Public Relations (PR) is an important part of raising brand awareness for any sector, offering companies an effective way to reach and engage with their target audience through online and print publications. However, all too often the possibilities of PR are overlooked or not fully exploited by the legal sector.
Many firms that neglect PR as part of their marketing are ones that rely heavily on referrals and word of mouth for business and so don’t believe they need it. Some perhaps are wary of investing time and resources into PR as it doesn’t always lead to the more immediate and obvious results that, for example, PPC and paid advertising can provide.
However, this thinking is misguided. There are numerous benefits that press coverage can bring to a law firm, regardless of its size or standing in the sector, that simply cannot be achieved through other means. To neglect PR would be to risk falling behind your competitors and losing out on prospective clients.
In this article, I’ll take you through exactly what those benefits are, and how your law firm can set up and deliver a PR strategy in the right way in order to reap the most tangible results.
PR - What Is It Good For?
Simply put, PR is built for brand awareness. But there’s a lot more to it than that. To dig in deeper, you have to ask: what are we raising brand awareness for or of? This might seem obvious - to raise the profile of your firm in order to reach your target audience and raise your standing in the sector.
But if you use PR wisely, you can be much more strategic in your approach, tailoring your strategy to achieve the precise objectives of your law firm’s business needs. For example, you can use PR to:
- Generate more enquiries for a specific department - either because you’ve hired more staff in this area, because you’ve seen in a drop in enquiries due to an aggressive competitor, or because it is a high-value service area
- Raise the profile of a specific staff member or team because they’re up for an award / they’re a much-coveted new hire and you want to impress clients
- Alert a particular demographic to your existence because you’ve opened an office in a new location
- Attract the best new trainee solicitors
- Impress high-profile prospective or current clients with your legal expertise and authoritativeness on topical issues
- Raise awareness of a charity, cause or local issue important to your brand
In conjunction with all of the above, online press coverage plays a key role in boosting your search engine ranking - shooting you up the Google page listings to appear higher when prospective clients search for your keywords (more of this below).
PR - Doing it the Right Way
So, let's get into the nitty gritty - how can you do PR the right way and create an effective PR strategy that will achieve your goals?
1. Identify Your Goals
The first step is to determine exactly what it is that you are hoping to achieve. This could be:
- General improvement in brand awareness
- Increase in enquiries to a specific legal department
- Increase in CV applications
- Improvement in search engine ranking
- Sign ups to an event
With these goals in mind, you will be able to develop a strategy that is finely tuned to the needs of your business - rather than giving in to the temptation of broad-sweeping PR for PR’s sake. Establishing goals from the outset will also give yourself something to refer back to in order to qualify if your campaign is proving successful or if it needs refining.
2. Where to Pitch for Your Target Audience
The next step is to consider where you want to pitch your content to. In order to do so strategically, you must have a clear idea of who your target audience is. When considering prospective clients and the service you are hoping to raise awareness of, it may be helpful to consider the following questions:
- Is it predominantly men or women who will use the service?
- What is their income level?
- What are their interests?
- Where are they located?
The answers to these questions will help to inform what types of publications your audience will be reading and so where you should pitch to. Don’t forget, the audience you’re aiming at will be different if you’re trying to raise the profile of a specific service area. For example, someone who might need a personal injury lawyer could be very different to someone who is looking for advice on making a will or setting up a trust.
Examples of publications:
- National and/or local newspapers
- Tabloid or broadsheets
- National and/or local business publications
- General trade and industry publications, e.g. legal, tech, leisure, security, HR, real estate, media, charities
- Niche magazines and blogs, e.g. women’s interest, men’s health, SMEs, business
While it can be tempting to aim just at the big, national broadsheets and high-visibility websites, those niche blogs that have high engagement from your specific audience can often yield much greater results. Therefore it can pay to take your time in drawing up an exhaustive media list of all possible avenues for your content. Think outside of the box.
One last top tip for where to pitch: take a look at where your competitors have secured coverage, this can offer you insights into where you might want to promote your content.
