Law firm media relations & communications

April 28, 2010

Law-firm media relations in a Bloomberg age

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Tuerck @ 10:05 am

In my conversations with law-firm partners and leaders, I hear a frequent question: How does the Internet’s increasing dominance in delivering news stories affect law-firm media relations?

In some instances, there’s not much of an effect. If, say, you’re promoting a win at trial to the American Lawyer, or responding to an inquiry from a Wall Street Journal reporter, the approach is essentially the same — even if the product will appear electronically and in the printed version.

In many other instances, however, it’s critical to consider the unique dynamics of online publications when working with reporters. A recent New York Times article analyzing Bloomberg’s recent buyout of BusinessWeek magazine offers at least three helpful insights for PR professionals working with law-firm clients.

1. Speed kills. “One speaker [at a training session following the buyout] was the head of Bloomberg’s ‘speed desk,’ who was especially proud, according to people at the meeting, when the desk published a headline seconds ahead of Reuters,” the article says. Bloomberg leans heavily on its writers to post content before its competitors, and they are compensated in some measure according to their ability to scoop the competition. PR pros who can work at the hyper-speed of that environment (not an easy task, given the more deliberate speed at which cautious lawyers prefer to proceed) will earn the gratitude of writers fighting to be first.

2. Content is king. “News meetings are held at 7:30 a.m.,” the Times reports. “Every writer has a ‘dashboard’ where the metrics determining his compensation — any scoops, hits an article attracts — are tracked.” The competitive pressure means that if you can help reporters write the next story, while presenting well-trained lawyers who can provide clear, compelling analysis, those reporters will come back to you time and again.

3. The market mantra. At Bloomberg, writers are constantly reminded that their content must “move markets.” Bloomberg’s core subscribers are Wall Street types — traders, bankers, hedge-fund managers, and so on. Wall Street types are always on the prowl for information that will affect share pricing, and Bloomberg became a media colossus through its ability to provide that information. PR pros pitching their clients’ stories to Bloomberg should thus be prepared to explain how their pitch will move markets.

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April 9, 2010

The directories debate: We’re asking the wrong question (part II)

Filed under: law firm communications — John Tuerck @ 9:19 am

In my last post, I suggested that when it comes to the question of whether firms should participate in the directories process, the issue isn’t the benefit of being ranked. That issue is largely settled, as a recent study confirms. The real issue is whether in-house marketing professionals have a say in whether their firms will participate in the process.

Having a say is a formidable challenge because directory rankings — particularly in high-profile publications like the various Chambers guides — appeal both to the lawyers’ desire for recognition and competitive instincts. Those are powerful forces. At the same time, lawyers are trained to examine each side of an argument, and if you can make a clear and thoughtful argument against participating in the directories process, the lawyers will listen.

What are the components of such an argument?

The resource drain: Marketing and practice-support resources, particularly in this era of fiscal austerity, are limited. Participating in the directories process requires a substantial investment of time and resources, which necessarily crowds out other, more productive marketing endeavors. Large firms participating in a handful of directories, including Chambers, can expect to devote substantially all of one marketing staffer’s time, in addition to the efforts of practice-support personnel. That’s not to mention the time investment on the part of busy partners, with the opportunity cost of lost billable hours.

The beauty-pageant problem: No matter how systematic and thoughtful the process, directory rankings are arbitrary and capricious. How does an underpaid, overworked directory researcher sifting through stacks of lengthy submissions really differentiate top-notch law firms? How is it that researchers can accurately assess the performance of lawyers in esoteric disciplines like, say, tax? All too often, published rankings contradict what clients already know. An example: one year, the Legal 500 guide omitted Jesse Jenner — a titan in the patent bar, the man who beat the Lemelson Foundation in the landmark bar-code case — from its ranking of IP litigators. That’s a bit like excluding Tom Brady from your list of the top 5 NFL quarterbacks. Why jump through all of the hoops in the directory process when the outcome is so uncertain?

Low ROI: The attempt to quantify the return on investment is a constant source of frustration in marketing. With the Acritas study cited above, however, in-house marketing professionals can finally produce data confirming their hunch that the directory process is not worth the effort. Better to spend the time visiting your client, or performing market research, or participating in a credentialing activity like writing an article for publication in a trade paper.

In the end, the lawyers in your firm may well decide to participate in the directories process even after hearing your thoughtful argument. At a minimum, however, they will be aware of the costs of participating, as well as the flaws in the process and the nebulous ROI. And they will respect you for making the case.

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