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Name the law firm behind each of these advertising slogans: “It’s not just business. It’s personal.” “When success matters.” “Legal insight. Business instinct.” Stumped? Then name the firm that got written up in The Wall Street Journal in January as the first to launch a national TV ad campaign. The answer, of course, is Brobeck, Phleger & Harrison. Everyone saw the Journal story, or heard about it. Brobeck probably got a loftier publicity bounce from the newspaper coverage than from the ads themselves. Increasingly, law firms trying to distinguish themselves in a crowded field are deciding that PR — even if it’s PR about a firm’s PR campaign — can be more effective than advertising. Some firms are paying big salaries to lure a new brand of senior-level marketing professional; at bigger firms, these chief marketing officers command salaries of $250,000 or more, plus bonuses, legal recruiters say. And despite a tightening economy, most firms bolstered their total marketing budgets last year, according to the Legal Marketing Association. Marketers and managing partners at many of Washington’s largest law offices say PR represents a valuable competitive tool. Yet there is little agreement about how to wield it, and several firms seem to be at something of a tactical crossroads. Should PR be handled in-house? By an outside agency? Several outside agencies? On retainer? Or just for occasional projects? A few firms say all of these options are under consideration. At McDermott, Will & Emery, D.C. managing partner Timothy Waters says his firm has used various outside agencies over the years, but isn’t working with any at the moment. His marketing staff takes care of routine press releases. “We’re still not yet at the point of going for a national [PR] firm,” he says. But he also wonders if it makes sense for each of the firm’s offices to work with different, regional agencies. “We’re all scratching our heads,” he says. IN OR OUT? One of the basic questions firms are struggling with is whether to build up an in-house public relations staff or simply to rely on outside consultants. Covington & Burling raised eyebrows two years ago when the traditionally press-shy firm hired John Neidecker, then a top marketing executive at PricewaterhouseCoopers, as chief marketing officer. Neidecker now oversees a staff of seven, including one full-time PR specialist. “We feel very strongly that whoever’s representing us has to understand our culture,” says Andrew Friedman, the Covington partner who has championed the firm’s marketing push. “It wouldn’t work to have someone on the outside doing that.” (Covington does use a PR shop in London, Friedman notes. But he says the firm is looking to hire an in-house PR pro for that office.) At Dickstein Shapiro Morin & Oshinsky, Director of Marketing Kristan Morrell oversees a communications director who joined the firm from the American Plastics Council. Dickstein has steered away from PR agencies. “We wanted to build a communications program internally,’ Morrell explains. “If you have a PR firm and then you sever relations with them, there go all your contacts.” But others insist it makes more sense to retain outside PR pros. Linda Fleming signed on as Shaw Pittman’s first chief marketing officer in February, after working at several other firms, including Morgan, Lewis & Bockius and Paul, Hastings, Janofsky & Walker. She says she’s sticking with Shaw Pittman’s main outside agency, Washington, D.C.’s Levick Strategic Communications. Fleming notes that the firm also has retained Northern Virginia boutique Corcoran Associates to work with that region’s corporate and technology media. Professional agencies have the depth of human resources and the media contact lists that are required for effective PR, Fleming observes. “It makes more economic sense to outsource,” she says. Erika Ratner, director of business development and marketing at Arent Fox Kintner Plotkin & Kahn, also attests to the effectiveness of her outside PR firm. Her focus, she says, is on getting her firm “placed” in business media like Crain’s New York Business, mainstream dailies like The Washington Post, and industry journals. Arent Fox relies on Jaffe & Associates to win ink in those venues. Ratner says she doles out $4,000 to $7,000 a month to Jaffe, which is also developing advertising for the firm. She’s persuaded the money is well spent. “I’m seeing my firm and my attorneys mentioned more and more often,” she claims. WHOM DO FIRMS USE? Jay Jaffe and Richard Levick are among the consultants who have carved out a niche handling PR for law firms. At the moment, they own that niche in Washington. Theirs were the first — and often the only — names mentioned by more than two dozen D.C. law firm marketers or partners contacted for this article. Levick enjoys the greatest share of Washington’s richest firms. Nine of the city’s 20 top-grossing firms outsource PR, and five of those work with Levick. (Jaffe’s got several D.C. clients, but only one that ranks in the top 20.) None of these top-tier firms said they use a large national or international PR agency — not one firm indicated that they work with Edelman Worldwide, Hill & Knowlton, or Burson-Marsteller, for example. Jaffe has been in the business for 22 years, including a stretch as the top in-house marketer at what is now Howrey Simon Arnold & White. Levick worked for Jaffe until the two had a bitter falling out in 1998. Since then, Levick says, his operation has grown to 27 associates working in D.C., London, and New York. Clients include Arnold & Porter, Howrey, and Jones, Day, Reavis & Pogue. And the fees? Levick says he collects an upfront retainer from clients and then deducts fees from that retainer “for every opportunity we create.” Translation: When Levick’s associates get the client law firm or one of its partners placed in the media — either as the subject of a story, or as a source — the fee for that placement gets collected from the retainer. The average upfront fee, Levick says, is $250,000. “Clients are starting now at $300,000, and our fees increasingly range from $300,000 to $800,000,” he adds. A feature story costs clients from $2,000 to $10,000 — depending on whether it’s in Public Utilities Fortnightly or The New York Times. Levick says he’s seen “a dramatic change” in the amount firms are spending on marketing, both for service providers and for “some remarkably sophisticated” in-house staff. “Firms are increasingly hiring chief marketing officers, not marketing directors,” he observes. “They’re getting a seat-at-the-table management role, and they’re bringing [marketing] industry expertise.” Jaffe says he’s skeptical the new breed of marketing officers will transform the way law firms operate. His team numbers 20 in the United States and Canada, and eight in the United Kingdom. All work in “virtual offices” — typically from their homes, as Jaffe does. Clients include Piper Marbury Rudnick & Wolfe; Cohen, Milstein, Hausfeld & Toll; Linklaters & Alliance; and Brobeck. Jaffe’s fee structures vary: some clients pay a retainer, others prefer hourly billing, and others pay for discrete projects. He claims no retainer client pays less than $3,000 a month, and some pay $25,000 to $30,000 a month. He says law firms that bring in high-level marketing professionals still don’t commit the resources necessary for effective marketing programs. “I think in a certain way, [the firms] are sabotaging” their expensive in-house talent, he says. “They can throw $300,000 at that senior-level person, but then they’ve got to staff those departments.” And the reason most law firm advertising is ineffective, Jaffe claims, is that firm managers are reluctant to embrace the artifice of marketing. “All of these firms are fungible,” Jaffe says. “The only way they can create a difference in the mind of the buyer is by creating an image based on the desires of the buyer, not necessarily reality. They’re trained to base things on facts, and this is not about facts.” For some managing partners, that’s one reason to focus on media relations, not ads. Robert Ruyak, managing partner at Howrey, the firm that pioneered image ads, now says, “We’re more interested in getting good placement in the press.” “To what extent are clients or prospective clients influenced by legal advertising?” asks Patton Boggs managing partner Stuart Pape. “I think PR is different. People read. You’re trying to be part of the information flow that reaches clients and policymakers.” “Everyone’s jammed out there” with similar-looking ads, Covington’s Friedman says. “It’s hard to do that in a meaningful way. With the press, you’re actually saying something. That’s different. It’s better.”

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