Demonstrate your value by proactively developing PR strategies.
Strategic public relations (PR) initiatives advance law firms’ business development and marketing programs. Indeed, BTI Consulting Group found that “obtaining just three mentions from respected media outlets (i.e., industry trades, respected national publications, personal contacts) have nearly the same trust-building effect on prospective clients that personal referrals do.”
My own experience confirms this. At my law firm, a mere two mentions once resulted in a cold call from an in-house counsel who invited our lawyer to present at an intimate, out-of-state event for the Association of Corporate Counsel, the world’s largest community of in-house counsel. On another occasion, we received a Public Relations Society of America media relations award for a strategic article placement that resulted in a new potential client, current client feedback, three additional news stories written by reporters, more than $80,000 in ad equivalency, and a 100 percent-plus increase in strategic article placement requests from the firm’s lawyers.
Yet the legal industry has been slow to embrace PR as a critical marketing and business development (BD) function. Consequently, most law firms do not employ an in-house legal marketing professional whose sole focus is PR. The LMA membership directory reveals that law firm members with titles including “Public Relations,” “PR” or “Media” comprise a microscopic one percent.
In reality, legal marketing professionals must typically handle PR in addition to their main responsibilities, such as marketing communications, BD and event planning. At the same time, as the LMA membership brochure notes, “50 percent of [LMA] members work in offices with less than five full-time marketers.” As a result, all legal marketing professionals who even touch PR must be proactive and consultative, especially when the firm faces a crisis or reputational problem, or has opportunities to secure earned media.
PR and marketing professionals in such situations are akin to litigators who typically conduct early case assessments as an integral part of their overall litigation strategy. “Virtually all companies now conduct early case assessments, according to The 2018 Carlton Fields Class Action Survey. And, as an in-house lawyer commented in a Corporate Counsel article about early case assessment, “I believe the highest and best use of our outside counsel is to rely on them for their core skills, things like legal judgment, business counsel, risk assessment and litigation strategy.”
Similarly, legal marketing professionals must provide their leadership, lawyers and clients with core skills like:
- Open communication (fosters full disclosure)
- Strategic PR and crisis counsel (includes risk assessment and sound judgment)
- PR/Communications strategies and message development
- Ongoing media awareness/research
Early case assessment should proceed in lockstep with early PR planning. Proper preparation should address everything from crisis/reputation/brand management to promoting wins and deals. Your firm needs lawyers who develop legal strategies. It needs you for PR strategies. By being proactive, you detect early signs of potential conflicts or emerging liabilities even as you identify trends that will empower successful communications strategies.
“Nothing is more essential than to be proactive and set up the structure ahead of time,” write Richard Levick and Larry Smith in Stop the Presses: The Crisis and Litigation PR Desk Reference.
And, by being proactive, you elevate your own credibility among your firm leaders and lawyers. You become their colleague and trusted PR adviser.
Tips to grow yourself professionally
In 1989, Madonna sent a message to legal industry marketing professionals when she released her hit tune “Express Yourself.” Don’t go for “second-best” in your career. Invest yourself! And put your love “to the test” each and every day.
Here are five ways to meet Madonna’s challenge in the legal marketplace:
- Night owl: Learn what keeps your direct supervisor and managing partner up at night. That way you anticipate and serve your clients and colleagues in a more proactive manner.
- Follow the yellow brick road: Implement and regularly review/update marketing and PR policies and processes; offer to present these updates to your lawyers.
- Aye, aye, captain!: Manage expectations with your lawyers and among your department.
- Relationships 101: Marketing and BD are often viewed as externally facing. Our internal relationships are equally important. Network internally and build key alliances with firm leadership that will prove vital to your role and to your firm’s well-being.
- Soak it up: Don’t dismiss information that may not directly affect your role. Think of ways it could help a colleague, attorney or your own future role. Connecting the dots and serving as a resource make you a more powerful presence.
Continuing your legal marketing education is also critical to career growth. Attend LMA meetings and other professional associations that support your development goals. Read and, most importantly, seek a mentor in and/or outside your firm. They will be your professional skills development adviser and can help build the case for your intrinsic value to your law firm.
Kate Barth is the public relations manager for Carlton Fields. She directs the firm’s PR strategies and provides strategic communications counsel to firm leadership, attorneys and clients. She has won eight national and regional PR awards, including an LMA Your Honor Award. Ms. Barth often presents to professional associations and regularly conducts internal presentations at Carlton Fields. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her @katebarth.