Law firms are known for the diverse minds and unique perspectives they bring to the table for clients. These qualities can be beneficial when developing legal strategies heading into a case or transaction. But that approach does not always lend itself well to law firm PR and content marketing.
Consider the potential ethics issues that might arise if lawyers don’t have specific client approval to pursue PR on a particular matter.
Imagine how recruiting could suffer if partners and associates share very different views about what it’s like to work at the firm and promotion opportunities.
What if the way a firm communicates with clients is far from standardized?
When firms lack a unified approach to messaging, it can quickly turn into a “too many cooks in the kitchen” situation or discourage attorneys from pursuing PR efforts at all.
Law firms must consider how best to communicate key ideas in today’s internet economy. As the world gets more complex and we’re overwhelmed with information, it is difficult for people to process multiple messages. It’s why we often recommend “niching down” when it comes to law firm PR and content.
While some firms manage this dance of proper messaging well, many have work to do. Here are some of our suggestions for fostering a unified approach to law firm messaging.
How to develop unified messaging and talking points
A scattershot approach to developing messaging can lead to slipshod results. To avoid this, firms must ensure everyone is on the same page. Our recommended approach is to establish a centralized framework for developing firm messaging.
Depending on the size of the firm, this can be done by designating a single contact or establishing a committee.
Firms that appoint a single person as their messaging contact, such as the company’s chief of marketing or a PR-savvy partner, will experience many benefits. A single point of contact can offer a neutral viewpoint when:
- Connecting with different office locations
- Corresponding with various practice groups and attorneys about messaging
- Understanding and developing PR initiatives
- Producing thought leadership content
- And more
This organizational setup can also help simplify routine communications and feedback workflows when the firm works with an outside public relations agency. The firm’s point person can compile feedback from multiple departments and serve as an agency’s go-to resource for directing its work.
However, a committee-based approach also has its upsides; many of our law firm clients succeed with this model. With this approach, marketing committees, if developed the right way, can:
- Help law firms canvass different practice group perspectives
- Leverage democratized decision-making
- Work out compromises and messaging disagreements face-to-face
While the committee must adopt a coordinated and organized review process to work effectively with an outside public relations agency, it can harness the strengths of its members to integrate perspectives that could get lost in translation in the hands of a single point of contact.
Note: For a committee to be effective, the firm must structure and operate the committee correctly. What does this look like?
Your marketing committee’s roster should include:
- High-ranking partners (the number will vary based on the dynamics of your particular firm)
- Anyone with final authority on media-related matters
- Individuals well-versed in the different aspects of the firm’s practice groups, such as department heads or high-ranking senior associates
- For firms with multiple office locations: Don’t forget to include individuals from each of your locations to provide that “boots on the ground” perspective
While a robust committee never hurts, be careful about sending out too many invitations. Committees should be careful not to make their membership so large that they cannot make swift decisions. An effective solution is to have the committee correspond with representatives at each office about day-to-day developments, messaging preferences and critical decisions.
Regardless of the messaging development workflow a firm chooses, any decision a firm makes should factor in the firm’s diverse viewpoints. These viewpoints should include diversity, equity and inclusion considerations, as well as the perspectives of attorneys on all rungs of the partnership ladder. Acknowledging and working with these perspectives can help a firm’s messaging contact or committee weigh all factors when developing plans and collateral that resonate with specific target audiences.
Even under a single-contact or multi-department-committee approach, any firm can benefit from outside perspectives that help them understand how journalists, influencers and prospective clients could react to messaging. For this reason, a firm should hold regular input calls and meetings with its legal PR agency of choice to allow the agency’s experienced media professionals to chime in and guide the direction of the firm’s messaging.
Develop a system to collect feedback from all levels of the firm
Many law firm leaders balk or feel overwhelmed by the prospect of collecting feedback from their lawyers. It’s partly why messaging problems arise in the first place, with impatient partners assuming they are all set to tackle media opportunities and thought leadership development around a particular case.
