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It’s been not quite 30 years since the 1977 Bates case made it permissible for lawyers to market their services. The next 15 or so years’ growth showed little-to-moderate sophistication, as law firm marketing slowly matured. In recent years, the pace of change has accelerated, and savvy law firms and chief marketing officers are looking at innovative ways to get the most out of their marketing and communications dollars. Firms are hiring business development (i.e., sales) professionals and other outside consultants to fill in some of the gaps as law marketing rapidly grows and evolves. Leading firms are looking for new and improved ideas and structures of the marketing and communications functions to improve overall results. Let’s focus on the media and communications function and the possibilities for fictitious firm London & Siena. This 250-lawyer firm has a skilled 10-person marketing staff handling the day-to-day onslaught, and uses outside consultants for certain narrow specialty areas of marketing. The lawyer analogy is clear-the experienced practitioners handle skillfully the daily work that most clients require. But occasionally there are truly specialized needs-the brain surgery that occurs perhaps once in a career, if ever: a U.S. Supreme Court argument; a three-currency, three-language global merger; a huge pharmaceutical patent infringement case. For these situations, it makes sense to add to one’s team an outside specialist for his or her narrow expertise. It simply would not be cost-effective for a generalist to spend the time necessary to gain that level of expertise because these needs are not likely to arise again during his or her career. It’s faster, easier and more efficient simply to hire someone who already has the skills. Marketing professionals are no different, and specialized marketing consultants have evolved to fill these narrow needs, including advertising and branding specialists, Web site developers, blog experts, sales trainers and beauty-contest experts. Since the very early years of law firm marketing, firms have viewed high-level public relations as another specialty area. Let’s look at an example. London & Siena’s talented staff has worked hard at public relations and has earned a great deal of media attention, building its reputation. The firm’s media coverage has been considerably better than that of most firms of its size-its lawyers write and speak regularly and are quoted often in newspapers and magazines on issues that are important to the firm’s strategic plan. Of course, many of its competitors have noticed and, as a consequence, have significantly boosted their own public relations commitments. In addition, they have launched aggressive image advertising campaigns to spread their message. They, too, are enjoying excellent results. It’s time for London & Siena to ratchet up its efforts or risk falling behind. Credibility v. control The difference between public relations and advertising is credibility v. control. In advertising, a law firm controls the message and where it is placed, which reduces its credibility. With P.R., because a law firm can’t “buy” the media, having a partner quoted as an expert is viewed as extremely credible; this is why P.R. can be such a powerful marketing tool. Of course, because a firm can’t control what reporters say or write, in untrained hands P.R. can be playing with fire. But blending media coverage with creative, powerful advertising is an unbeatable combination to build quickly a firm’s reputation. Many firms engage in sporadic, opportunistic P.R. efforts and advertise just as flaccidly, designing one-off ads in-house whose vague message seems to be that “our lawyers are good.” Sometimes they illustrate them using clip-art gavels, globes, maps, scales of justice, lightbulbs or chess pieces. These shapeless, scattershot campaigns feel good, but don’t accomplish the firms’ goals, wasting their marketing budgets. A creative firm moving forward with an aggressive and innovative reconfiguration of its communications function (and other departments to follow) could be used itself as a legal profession “story.” It could be yet another example of London & Siena’s historic tradition of innovation and market leadership. The very fact that this firm would take such aggressive steps sends a strong message to the marketplace, one that reinforces the firm’s ongoing brand development. Two models to consider While many law firms have internal communications staffs, the ideas proposed here exceed most of their efforts. Plans A and B, outlined below, are alternative paths to the same essential model. That model is similar to how corporations structure their various professional services, including legal: a skilled in-house department, with delineated roles and tasks, interfacing regularly with “outside counsel,” which also has its delineated roles and tasks. Plan A: The incubation approach. In this model, a law firm’s outside P.R. agency hires professionals who will be dedicated to the firm’s account. Their mission is to work 80% of their time on London & Siena media placements and develop diverse media opportunities and industry relationships. They would research possible story ideas, contact the firm’s spokespeople to confirm interest or develop other ideas, and then pitch them aggressively to the media. Their dedicated work will decisively increase the number of media appearances. Public relations is labor intensive. To some degree, P.R. is a numbers game, and more time spent digging up material to publicize and contacting the media leads to more publicity. Internal