Using Public Relations to Accelerate Awareness of your Firm’s Practice Areas

The face of journalism has obviously changed worldwide with the Internet’s explosive growth, the development of cable news and the demise of dozens of newspapers. But the use of public relations to tell audiences about a firm’s services is still quite vibrant. In fact, for the legal arena, positioning lawyers as experts is still a very effective tool. And combining public relations with the many options now offered through social media channels can leverage placements for exponential results.

Accelerating awareness of your firm’s practice areas through public relations is not a complex process, but it does take careful planning, research, perhaps some training and time for meetings. The process requires attention to detail, including communicating regularly with the lawyers as well as the media. It also takes follow through, both in approaching the media and in building on any placements you are able to achieve.

Following some simple steps to kick off a public relations campaign can increase its reach and effectiveness. For example, trumpet the expertise of lawyers in practice areas where the firm already has real depth. This would be necessary whether the firm uses an outside public relations agency or handles public relations in-house.

Firms that are already known in a particular industry or area of law do have a head start to begin a public relations effort. Having already handled a major matter in this area opens opportunities. In addition, if the industry or area of law is “hot” in the media at the moment, such as health care law in 2012, chances are even more promising that expert quoting can occur.

This may seem elementary, but it is important: The lawyers who will be quoted need to truly buy into this process. They must want to do this. Otherwise, they may get the reporter’s call, but not respond in a timely way or perhaps not at all. A little media training, even for the most articulate litigator, is still a good investment. More on that in a moment.

Especially if this public relations program is being coordinated in-house, it may require the internal marketers or P.R. professionals to do some serious research on the targeted industries and media coverage of them. Knowing them intimately is not an overstatement. It is important to be able to identify emerging trends in those industries and legal issues that are being discussed. Create a detailed list of reporters and what their stories have been about so you know what they have been covering.

Don’t offer up a story idea that a particular reporter has already covered. That would be a huge error.

Your list should include general media outlets, online media, trade publications and any other outlets that may have written about this topic online. Sometimes these resources are more bloggers than journalists.

Preparing for the process may require some training. For example, anyone being interviewed must be at ease talking with the media. This can be addressed with some media training. There are a lot of excellent trainers who can prepare a lawyer for the interview. If the lawyer has already had training, it is still recommended that you sit down with him or her prior to the interview to talk briefly about what types of information the reporter may be seeking.

If your lawyer is truly an expert in a particular area, a reporter may want to meet him or her for coffee or lunch without needing to suggest an idea that may be in the media right now. However, having a developed concept in mind when making the call, is a better way to go.

You want to be part of the interview except in unusual circumstances. In case there are questions that the lawyer does not have the answers to immediately, you will be able to step in and respond as promptly as possible. 

Now, once you have accomplished a “hit” as it is called, the public relations opportunities live on through the internet and through relationships that the lawyers may develop with the media representatives. In fact, part of your job should be to encourage the lawyer to stay in touch with the reporter. You can also merchandise the article in several ways – placing it on the internet; obtaining reprints and using them at firm events; adding the quote to the lawyer’s biography – just to name a few.

As for ROI, the concept is still a bit fuzzy for public relations. Whether a company actually became a client because of a quote may be difficult to prove. It may require several face-to-face meetings before the engagement letter is signed, but it does happen. More importantly, the third-party credibility that media placements provide can help to grow your firm’s reputation in a particular area. Tracking each media placement will also help internally to build morale among the lawyer ranks. Then, it’s both an internal and an external win.

Robin Iori, principal of Iori Communications in Chicago, provides public relations and writing services to professional and financial services firms. She has 20 years of experience in legal marketing, having worked both in-house and as a consultant to law firms across the U.S.