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The global economy creates both opportunities and challenges for U.S. law firms that are looking either to serve existing clients that are branching into international markets or to attract new business from global companies that are expanding into the United States. To obtain new global business, firms with international aspirations must convince clients with cross-border interests that they possess the requisite experience and expertise to help them achieve their global business objectives. An integrated international marketing program is critical to meeting this challenge. One clear indication of an effective strategy is the firm’s ability to articulate its value proposition for global companies and its use of aggressive media relations to communicate that message. No matter how established a reputation a firm may have in its home market, each time it adds to its geographic footprint, strategic marketing — including focused media relations — is an essential element in developing name recognition among local buyers of legal services. Devising a carefully planned media strategy as an essential component of your global marketing program is a fast-track mechanism for raising awareness of your firm’s international presence and reputation. Whether executed in the United Kingdom, Italy or Hong Kong, successful law firm growth initiatives require intimate knowledge of local culture, substantial competitive intelligence and strategic positioning to differentiate the firm from local firms and other international competitors. Like any business entering a new marketplace, a law firm must prepare carefully before launching a successful marketing and media strategy. The process in which a firm must engage before entering a new international market is essentially the same as the one employed for domestic expansion. Are you seeking to expand your client base? Or are your new offices simply a “value add” for existing clients? Do you aim to service clients indigenous to the countries where you are expanding exclusively from your international offices, or do you hope to represent non-domestic clients from your U.S. locations as well? Is your firm looking to recruit local attorneys in its new international jurisdictions? Understanding your firm’s business objectives in entering new international markets is critical to designing effective marketing and media strategy. Selling points A critical error that many firms make — both in the development of marketing strategy and in the implementation of a communications program to support it — is failing to differentiate themselves from other firms competing for buyer “mindshare.” What unique services does your firm offer, both domestically and abroad? Which capabilities are available across jurisdictional lines? In what areas of practice or for what industries are you an undisputed leader? You can use these selling points to inform your marketing and, in particular, to generate media attention. However, your message points — that is, your marketing themes — should be clearly articulated in advance, consistently reiterated in all communications and built upon a value proposition that is meaningful to your existing and prospective clients and related to qualities or capabilities that differentiate your firm from others in the same space. Focus is critical in choosing which strengths to highlight. It is the marketer’s responsibility to ensure that the firm’s marketing and media priorities dovetail with its international business goals. The more unusual the firm’s capabilities, the more media interest they will attract. By selecting one or two key strengths of a global office, and by concentrating on repetitive media coverage of those specialties, you can establish your market presence more rapidly. Expanding the profile of one of your international offices or creating interest in your comprehensive global capabilities is less daunting once you have secured a solid reputation in well-defined areas. In addition to mastering local law and regulation, the firm must appreciate how local codes of professional responsibility govern the nature of any marketing communications program it can introduce. Equally important, local customs and tastes, including nuances that may stem from operating in multiple languages, may make some domestic strategies inappropriate for new markets. One of the firm’s principal goals must be to win the regard and acceptance of the local business communities into which it is expanding. Those new markets may be characterized by different cultural morals and values. Remember as well that, in all likelihood, local business leaders will know virtually nothing about your firm. To build a reputation through the media, it is integral to ascertain what motivates and interests individuals in the firm’s prospective new market. Firms based in the United States cannot assume that others outside the country will react to stories about those firms the same way that domestic audiences do. What the firm finds interesting may seem trivial to global companies. Conversely, what the firm finds mundane could be fascinating to someone who knows less about the firm and its expertise. By learning as much as possible about local culture and business, interesting stories can be crafted for new target markets and then positioned to make a positive first impression. Media savvy One of the first orders of business for the new office team developing a marketing and media strategy is to learn what publications are read by local buyers of legal services. Publications reaching the broadest audiences may not be the ones that your potential clients read. A successful media and marketing strategy most likely will require a diversified media portfolio that includes targeted industry trade publications. Similarly, learning which reporters have influence at key publications is an essential step in developing an effective external communications plan. As important as identifying firm competition from a business-development perspective is, it is equally imperative when developing effective media strategy. Learning which other American law firms have penetrated the market as well as the practice strengths of the domestic market leaders is integral as well. Once the extent of competitors’ media coverage is researched, including which publications have contributed to the development of their