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You’ve been educated on the importance of branding your law firm as a means to marketing yourself more effectively to prospects. As a means to this end, you’ve identified the specialties, the sector and/or the industries you serve that set you apart from other firms and give potential clients a better perception of who you are and where your expertise lies. But, now that you’ve done this, how do you target your audience(s) effectively within a limited budget? And how exactly do you determine that budget? Based on my experience as the president of a marketing communications firm that works with many professional service firms, I recommend that smaller firms support their marketing/branding efforts via public relations. With public relations, the cost tends to be manageable, and the process of marketing yourself is invisible (i.e., no one will know that you hired a PR consultant or firm). If you believe you have a story to tell about your expertise that can help set you apart, and you have a specific audience(s) in mind that you want to target, then public relations can support your effort. Size does not matter. I’ve known solo practitioners who have benefited enormously from a P.R. campaign in terms of increased visibility and credibility. Similarly, I’ve seen much larger law firms that are not prepared to make the time or take the interest in working with a PR consultant fail miserably. There needs to be a partnership between the two, otherwise it’s not worth the cost or effort. To find a PR firm, you can ask for recommendations from other professional service firms (branding food or furniture is different than accounting or law) or conduct your own research. You can begin with O’Dwyer’s Directory of Public Relations Firms, which lists firms geographically and by areas of expertise. The next step is to meet with those area firms that have experience working with professional service firms, and law firms in particular. Ask them about their legal or professional service clients (What did you do for them? For how long? What were the results? Are you still working with them? If not, how come?) Find out exactly who at the PR firm will be working on your account. A smaller firm where the principal or senior management is assigned to your account will often be more productive (and cost less) than a larger firm that leaves the account work to more junior people. See if the firm is presently working with other law firms — unless their other client serves totally different areas of specialization, you’ll want to avoid any conflicts of interest. Determine if there’s chemistry between you and the account team. You’ll be working closely together, so it’s important that you like and have confidence in them. You should be able to hire a good, quality firm that will cost you between $40,000 and $50,000 a year between fees and expenses. Most work on monthly retainers, rather than hourly fees. Avoid a long-term contract — many PR firms will agree to work with you on a short-term basis. This gives you more leverage, should you want to change direction. If the annual cost appears too steep, commit to a shorter period of time — say, six months. Most campaigns are multi-faceted. They often consist of all or a combination of the following elements: generating publicity in the print and electronic media; placing bylined articles in key publications; setting up speaking opportunities; hosting seminars on specific issues; and developing collateral materials (such as brochures and newsletters). Expect the PR firm to spell out what activities they will be doing on your behalf in their proposal (which should also include goals, timetable, budget, and bios on members of the account team). PR campaigns can get derailed if the client assumes a passive posture. Set up expectations and timelines so you’re both on the same page. Insist on frequent meetings to monitor progress. Ask for monthly status reports. PR takes time, but you should see something in terms of increased visibility by the four-month mark (in terms of newspaper clips, TV exposure, speaking engagements, etc.). How do you determine if you’re getting your money’s worth? While PR will not get the phones ringing overnight, the bottom line cannot be ignored (the amount of clippings notwithstanding). A PR campaign cannot be responsible for generating new clients or revenues, but it should result in more sales opportunities over an extended period of time. You will still have to clinch the deal. For a small firm, the cost of branding your firm will not be insignificant. You need to view it as a business investment that has the potential to pay huge future dividends. Steven Clark is the president of Andover Communications, a public relations/advertising firm in Fort Lee, N.J. He can be reached at [email protected].

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