By Bobbie Conklin, business development manager at Steptoe & Johnson PLLC
Zinie Sampson is a managing director at Baretz+Brunelle, a corporate communications agency whose clients are elite law firms, top financial advisors and leading corporations. Based in Richmond, Virginia, she has worked in legal marketing since 2012, helping law firm clients secure media placements in legal, business, news and trade publications, and creating winning award submissions that highlight the achievements of individual lawyers. She is a member at large on the Virginias Local Steering Committee for 2020.
Q: How did you get started in legal marketing?
This is my second career, after more than two decades working as a journalist at The Associated Press. I started as a summer intern in the AP’s Richmond bureau immediately after college and secured a full-time position at the end of the internship. After working many years as an editor and reporter, which included covering all kinds of high-profile breaking news stories, I wanted to gain more control over my time and life while still feeling engaged intellectually. I interviewed for an in-house public relations position at a large international law firm, which then referred me to its national PR agency, which ended up offering me a position. While I missed many things about journalism, including a number of wonderful colleagues, it was a welcome career change.
Q: What are a few things that you attribute to your career success?
My experience and the skills I developed and sharpened in my previous career have been invaluable in my current one. The ability to pick up new concepts quickly, gather facts, ask questions and write clear, informative content on very tight deadlines has been immensely important. Being a good editor is equally valuable. Knowing how to review a piece of content, streamline it, and make it read more clearly is extremely important to our colleagues and clients. Working at a PR agency also has reinforced the importance of client service – being able to understand what is important to clients, to manage expectations, and to anticipate any questions they might have and answer them before they’re asked. On a deeper level, I’ve benefited from the ability to understand and connect with diverse types of people, resilience in the face of tough working conditions, and being an ally and supportive friend to many colleagues.
Q: How have your day-to-day duties changed in light of COVID-19?
Communications consultants are constantly monitoring the news, but these days a lot of energy also is going toward observing how the pandemic is affecting different segments of our society, how businesses are dealing with adversity, and how our elected officials are responding. We’re looking for interesting issues and trends that lawyers could discuss with news outlets or share with their clients. We’re obviously also tracking how the pandemic is specifically affecting law firms and helping them with presenting related messaging to internal and external audiences.
I’ve been working from home for several years, so that hasn’t changed. But like many other people, having the rest of my family at home during the pandemic and sharing what typically is time I spend alone, has introduced different dynamics to the workday. I’ve also taken the opportunity to connect directly with many of my colleagues and engage in more extended conversations – which we hadn’t done as much before this life-changing pandemic, largely because we’d all been so focused on work.
Q: What advice would you give to your younger self?
Find your authentic voice, advocate for yourself, and similarly, help lift up your colleagues who are smart and talented. Don’t assume that those who do great work will automatically get the positive recognition they deserve. Help support them and draw attention to their accomplishments and their potential.
Q: What do you enjoy doing when you aren’t working?
I like spending time with my family – my husband, 21-year-old daughter, and our very sweet 8-year-old pit bull mix, Otis – being outdoors, doing New York Times crossword puzzles, listening to music and going to shows, and reading. I also enjoy tennis, though I don’t get to play as often as I’d like. In addition to getting exercise, focusing on the game in the moment is a welcome way to completely tune out life’s stresses. I’ve captained a few of our club’s USTA teams, including a winter mixed doubles team that I initially reluctantly agreed to lead in 2018. We’ve advanced to Regionals three straight years, including this year, when we went undefeated and won our flight in a pandemic-shortened season.