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.

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.

March 31, 2010

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

Filed under: law firm,law firm communications — John Tuerck @ 8:16 pm

The ongoing debate over the merits of law-firm directories like the Chambers guides flared anew on the LawMarketing List Serv (subscription required), a well-regarded resource for legal marketing experts. Larry Bodine, the founder of the list serv, expresses his unequivocal disdain for directories in general and Chambers in particular. In support, Bodine cites a recent Times of London article reporting on the finding of a recent survey that “only three percent [of general counsel in companies that hire firms] said that they have been influenced significantly by information in the directories.”

“Now law firm marketers can toss the vaunted Chambers directory on the heap with the soggy yellow pages dumped on their driveways, Superlawyers, Avvo and the 950 other surveys and rankings of law firms,” Bodine writes in a message posted to his list serv. “Statistically significant evidence proves that all of them generate little to no new business for law firms.” [Emphasis in original, as lawyers would say.]

Not every legal-marketing expert in the debate takes Larry’s view; some contend that a Chambers ranking can validate the decision by counsel to hire a firm, while others believe it can serve as a tiebreaker in, say, a competitive RFP with other, equally qualified firms. The general consensus, however, is that the substantial cost in time, money and effort that firms invest outweighs any benefit from a directory ranking.

I side with Larry and the others but wonder if we’re asking the right question. It’s fine that legal-marketing experts generally agree that directories like Chambers tend not to influence hiring decisions by general counsel. But the consensus view matters little if law-firm dynamics prevent or impede in-house marketing experts from stepping back and raising the issue with firm leadership of whether the benefits of participating in the directory process outweigh the costs.

The real question, then, is how in-house marketing experts can have a say in whether their firms should participate in the directory process. That question goes to the heart of the dynamics of the relationship between the law-firm partnership and professional staff, and addressing it here would result in a post longer than a Tolstoy novel. I’ll explore the answer in part II.

March 29, 2010

And now, for something completely different — or not?

Filed under: law firm media relations — John Tuerck @ 8:36 pm

As many pundits have observed, the fierce debate over health-care reform reflects the larger question of the proper scope of government in in economic matters. A clever take on that question is this YouTube video, “Fear the Boom and Bust — a Hayek vs. Keynes Rap Anthem.” The video, an innovative blend of style and substance, has garnered more than one million views.

So what does this have to do with law-firm media relations? The decades-old debate between Keynesian theory and the free-market approach of Friedrich von Hayek is important, yet esoteric. Nevertheless, the producers of the YouTube video linked above have found a creative way to frame the debate. In a similar vein, media-savvy lawyers are adept at translating complex legal concepts for a lay audience. That’s not to suggest that lawyers should be posting rap videos to YouTube, but the message is clear: If they can cut through the legal jargon and tell their story in a clear, engaging way, the audience will pay attention.

March 26, 2010

Legal ‘speed dating,’ or why not all publicity is good publicity

Filed under: Media coverage — John Tuerck @ 3:49 pm

Toyota’s purported problem with the sudden acceleration of several of its models has been a PR debacle for the company. To some extent, this is a self-inflicted wound, as the Japanese automaker was slow to respond to the building crisis and only grudgingly addressed the issue months after it surfaced.

At the same time, the lawyers lining up to represent prospective plaintiffs in litigation against the company hardly bathed themselves in glory in today’s Wall Street Journal. In “Lawyers Play Speed-Date in Toyota Suit Tussle,” writer Dionne Searcey paints an unflattering portrait of plaintiffs’ lawyers jockeying before a panel of federal judges in San Diego for the sake of consolidating the various suits in their preferred venue — all to put themselves in the best position to reap the anticipated attorneys’ fees generated by the complex litigation. A Los Angeles lawyer cited in the story compared the scene to the “floor of the New York Stock Exchange.”

Toyota has only recently righted the ship in the PR battle to repair its tarnished image. Stories of fee-seeking plaintiffs’ lawyers bellying up to the bar will only help the beleaguered automaker, which goes to show that for lawyers involved in high-profile  litigation, silence can be golden.

March 24, 2010

The health care law: A PR bonanza for lawyers?

Filed under: Media coverage — John Tuerck @ 9:35 am

Setting aside the merits of the new health care regime, there’s no debating the opportunity to obtain terrific visibility for many lawyers and law firms. It’s not just attorneys advising health care providers and hospitals who have an unprecedented occasion to showcase their expertise. Also benefiting are attorneys who practice in other areas affected by the bill – e.g., employee benefits, labor, ERISA, and insurance, among many others. Take just one example: As the Heritage Foundation explains, under one new rule in the House reconciliation bill, “companies with 50 or more workers that do not offer a ‘qualified’ health plan or pay 60 percent of health insurance premiums would face an annual tax penalty of $2,000 per full-time worker.” Given the broad reach of the new rule, there is a vast audience — companies and employees alike — with an immediate interest in exactly how the new rule works, and how it affects them. That’s just one opportunity, and with 153 pages in the House reconciliation bill, there are dozens of others for lawyers and law firms looking for a bit of visibility.

March 15, 2010

Apple v. Google

Filed under: Media coverage — John Tuerck @ 8:45 pm

The impending battle of tech titans, as covered in Sunday’s New York Times, offers an ideal opportunity to garner visibility for IP practices at leading law firms. As described in the article, erstwhile business partners Google and Apple are edging towards open conflict over cellphones. Why is this an opportunity for IP practitioners? Because the battle will be on the patent front, and the reporters covering it will need help in translating the action for readers. The Times and the Wall Street Journal drive coverage by other media, and Sunday’s article is the opening salvo in what promises to be a promising opportunity for PR pros at law firms.

March 12, 2010

Creating Powerful Credentialing Activities Through Proactive PR

Filed under: Published articles — John Tuerck @ 3:08 pm

It’s not difficult to promote a headline-making victory at trial or a high-profile IPO. More challenging and rewarding is the practice of helping reporters write the next story. In an article published in the February 2010 edition of Strategies, the journal of the Legal Marketing Association, I offer suggestions on how PR professionals can spot the next story and help their attorney-clients obtain a valuable business-development credential in the process. To read the article, please click the following link: Creating Powerful Credentialing Activities Through Proactive PR

Cutting through the clutter

Filed under: Posts — John Tuerck @ 10:36 am

Lawyers address complex issues, but the aim of this blog is to present simple and straightforward tips on how they can help their firms cut through the clutter of today’s media and distinguish themselves in an ultra-competitive marketplace.

A recovering lawyer and former journalist, I’ve held in-house positions in the marketing departments at two Am Law 100 firms — Hunton & Williams and Ropes & Gray. I draw on that experience when advising clients on a variety of marketing and communications initiatives, from media plans for practice groups to crises and issue management and the publication of attorney-authored articles. I also provide strategic direction on legal directories such as Chambers, improvements to client alerts and other electronic communications, and the drafting and editing of written content.

Please contact me at jtuerck@gmail.com or 781-801-7381.

- John

The Rubric Theme Blog at WordPress.com.

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