reputations, local media outlets to be featured in a firm’s communications plan can be developed. The clients you serve locally in international markets are good sources for this information. Ask them what they read, including trade, legal and national press, and include their responses among the targeted publications in your media strategy. Armed with an understanding of local culture, and with critical market intelligence about competitors and influential industry publications, the firm is now positioned to design a firm-specific international media strategy. Identify lawyers in the firm’s international offices and position them to become spokesmen associated with the practice strengths chosen to be spotlighted. Attorneys who feel comfortable speaking with journalists should be selected and offered media training if their skills need burnishing. Marketing professional services is all about building personal relationships, and the same process applies to the development of effective relationships with the media. Spokesmen should meet with key local reporters in face-to-face meetings, which will require a significant time commitment from your lawyers. In advance of the meetings, lawyers should receive assistance from a media relations standpoint with regard to message-point development and rehearsal in order to ensure that the themes are communicated and repeated effectively. For lawyers who invest in the effort, meetings with journalists can provide the earliest and most significant return on their marketing investment. The process of building trust with local reporters parallels the process lawyers use to develop and strengthen client relationships. Because legal reporters for national and international papers, as well as for newswires, should be among your key contacts, schedule meetings with the journalists on the legal and business beats. Also key are reporters who cover specific industries. For example, a biotechnology lawyer should meet with biotech reporters. Offering lawyers to serve as third-party commentators on the legal issues the outlet is covering can help create strong, long-lasting and mutually beneficial relationships. If one of the firm’s objectives is recruiting local legal talent, the regional press is an appropriate vehicle in raising the firm’s profile. Talented lawyers indigenous to the markets the firm is entering will want to align themselves with credible, respected firms whose chances of succeeding in new markets are the result of strong strategic planning and methodical implementation and integration. Being taken seriously by the media is one means of communicating the stature and seriousness of purpose in new markets. The Internet and e-mail are now the mechanisms of choice for developing and maintaining ongoing communication with key reporters. They are also the best ways to underscore your firm’s international capabilities. If the firm claims international strength and/or a global footprint, the firm’s Web site must prove its reach and competitive position, or, by default, it will give the lie to the firm’s international posture. This would include access, via the Web site, to targeted and timely articles in which firm lawyers are cited as third-party sources. A success story Consider the success of a strategy implemented by a small New England law firm that did not have an office abroad but wanted to capitalize on work it was doing in Europe. The firm had crafted a strategy by which its penetration of cross-border markets began with its representation of current clients in matters outside the United States. The firm had just secured a successful settlement of major litigation on behalf of an Eastern European client, and it knew the settlement created a window of opportunity for gaining international attention and attracting other foreign companies as clients. Winning the case was easy, however, compared to getting media attention in Eastern Europe. The firm tried a few calls to a few major newspapers, which met with little success. The lawyers knew they had a golden opportunity on their hands, but they did not know how to capitalize on it. The law firm hired a public relations firm. The publicists and the firm researched the media market extensively on the Internet and identified a list of target publications and key journalists who had recently written articles on similar issues. They developed a list of message points designed to resonate with the local culture. Using the Internet to find information, the publicists contacted these media outlets and reporters through e-mail and the telephone, alerting them to the significance of the case, providing them with relevant background information, and noting the law firm’s successful representation. The contacts led to several articles in which the firm was highlighted. Several attorneys from the firm then traveled to Eastern Europe, where they met with key journalists. These meetings also served to introduce the attorneys to the key business reporters at Eastern European-based English-language newspapers. They established rapport and expanded relationships that increased the likelihood that the reporters would call firm lawyers about future legal developments. Within a couple of weeks, a major publication wrote a feature article on the firm and its work in Eastern Europe. Several other publications picked up the story as well. The firm also made sure to integrate its media relations efforts with other aspects of its marketing program. For example, anyone reading the media coverage of the case could find corroboration of the firm’s international focus and reach on a visit to the firm’s Web site. Armed with the right research, the right tactics and the right resolve, there is no impenetrable market, however remote, in today’s world. Law firms can use media relations as a key element in an integrated strategic marketing plan to create visibility for their expansion efforts and to attract the attention of customers of cross-border legal services. This article originally appeared in The Recorder , a publication of American Lawyer Media. Elizabeth Lampert is a San Francisco-based executive vice president at Levick Strategic Communications, which advises law firms on media relations. Norm Rubenstein is a New York-based partner at the Zeughauser Group, a consulting firm that advises law firms on growth, organization and other matters.

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