KM: I wonder if the capabilities of artificial intelligence might alter the landscape. Will there be fewer reporters and more “editors” who are entering algorithms in code to search the world for relevant information for this or that publication? Will we use inward-looking AI systems to source what reporters will find interesting? Will we be able to use AI to identify new legal work that is really cutting-edge?
PH: I think social media will continue to impact conversations between reporters, PR professionals, attorneys and their clients in the next five to 10 years. While technology helps make quick connections, there’s still something to be said about an in-person, relationship-building meeting when there’s time. Time and again, when I’ve connected an attorney with a reporter face to face, those relationships have proven to be some of the most fruitful.
MJ: The world of daily newspapers and monthly magazines showing up in your mailbox already seems quaint and may one day cease to exist entirely. As we move rapidly toward an all-digital world where traditional reporting is often sloppy and so-called “fake news” is an ever-present threat, I think PR professionals will face a big challenge: How do you differentiate the bad from the good and identify meaningful opportunities that can have a positive impact on an attorney’s marketing and business development goals? The good news is that more options will likely mean more ways to deliver your messages to highly targeted audiences.
Ann Morris is a legal marketing professional, and has been involved in the profession for over a decade. She has served in numerous key communications roles in a variety of positions.