While working on The Lawyer newsdesk it was not uncommon for partners to complain to me that the press release they had spent weeks perfecting was not featured in the news. Getting noticed by the legal press is a challenge, so how do you stand out from the crowd?
But calling a journalist to complain is not going to help your cause. I have worked with many reporters who, after receiving an aggressive call from a lawyer demanding that their release be published, simply stopped looking at any future news from the firm whether it merited attention or not.
Instead, it is worthwhile looking at how you might do things differently and better the next time round.
It is irritating to see a competitor get the press attention you were looking for, but sometimes that is the way it goes-only a fraction of the press releases received get used.
Setting a PR strategy
Having in place a simple and coherent PR strategy that is easy for everyone to understand – from the managing partner to the marketing team and your PR agency – is vital. If everyone is working from the same page, sticking to the same strategy, then the PR programme should flow organically.
Regular engagement with the media will get far better results than popping up and expecting coverage for something you see as a big deal, but journalists may not.
When setting your strategy, it is helpful to ask yourself a series of big questions, such as: What are you trying to achieve for the firm in the long term? How does building your reputation help achieve this? Are we promoting the brand, a person, a practice, an office? How does the activity support your law firm’s broader narrative? How is what we are saying important to the outside world?
And above all remember the adage, "if you want the market to talk about you, talk about the market". If all your output is effectively, "me, me, me", then you are going to struggle unless you are genuinely really big or really interesting.
Taking a general approach to promoting your firm will do little to catch the attention of a busy reporter. By focusing your efforts on key departments, sectors or lawyers (not necessarily partners), you can start to develop your law firm story, pinpointing work highlights to promote and identifying individuals who stand out as thought-leaders, who can talk about the latest trends or offer a new perspective on a story.
Take a different view
Given their breadth of knowledge, law firm partners are ideally placed to provide business journalists with insight and comment. If you have a clear view on a topic and an opinion that is different, or simply better expressed than the rest, then you don’t have to be a magic circle firm, the media will want to hear from you. Indeed many small and mid-sized law firms are already successful and established media commentators in their target markets.
While balance may be necessary for some topics, your comment is much more likely to be picked up if it offers insight that differs in some way from the rest. This is more achievable for lawyers in smaller firms and barristers who tend to be under less pressure to toe the party line and don’t need five layers of approval for their comments.
Use social media to build profile
But don’t just rely on journalists to give you coverage. Successful PR campaigns use regular blogs and posts on social media such as LinkedIn to boost your profile, as does attending industry events either as a speaker or to network furiously.
Social media platforms are a useful way to build thought-leadership credentials, especially with the people most likely to give you work and recommend you… your contacts. If you are seen to understand the trends that affect your clients’ business by being a regular commentator on Twitter, then this can also attract calls for comment from journalists who are avid users of it.
What reporters need to help make stories stand out and filed on time is someone who is easy to contact, can speak with authority, and can the turn the most complex topics into accessible soundbites. Rather than looking at the firm’s credentials, they will instead to look for the lawyer who can meet their demands.
In a profession that is packed with firms all offering the same level of expertise and great client service, it is the lawyer who demonstrates, not just asserts, a firm grasp on the issues who stands out.