Welcome to the world of PR for lawyers. This article, Everyday Public Relations for Lawyers: A Primer, is an excerpt from the book, “Everyday Public Relations for Lawyers,” published by Furia Rubel Communications’ founder and CEO, Gina Rubel.
History of Law Firm Marketing & PR
Attorneys today rely on marketing and public relations to attract and retain clients. Those who don’t, fail to do so at their own peril.
Attorneys who received their J.D.’s prior to 1978 will tell you that, for them, PR and marketing for lawyers was considered unethical. These lawyers dreaded self-promotion. Similarly, those who followed them, earning their degrees between 1978 and 1998, probably never talked about marketing or public relations as crucial aspects of their business management and development plans when they were in law school. But today, attorneys routinely educate themselves about the ethics of communicating with potential and existing clients. These savvy attorneys know that PR, marketing and advertising for the legal profession are key components of developing new business and becoming rainmakers.
As a third-generation attorney, I’ve had the privilege of watching this fascinating evolution. I have seen public relations and marketing change from taboo topics to grudgingly accepted practices to tools that no lawyer can afford to ignore. My grandfather, Edward W. Furia, graduated from University of Pennsylvania Law School in 1930 and practiced law until 1971, when he became the first Italian-American U.S. Magistrate for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. When he practiced, he simply hung a shingle outside of his Broad Street office in South Philadelphia. He listed his name in the telephone book white pages (and this only because he maintained an account with the Bell Atlantic telephone company). And he went to Palumbo’s, the neighborhood social club, with my grandmother, Mollie, every Saturday night, where he frequently entertained legal questions from friends and acquaintances in the community. These same folks later arrived at his office and became clients of the firm. That was rainmaking.
In 1971, my father, Richard F. Furia, took over his father’s practice. Growing up the son of a lawyer, my father was raised with the view that all of his business would come from family, friends and word-of-mouth in the neighborhood. But even then, he knew that he had to be visible, present and accessible. He gave time to everyone in need and worked hard to maintain the business. Yet he, too, was taught that it was unethical to advertise one’s legal services.
But in 1977, the U.S. Supreme Court decided Bates v. State Bar of Arizona. In Bates, a dispute over a newspaper advertisement led a divided court to rule that the First Amendment permits lawyers to advertise their services (with limitations).
Fast-forward to 1994, when I received my J.D. We still weren’t taught anything about business management or communications in law school. As a matter of fact, in 2007, when I first published my book, “Everyday Public Relations for Lawyers,” a large number of articles surfaced about business development teachings in law schools. When I was a student, we were taught about offer and acceptance, causation and damage, the Rule of Perpetuities and the art of advocacy in the courtroom. We graduated without ever considering how to promote, sustain or grow our law practices. Fortunately, I was a corporate communications major as an undergraduate student at Drexel University in Philadelphia, so I had a solid foundation in business communications. I knew that growing my legal practice would take focused effort and expertise that I had not gained in law school. Today I assist attorneys who similarly realize that the competitive local, national and international legal marketplaces require strategic planning to bring in and retain clients. Most lawyers are ready to make PR and marketing a prominent element of their business plans.
Strategic Public Relations for Lawyers: The Basics
Before you sit down and start dreaming about all the television, radio and print outlets in which your name and face are going to appear, take a step back and start thinking strategically. Really, when was the last time you walked into a jury trial without years (or at least months) of preparation? Much like a successful trial outcome, positive publicity for lawyers can only be achieved through focused, sustained effort. It’s important that your expectations are reasonable. In addition, you need to understand that the fruits of your public relations efforts need to grow before they will be ripe for picking, and the growing season depends upon the climate in which they’re planted.
Definition of Public Relations for Lawyers
Let’s begin at the beginning by explaining what is meant by public relations, or PR, and how it differs from marketing and advertising.
Public relations is the art and science of proactive advocacy on the part of a company, individual or brand. It requires strategic management of your position statement and key messages in order to reach your target audiences, and through various tactics, establish good will and a mutual understanding. In short, effective use of PR tools allows us to shape public opinion, attitudes and beliefs. Utilizing public relations is much like crafting an opening statement for a jury trial: you will painstakingly strategize about which facts you should initially reveal to the jury, which heartstrings (if any) you want to tug, the tempo and timing of your delivery, and the information you deliver last in order to achieve a long-term impact.
The Difference Between Marketing and PR for Lawyers
In the big scheme of legal communications, marketing is the overall umbrella term under which many forms of communications fall. Marketing for law firms and lawyers often entails:
• Business Development
• Client Services
• Marketing (brochures, websites, direct mail, sponsorships, etc.)
• Social Media Engagement
• Content Marketing
• Public Relations
The public relations portion of your law firm’s marketing must be a strategic part of a carefully considered marketing plan so that it complements the branding, advertising, business development, client services, sponsorships, social media, and other communication initiatives.
Role of Law Firm Public Relations
The role of public relations is to help build the firm’s brand equity by delivering key messages to target audiences to elicit a particular response and thus shape public opinion, attitudes and beliefs. In other words, PR is the method by which we communicate messages about ourselves, our law firms, and our understanding of the law and the cases we handle on an everyday basis. The practice of public relations for lawyers differs from marketing and advertising. PR promotes and builds awareness and acceptance; the immediate goal is often based in the positioning of the firm; you have less control over the media placements; and the messages tend to be viewed as more credible.