marketing staff spend an inordinate time putting out fires and reacting to the day-to-day emergencies. They are pulled in so many directions; having dedicated outside support ensures that these media calls and contacts are made. In this scenario, working with the right outside agency, the team would have access to expertise not available to newer media associates. The outsider experts would work on large-scale or crisis situations at the highest level. They could handle trans-Atlantic mergers and rollouts. They would help develop regional and global media strategies. The goal is to provide the firm with uniquely and highly trained media professionals who are dedicated to London & Siena but bring a wealth of seasoning not obtainable in such a brief time span, had the firm tried to build the same expertise in-house. In fact, these associates will gain experiences in one year that, at most law firms, they could only expect in two or three years-if at all. The agency will incubate seasoned pros on the firm’s behalf, and, later, the firm will have the option of hiring these associates. Of course, if the arrangement is working too well to justify changing, the firm could simply maintain the status quo. A firm thus gains maximum resources with maximum flexibility. It is important to emphasize that no law firms appear to have dedicated staffs such as Plan A offers at outside P.R. firms working exclusively on their accounts; they typically are shared between or among many different firms and companies. The potential is extraordinary, in terms of the quality and quantity of opportunities that would be generated. London & Siena could gain a decisive step up without having to take the time to train its own personnel. Simplicity and economy The arrangement also has the benefits of simplicity and economy: The firm pays the agency a fixed lump sum, and the agency worries about the overhead like hiring, training, phones, insurance, expenses etc. As part of any arrangement, the incubated outside P.R. staff would personally visit the firm every couple of weeks to meet with the marketers and lawyers and dig up stories, and the team leader would be available to consult with the firm’s managers, or with any London & Siena lawyer, to discuss work in progress or ideas for new initiatives. Because the P.R. staff is dedicated to the London & Siena account, the increase in media awareness will increase in quantity and breadth. There would be more of everything: interviews, articles, reporter meetings, speeches and roundtables. At the same time, the campaign would increasingly encompass a greater number of the firm’s lawyers and offices. Plan B: Increase internal resources. In this model, London & Siena hires new marketing department members dedicated to media and communications. Because they would need to be trained and managed, the firm would need to hire at least one high-level P.R. expert. In return, the firm would have the traditional comfort of having in-house media professionals (with the accompanying management responsibilities and overhead costs), and achieve roughly the same level of media attention as seen in Plan A. The advantages of this model are control and flexibility. The firm could use these new employees however it wants, including for projects not relating to media relations. The disadvantage of Plan B is that it requires recruitment, hiring and training. It will cost more, and provide less-intensive on-the-job training, which could lead to lower total media attention than Plan A. Plan A seems the more innovative approach, and Plan B provides an unthreatening alternative; however, the firm may not feel a sufficiently pressing reason to change. Immediate steps to take Therefore, there are specific goals that a firm should consider immediately, regardless of which plan it pursues. Neglected offices. Law firm managers should pay attention to the lack of media activity in the firm’s core regions. Roundtables, meetings with important reporters and a substantial increase in the number of media mentions would guarantee visibility in these regions, clearly underscoring the firm’s commitment to these crucial markets. Media training. Attorneys should receive formal media training to rejuvenate media interest in their ideas. Business crisis. Let’s say London & Siena is well positioned to become a go-to law firm for commentary on the forthcoming business or insurance issues relative to Hurricane Katrina. The firm should consider substantially increasing the number of opportunities for the firm’s lawyers to comment publicly where possible. There are many models that a law firm can adopt, but each firm must look at its culture and its resources to determine the best fit for meeting its objectives. One model depends on finding the right, seasoned P.R. professional (and that can be a challenge) who understands the firm’s practice mix, has experience in related industries and fits into the firm’s culture. That person can jump-start the media effort, direct any outside public relations efforts if needed and hire and manage other public relations professionals at the firm in key geographic regions. Elizabeth Lampert is president of Elizabeth Lampert Public Relations of Alamo, Calif. Her 5-year-old daughter, Siena London, is not an attorney and does not yet have an actual law firm named after her. Lampert can be reached at [email protected]. Ross Fishman, an attorney, is chief exceleration officer of Ross Fishman Marketing Inc. of Highland Park, Ill., and has received several awards for advertising and branding programs. He can be reached at [email protected].

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