While conventional wisdom would indicate that the largest, best-known M&A law firms are receiving the vast majority of this year’s deal flow, some firms are clearly punching above their weight.
Many firms are realizing that, within today’s interconnected market for news, information and reputational equity, a strategic communications program can quickly elevate their profile above the crowd—and secure a disproportionate share of new deals in the process.
Having worked with many M&A law firms, as well other players in transactions like investment banks and private equity firms, I’ve seen first-hand the impact that a strategic communications program can have on deal flow. Here are a few pitfalls common to law firms—and best communications practices that have proven effective.
Maximize the Value of Deal Announcements
Announcing deals is critical to every firm’s communications strategy for a reason: you want to consistently show that you’re active and executing on the highest level. The problem is that deal-specific announcements usually take a “just the facts” approach. To stand out, it’s best to go a step further.
Broadly speaking, deal announcements provide minimal strategic insight or context to industry trends. While this strategy is appropriate for a legal brief, it’s not the type of content that generates editorial interest. Editors will rarely do more than a quick write-up or redistribution of the release itself.
Adding just a hint of context—such as positioning a deal as an outlier or indicative of a trend your firm is starting to see—would give reporters a reason to do a more robust, engaging story. I often recommend citing similar deals in the same release, allowing a firm to define a trend and highlight specific expertise that will drive lead generation.
Drive the Narrative
Today’s news cycle moves quickly and favors those that take the initiative. Instead of a reactive stance to news commentary or relying entirely on deals within your firm, leverage your expertise and point of view to drive the narrative in the direction of your choosing—but keep it timely and react in real time.
While the pace of communications and content development at law firms is unlikely to change overnight, prior planning can facilitate quick action when the moment is right. Choose specific storylines on which to take a meaningful stand. If these guardrails are in place, you will be able to identify opportunities when they arise and respond quickly and insightfully, whether it’s for a media interview or for a timely marketing piece.
Taking this proactive stance to engage the media will save your leadership time in the long run—and will generate coverage for your firm that will keep you top of mind for new deals.
Create Engaging Content
Law firms generate impressive amounts of intellectual capital, usually white papers and commentary on new legislation or decisions through firmwide content marketing programs. However, these are often too complex or too long to be effective with every stakeholder. Your existing and potential clients have neither the time nor the background to properly digest content prepared for the highest level of legal peer review.
Adapting content for more mainstream consumption does not equate to dumbing down the material. Separate your content into smaller sections, eliminate jargon and provide connections to trends that are driving the industry.
Enhance your messaging further using videos, infographics, and other forms of interactive content that is made for today’s busy digital audiences. When planned correctly, these efforts won’t take more time than a traditional white paper—and might actually take less—but will open your content to more audiences.
Tear Down the Silos
By the very nature of their work, individual attorneys and practices within larger firms are highly focused on their clients and often have little interaction with other practices. A silo mentality can easily arise, which can present an inconsistent message to stakeholders seeking to engage with your firm.
Define a clear and consistent value proposition and messaging architecture that resonates for the firm, each practice and each attorney. Planning is essential, and when done effectively, this tactic can provide critical lines of communication between practices, as well as a consistent impression for external stakeholders.
Accountability is essential for long-term success. A neutral party can be helpful not only in drafting brand messages but encouraging cross-practice collaboration, holding parties accountable and keeping positioning up to date. It can take time to establish a framework and change firm culture, but the payoff is quickly realized when potential clients view your firm through a brand image of your choosing.
Communicate as an Employer of Choice
In today’s market for legal talent, top performers always have the power to choose the firm that best fits their needs. As your firm’s growth relies on its ability to hire and retain top-notch lower-level talent, this task is simply too vast for an already overstretched HR department to take on alone.
A strategic communications plan has the ability to address multiple audiences—including existing and potential talent for your firm. As you build your tiered brand messaging, make one of your key storylines about your firm’s culture and/or the work of junior staff. Provide associates and junior partners with the opportunity to participate in commentary, case studies and thought leadership.
Complement this effort with internal messaging that celebrates individual achievement of emerging talent—but don’t worry about poaching. In our interconnected world, no talent remains hidden for long. Long-term retention requires a more strategic approach that celebrates achievement and promotes inclusion in a larger, cohesive brand identity.
The Final Note
Changing your communications strategy can seem daunting when you’re already facing a mountain of work. Take a step back and evaluate what’s workable for your team. In many cases these changes are minor, can save your firm time and generate meaningful business leads.
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. or its owners.
Alex Stanton is CEO of Stanton, a communications firm with offices in New York and California.