Communications are constantly changing: look no further than bylines in your favorite local newspaper to know that newsrooms are shrinking and resources are constrained.
At the same time, with the rise of social media and the full range of online publication, the opportunity to tell your own story has never been greater. As a result, now more than ever, it’s essential to cut through the clutter with clear, concise, consistent and timely communications that position you and your clients for success.
Improve client service
It may not have been taught in law school, but we encourage our clients to think of their communications team as an extension of their legal team. Helping your client be prepared to communicate – in a clear, concise and consistent way – can make a big difference for the success of your legal strategy and a real value added in your client service.
Treating strategic communications as a pillar of your legal strategy, especially in highly visible, newsworthy cases, will ensure your client is prepared, not only for the courtroom, but for the court of public opinion. It is applicable across a wide range of business-critical issues for clients, including pursuing local government approvals for real estate developments, litigation, corporate restructuring, labor relations, mergers or acquisitions, regulatory challenges and criminal investigations.
Work with your client to develop a communications strategy that will support the broader legal strategy through timely and well-coordinated communications. It is essential to understand your client’s stakeholders and who needs to hear what, from whom and when.
Help them consider the issue from the perspectives of their various stakeholders – and the media – to identify and respond to potential concerns. Have they got a clear and concise set of talking points tailored for each audience? Are the right people in the organization equipped to answer the questions they may get on this issue? Have they got a media protocol in place to ensure that inquiries are appropriately directed and answered? Ensuring they do, especially in high-profile situations, can be a game changer for your legal strategy and a way to add value for your clients.
Establish your firm as a thought leader
Additionally, strategic communications can – and should – be a way for firms to develop their business and raise their own profile, establish credibility and generate leads. Placing feature stories, securing speaking and presentation opportunities and developing bylined content on timely topics can position you and your fellow attorneys as thought leaders, strengthen your reputation, building trust among prospective clients and helping you build relationships.
When done well, a thorough thought-leadership effort can not only result in new business leads but also generate media opportunities. When you provide timely, insightful commentary to media sources, you become a trusted asset to reporters. That relationship often leads them to pick up the phone and call you when they’re working on a story and in need of an expert source, leading to even more content that displays your expertise.
When it comes to positioning yourself as a thought-leader, it’s important to start by defining the subject areas in which you and your firm have the most value to provide and the most expertise to bring to the table. Next, consider how that area of expertise ties to timely, newsworthy content and insights and develop a plan to help that attorney “own” the subject. Whether it’s identifying the reporters who cover a given topic and scheduling informal “get-to-know-you” meetings, directly pitching specific story ideas, or researching editorial calendars of relevant publications to identify planned stories, developing and executing a comprehensive earned media campaign is central to effectively positioning yourself as a thought leader.
In terms of thought leadership, earned media should be at the core. Third-party validation, when a media outlet chooses you as a source, is important. But, especially in this day and age, “owned” content should not be overlooked. Content created in-house, or in partnership with your communications team, like blog posts, white papers and video commentary, are extremely beneficial to your firm, its brand and its online presence.
But don’t stop there. Instead, consider the “what next?” aspect of thought-leadership content – whether it’s earned or owned. Far too often, the content is developed and posted, the story runs, everyone gives each other high-fives and considers it a win. But, there are many ways to ensure that rich content gets in front of the right audiences – through a supporting digital-promotion strategy. With the right strategy and execution, email marketing, sponsored social media and display ads will not only further the reach of your thought leadership content but also do so in a measurable and actionable way.
Establish your brand and generate leads
Lastly, but perhaps most importantly, at a law firm, you can’t ignore your brand, especially as it appears online. More often than not, your online presence, including your website, blogs and social-media channels, provides a prospective client’s first impression of you and your brand. As a result, until a prospective client meets you, you’re only as good as that brand.
It is essential that you decide on your mission and your value proposition, and bring it to life through messaging and a visual brand displayed on a user-friendly, search-engine-optimized website. You may also want to consider ways to drive web traffic through produced TV spots and digital ads.
The bottom line is, if you’re not investing in developing and marketing your brand, you’re leaving work on the table.
James Madlom is CEO of Mueller Communications, a full-service communications and marketing firm out of Milwaukee. Learn more at Muellercommunications.com/attorney