Q&A: Media Communications in Legal Marketing

As law firms formulate and execute their marketing strategies, it’s crucial to understand the importance of media communications and public relations (PR). Without correctly implementing media and PR into business development, law firms could be missing important opportunities to showcase their attorneys and firm as a whole.

Recently I spoke with my colleague, Erin West, about the importance of media communications in legal marketing. Erin is the Media Relations & Communications Manager at Dechert LLP. She is also the co-leader of the Washington, D.C. chapter of Law Firm Media Professionals, a national organization comprised of in-house and outside media and marketing professionals dedicated to serving their respective law firms with public relations and communications services and improving the way these professionals provide such services.

Adam Hopkins (AH): How have the roles of media and public relations in law firms changed since you first began working in the legal industry?

Erin West (EW): The practice of public relations has changed pretty dramatically since starting my first job at a PR firm almost 20 years ago, and those changes only accelerated in the decade since I joined my first law firm. A PR role used to be more exclusively focused on media relations – building relationships with reporters and pitching stories. However, the role has been significantly impacted by a shift to a more digital, more mobile, and therefore significantly connected world.

AH: How do you see the roles of media and public relations in the legal industry changing in the next 1-2 years? 5-10 years?

EW: The media landscape has shifted greatly over the last two decades. According to one stat I saw recently, from 2000 to 2012 the number of journalists in the United States fell 30 percent. That number is only expected to shrink further over time. I think this will impact the PR role, as it will become even more important to have active social media profiles, content creation strategies and collaboration with the digital marketing communications team to maximize visibility for PR efforts.

AH: What are the biggest obstacles facing media and public relations professionals in the legal industry?

EW: I think the biggest obstacle facing legal PR professionals is that lawyers are taught to be risk averse – a fact that I find makes them generally very conservative about working with the press. They want the exposure that speaking with high-profile media outlets can deliver, but they also want to control their words and how they are presented. Working with the press requires a certain level of trust and that is a very large challenge for most lawyers. 

AH: What could marketing and business development professionals do to help their media and public relations colleagues overcome these obstacles?

EW: The biggest ways business development professionals can support PR colleagues are twofold:

  1. Help identify interesting lawyer and client stories and share those with the PR team, and
  2. Share one lawyer’s PR success story with all of the other lawyers (s)he works with – we all know how competitive lawyers can be; let’s have that work to our advantage!

AH: What is/are the most important role(s) media and public relations professionals play in shaping their law firms’ marketing and business development strategies?

EW: PR professionals can play a key role in identifying new trends and burgeoning industries. Because we are constantly monitoring media, we generally have a lot of information to share on this front. I also think of PR professionals as the opposite of firefighters – we want to fan (and expand) the flames on interesting stories where our lawyers are involved.

AH: What could law firms change with regards to their marketing and business development strategies in order to effectively utilize media and public relations?

EW: Sharing more information with PR professionals about target companies and industries is key to helping the PR colleague develop successful strategies that support additional visibility targeted to reaching those prospects. 

AH: What would you like your marketing and business development colleagues to know (and understand) about media and public relations that they don’t already?

EW: Many PR professionals are working at an extremely fast pace in order to match the 24-hour news cycle that most reporters are now following. The earlier you can involve the PR team in an announcement or project, the better eventual result can be expected. PR colleagues will bring a different energy and perspective to a project – and could help shape strategy in order to maximize potential visibility.

AH: What would you like law firm partners to know (and understand) about media and public relations that they don’t already?

EW: There is no exact science to measuring the effectiveness of a PR program – that can be very difficult for firm partners and BD colleagues alike to understand. The best scenario is setting out a few specific goals for each lawyer or practice and then working with the PR professional to help make those goals come to fruition.

By Adam Hopkins, Senior Marketing & Business Development Coordinator, Dechert LLP, for the Second Quarter 2018 LMA Mid-Atlantic Region Newsletter

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