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Law Firms: Put Down the Shotgun and Embrace Strategic PR

This post was originally published on LexisNexis Business of Law Blog on April 28, 2016.

For many law firm public relations professionals, their job is 80% reactive and 20% proactive. The pros manage to get that ratio down to 50/50, but it’s tough. Either camp really needs to make that time count.

It must be true if Bill Gates said it.

To complicate matters, the marketing, business development, and PR teams at some firms are so siloed: one department has no idea what the other two are doing. Many teams are so busy accomplishing what’s before them that learning what’s up with others is nearly impossible. Who wants extra meetings and emails?

Marketing and PR ROI can be tough to track. However, by working hand-in-glove with BD, strategic PR teams have the foundation of a focused campaign targeting a high-value client with a high return.

Here’s how.

The BD team identifies a promising target. This should be a marquis client. Doing thorough research, the BD team identifies the top issues facing the client. Then interview your attorneys to confirm you’re on the mark.

The goal here is to identify what is keeping the GC up at night, and what the rest of the corporate executive team is focused on. These days, the legal department is expected to add value, not function as a risk-abatement cost center. So your GC knows she needs to get out of the foxhole and into the command post.

These issues typically fall into the “we’re okay at the moment but if I don’t deal with this soon we’re going to be in trouble” pile. And the solutions are likely not going to be cookie-cutter services that any law firm can provide. If they were, they would already be handled. They also will not be the low-hanging fruit most firms would grab. Again, it would be picked if that were the case.

Where does PR come in? Pick the one top issue and get the PR team in the meeting with BD and your practice group leaders to identify opportunities for media leads and practitioner-written pieces on that exact topic. Aim for that theme as often and as comprehensively as possible.

Repurpose any work in any manner possible. Hit hard and often, on every channel possible: print, video, webinar – every platform available. Host a breakfast briefing or other CLE event to share your expertise with the market. Use those interactive programs as focus groups to refine your message.

This approach requires an ironclad internal commitment to cross-sell. You want the input of multiple practice groups working in this sector.

Then craft a confidential bespoke white paper or short analysis on how this issue will affect the client. Be as specific as possible. You want to demonstrate you have put effort into thinking about their most important issue – even though they aren’t your client.

Back up your assessment with the body of work you’ve developed. The object is to show – not tell – that your attorneys are laser-focused on the client’s need.

Imagine the client’s reaction. How could they not help but be impressed? It’s the difference between receiving a one-size-fits-all sweater and one that fits, complements your skin tone, and works with the rest of your wardrobe.

Does this take time and effort? Sure. Is it wasted? Not at all. You will have produced an impressive body of work and lay claim to an issue that is likely worrying more companies than just your targeted client.

Some firms embrace topics (cybersecurity and drones are the current rage) but that’s not enough. Work from the other end. Let the needs of a market-leading client define how you approach an issue.

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