To win new work in today’s hyper-competitive legal market, law firms are doubling down on marketing and business development.

A 2018 joint research study by Bloomberg Law and the Legal Marketing Association found that more than half of the respondents continue to increase marketing staff and budgets and expect these investments to grow.

The study also reveals that attorneys want more help on public relations than any other area. This should not come as a surprise. As the 2019 Citi Hildebrandt Client Advisory states, “[I]t is reputation and brand that are currently helping firms win new work, rather than scale alone.”

Four months into 2019, with recession fears creeping further into the national dialog, the tangible benefits of building reputation and brand bear emphasizing. To command premium rates and grow revenue profitably, what differentiates your brand must be well-articulated and widely known. Law firms that fail to tell a business-savvy story that connects their legal work to their clients’ business success can find it difficult to transform their work into new business opportunities.

Investment in earned media and thought leadership is the most credible marketing tool to build visibility of leading practices and industries and strengthen your firm’s brand. You can self-promote your deals, wins, and high-profile engagements on social media, your website and in pitch materials, but without third-party validation and promotion of these matters’ significance and relevance to the business community, your efforts will usually ring hollow in the market.

Making the most of your firm’s PR strategy is therefore vital. Here are four key considerations.

Cultivate Media Relationships

The most successful PR professionals distill complex legal concepts and matters into simple terms for key audiences, including reporters. They focus first on the media of greatest influence to clients and prospects, while being mindful of other stakeholders, including the firm’s many lawyers and staff, as well as laterals and law students. They have emotional intelligence. They stay in touch with reporters even if they’re not pitching a story. They point reporters in the right direction if they can’t help on a piece. They share and like reporters’ social media posts.

In short, they are adept at establishing relationships and credibility with key third-party influencers. As a result, these are the relationship-builders for whom reporters take the time to listen to a compelling pitch.

Create Your Own News

PR professionals should constantly be thinking of ways to generate coverage, even in the absence of a win or deal announcement. This includes conducting market surveys or developing analyses and trend pieces—in conjunction with partners in the practices and industries of highest potential value. To resonate with clients and prospects, these thought leadership efforts should deliver forward-thinking perspectives on the evolving business, technological, political or regulatory environment in which companies compete.

Importantly, the best thought leadership often comes from lawyers with the greatest client demands and the least amount of time for marketing projects. If they’re lucky, “free time” for these partners may consist of a Saturday night dinner with their families. Nonetheless, surveys and market analyses can be developed over time and focus these partners’ limited availability to incorporate their brief but impactful commentary and recommendations.

Prepare for Crises

At some point, most every law firm comes under the media microscope due to litigation, individual misdeeds, a data breach, or some other event that threatens to tarnish the firm’s reputation. The benefits of preparing for an attack on your brand cannot be overstated.

Scrambling to retain and bring up to speed a crisis communication expert at the outset of your bad news day is likely to be a losing proposition.

Law firms should have crisis preparedness plans in place in anticipation of various unfavorable contingencies, including business interruptions caused by natural disasters. Proactive efforts to plan for crises will also ensure that outside professionals often tasked to assist in a crisis will already know your firm, its clients and management.

With a pre-existing relationship with your firm, the only thing third-party PR professionals will need to learn in the heat of the moment are the facts and circumstances of the crisis itself.

Measure Effectiveness

The overall marketing spend should be evaluated with meaningful measurements. For PR specifically, how effective is the overall strategy in growing share of voice and positive sentiment relative to peer firms? What goals should be set, and metrics used, to gauge the success of specific campaigns?

Strategies are only as good as the measurable results. Elements of a successful measurement program include calculating target audience reach and engagement, media impressions, website traffic, and, of course, lead generation, where applicable. Analyzing metrics such as these are vital in establishing return on investment of the earned media strategy and the success of individuals who develop and implement these proactive efforts.

In today’s market where reputation and brand are keys to winning profitable work and securing market share, a solid PR strategy is critical. Without compelling and differentiated value propositions, coveted engagements will be harder to come by.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. or its owners.

Author Guidelines

Tom Orewyler is the principal at Tom Orewyler Communications LLC. A lawyer and former journalist, he advises firms on a range of strategic communications and marketing initiatives, including thought leadership, brand differentiation, public relations, crisis communications and internal communications.

Kip Guthrie is the chief marketing officer at Perkins Coie LLP. He is a law firm marketing veteran with a well-established record of leading performance-driven teams, establishing client-centric strategies that measurably grow client engagements, and building brands that drive profitable revenue.