If this is your firm’s modus operandi, then caveat emptor. Your firm might not achieve the impact it desires.
Developing unified messaging requires cohesive communication. To achieve this and reinforce overall messaging in media appearances, law firms must have systems to gather ideas around how to position the firm’s strengths and benefits for potential clients, laterals and recruits (also known as its value proposition or unique selling proposition, to borrow terms used more frequently in other industries). For example, partners working on high-profile or potentially newsworthy cases should develop key messaging before speaking to the media to ensure only what the firm (and client) want to communicate is relayed in an interview.
Attaining this goal will require regular work, efficiency and organization from all involved in firm communications. Ideally, individual contacts or firmwide committees should meet regularly to share ideas and hash out strategies. If applicable, account members from the law firm’s public relations agency should attend these meetings to weigh in on these ideas and advise how they can execute these elements as part of the firm’s overall strategy.
Other strategies that firms can explore include regular input calls with specific practice group contacts. Trained and experienced legal PR professionals can guide and moderate these knowledge extraction efforts to gather the information needed for the firm’s marketing efforts.
In addition, the firm’s marketing leads should decide who should act as the “face of the firm” when dealing with media contacts. Once identified, these partners should meet with the firm’s PR agency to undergo media training to learn how they can fully maximize their upcoming interview and article opportunities.
Consolidate the feedback you’ve received into coherent messaging
Once the contact or committee has canvassed all corners of the firm for messaging input, they must synthesize what’s gathered into actionable messaging. Given the shifting media environment and various avenues of messaging a firm has at its disposal (traditional media, social media and the podcast circuit), working all these points together can be both an art and a science. When developing messaging, consider the following:
- Who is the firm’s target audience? Is the firm prioritizing a campaign to attract more laterals? Are certain partners looking to publicize high-profile cases that could upend prior precedent in their practice area? Messaging to increase recruiting and promote law firm culture will be substantially different from messaging supporting the strength of a particular case or practice group.
- Who will deliver the messages? Selecting the right spokespeople at your firm to relay pertinent messaging will determine whether those messages will resonate. Working with experienced legal PR professionals can help identify the strengths of each partner and help them find media opportunities that bring out their best qualities.
- What media opportunities will you focus on? Some messaging will work better in some venues than others. Lawyers looking to showcase their expertise and capabiliites should consider contributed bylined articles and op-eds in legal and business publications. Firms looking to highlight their community outreach efforts, DEI initiatives and law firm culture should consider pitching feature stories around these activities.
- For recruiting messaging, have you talked with pertinent HR contacts? Suppose the firm is developing messaging for recruiting purposes. In that case, appropriate contacts from human resources should weigh in on how relevant the law firm’s messaging is to the priorities of recruits considering the firm. The firm’s HR department should be an involved and invaluable partner in helping tailor this messaging to key observations and collected data around lateral, new associate and staff recruitment initiatives.
- Have you secured necessary client approvals, if applicable? Of course, lawyers and law firms must respect the boundaries of the attorney-client relationship if their messaging involves pending matters. Before moving forward with any messaging involving a client, teams must discuss their plans with appropriate client representatives and follow their preferred media guidelines.
Work with your in-house and outside marketing and PR team members to fine-tune messaging
While developing unique ideas in-house is always good, discussing any initiatives with people outside the firm’s bubble is even more helpful. Law firms often develop their priorities and messaging within a silo or based on the firm’s internal data. The risk of this approach is that it does not always consider how those outside the firm may receive or respond to the messaging points.
To mitigate these risks, firms should have their in-house and outside marketing and PR teams analyze messaging points to identify weaknesses and missed opportunities. Lawyers should hold media training sessions with PR and marketing contacts to ensure they’re ready for interviews. By doing so, the firm’s attorneys will come across as confident and ready to take on whatever questions or challenges any media opportunities present.