Your first step in harnessing the power of public relations for your law firm is to create a solid foundation on which to build. In this and other ways, creating a law firm public relations plan is like building a new house. It is a very exciting time that requires financing, strategic thinking, careful planning and follow-through. It requires time, attention and measurable objectives.
Creating a Strong Foundation for Your Law Firm PR Plan
When you decide you are going to build a house, you first have to determine how much money you will spend. This requires evaluating your income, expenses and future needs and allowing for the unexpected. Once you know your budget, you will need to determine where you want to live and whether that piece of land will support the house you wish to build. You then have to engage the right contractors and engineers to test the soil, draw up the plans, get the necessary permits and so on.
You’ll determine where your house should be located, the style of home you want to build, and the number and size of the rooms you will need to accommodate your long-term plans. You will determine the type of foundation you will need. The specifics like framing materials, exterior parameters, plumbing and heating will need to be determined. You will do all this and more before you ever decide on the interior details such as color, trim, lighting, floors and window treatments. This is no different than creating a strategic and measurable public relations plan for your law firm.
As we explore this topic, you should keep two things in mind: first, an end result—such as being quoted in the press—is the same as color, trim, lighting, floors and window treatments. You don’t get there without first going through strategic planning for your law firm. Second, like real property, public relations is an investment, not an expense.
Law Firm Public Relations Strategy
Law firm public relations strategy can be defined as the determination of the basic long-term objectives of your firm’s communications efforts.
Who are your target audiences and what would you like them to do in response to your message?
Strategy also includes the allocation of resources necessary to carry out your plan, a determination of a manageable timeline and the designation of the benchmarks you will set in order to measure the success of your law firm marketing and PR efforts.
Your strategy will be used to reach your target audiences and convey your messages, as well as to form the foundation of your public relations plan. You certainly would not begin to build the walls of your house without first identifying where the house should be located, the style of home you want to build, the number and size of the rooms you need, and the type of foundation you need to build a home that will stand for centuries.
PR for Lawyers – The Tactics
The tools we use to deliver public relations strategies are called tactics. These tools are like the special amenities we use to enhance our homes. We might install crown molding, granite countertops and custom cabinets to add beauty and value to our homes. Similarly, we can use publicity, community relations, special events, speaking engagements, sponsorships and other forms of proactive advocacy to mold public opinion.
It should be noted, however, that reactive, ad-hoc public relations tactics—sending out a press release, staging an open house, sponsoring a continuing legal education (CLE)program, hosting a press conference—are rarely effective and sometimes dangerous without having first determined your strategy. It’s like purchasing furniture for your home before you have a floor plan.
Just as we cannot expect a house to be built in one day, we must also realize that PR for lawyers will not increase business overnight. Harnessing the impact and power of public relations for lawyers is a long-term, strategic commitment that incorporates many different approaches to achieve a law firm’s goals. Thus, you build the sustainable house.
Public relations, when done right, will allow you to build a portfolio of news clippings and article reprints that helps to objectively establish credibility. Correctly employed and executed, public relations will raise awareness about your legal services and will position you as a thought leader in an ever-growing, competitive marketplace. Public relations is particularly beneficial for lawyers because it promotes legal services and their importance to the marketplace and the community at large. Be certain, however, to remain within the bounds of the restrictive codes of professional conduct.
Your strategy is the blueprint of your public relations home. The tactics are the amenities, furniture and decorations that allow you to reap the benefits.
Strategic Public Relations Planning for Lawyers
A solid public relations program should:
• Build awareness of your law firm and your legal services
• Position you as knowledgeable within your areas of practice
• Position you as a valuable contributor to the legal profession
• Create an environment that will enhance good will among your target audiences
• Educate and persuade your target audiences
• Have a measurable value to you and your firm
Let’s get started in determining the specs for your new law firm public relations plan.
8 Steps in Strategic PR for Law Firms
In order to develop and execute a strategic law firm PR campaign, you must employ an eight-step process. These steps are essential to developing a measurable and sustainable public relations plan.
1. Establish your goals and objectives.
2. Define how you want to be perceived.
3. Determine your target audiences.
4. Establish your key message—what do you want and need to say?
5. Decide what you want your target audiences to do.
6. Identify which tactics will persuade your target audiences to act in the desired manner.
7. Implement each tactic to generate optimal results.
8. Measure your successes against your goals and objectives.
Returning to the home-building analogy, first determine where you want to live (strategy). Then decide what type of house you want to live in (perception / position). Next, define who will live in the house (target audiences). Then explain to the architect how you want to live and how you plan to use your living space (key message). The architect will design your home and grounds so that you can use it the way you would like (call- to-action). The builder will build the house so that you will enjoy the space in the intended manner (tactics).
Once the house is complete, it will be furnished and decorated with the amenities that allow you to live in style and comfort (Implementation). Finally, when all is said and done, walk across the street, look up at the house and say, “Wow, what a great investment we’ve made in our new home. It has already appreciated in value and was a sound use of our resources.” (measurement)
What all this means is that your law firm public relations plan needs to fit into your firm’s business and marketing plans. The purpose of the plan is to state your goals and detail how they will be achieved. You must adopt a proactive mind-set, not a reactive one. Look for ways to get out in front of a story or opportunity. Create your own news and events. Set the agenda. Frame the issue. Garner the positive publicity for your law firm.
Copyright © 2017 by Gina Furia Rubel. All rights reserved.
First published in 2007 | Furia Rubel Communications, Inc.
Library of Congress Control Number: 2007941911
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