3. Knowing What to Pitch
You know what you want to achieve, who you are aiming at and where you can reach them, so now’s the time to think about the type of content that you are pitching to your carefully crafted media list.
Both specialist practices and full-service law firms are lucky enough to have a myriad of opportunities and resources with which to generate content (though they may not realise it). This can range from publicising company news such as great results or new hires, to offering expert opinions on topical issues already being discussed in the news.
The three main types of content you will want to consider include:
- Press releases
- Press releases accompanied with a designed asset, e.g. reports, whitepapers, infographics and animations
- Expert commentaries
In order to know what type of content to create, and when, here are our top tips:
- Plan ahead #1: Take a look at your company’s calendar to see what’s coming up that you might want to promote with a press release - significant cases that are due to come to a conclusion or charity fundraising occasions that you might wish to highlight
- Plan ahead #2: Keep an eye on significant external events. This could be new laws that are coming into effect soon, or perhaps national awareness days that relate to services you offer. With these in your marketing calendar, you can prepare press releases in advance that will deliver your message when these events come to pass. Depending on the type of event on the horizon, you could also use the time leading up to the event to generate a more comprehensive asset to accompany your press release. For example, for JMW, we created a poster about how to spot the signs of sepsis in children ahead of World Sepsis Day in order to raise awareness of the clinical negligence department
- Leave space to be reactive. Events overtake us all the time: a sudden catastrophe, alarming news story or scandal can pop up overnight. In this instance it can pay to write up and release a quick commentary from one of your legal experts. You should have a ready prepared list of media contacts already to hand from Step 2, but keep an eye out for who else covers the issue and make sure you send them a copy of the commentary. For example, we pitched commentary from Ramsdens Solicitors in reaction to the Barry Bennell case, securing a feature in The Independent
Note: What’s the difference between a press release and a commentary? Simply put, a press release is written as a news story about a subject that contains quotes from representatives at your company. A commentary consists entirely of a long-form, in-depth quote from one of your representatives.
- What do you want people to be talking about? Strategic PR means getting people thinking and talking about what you want them to be discussing: your brand. However, finding a way in can sometimes be tricky, especially if the service you’re offering is niche, not particularly ‘exciting’ or in a crowded market. But here is your opportunity to get more creative and develop eye-catching content that goes out there and grabs the attention of your target audience, rather than waiting for a relevant topical issue to present itself. For example, we wanted to raise the awareness of the JMW personal injury department. Through a series of FOI requests, we created a heat map depicting the number of potholes across Manchester and London, then outreached this to number of publications, securing coverage in local news outlets, industry outlets and niche websites
4. Don’t Squander Your Success
Before you begin any large PR campaign, I would recommend first getting your house in order - i.e. your website. Today’s PR landscape is very much centred on achieving coverage in quality publications with an online presence, and this is for one very good reason: search engine optimisation (SEO).
SEO helps you to appear higher in search engine rankings - thus generating more clicks and traffic from prospective clients. To achieve this, you need authoritative online publications to include a link back to your website, preferably the service page that you are hoping to highlight or generate more enquiries from.
Because of all this you must:
- Make sure that pages on your website are as user-friendly and conversion-rate friendly as possible. The very last thing you want to do after putting in so much effort is for people to visit your website and then immediately leave because they don’t like what they see or can’t find what they need
- Encourage the publications that use your press release or commentary to include a link back to your website, preferably the service page if you’re trying to highlight a specific department
Note: Not all publications will include a link, no matter how politely you ask. It’s always worth scanning a few other articles first to see if any links have been included elsewhere to other companies. If you ask and they say ‘no, it’s not our policy’ make a note so you don’t ask again for future successes!
When you do secure coverage, make sure you shout about it. Retweet or share posts from the publication with links to your coverage on your social media accounts. Make sure to include the publication account in these shares so that they also reap the benefits of your audience.
You can also include your coverage in any newsletters you send out to clients to impress them with your expertise. If your lawyers or solicitors contributed to the article, they might want a link to be added to their personal bio on your website to give their profile more oomph.
Finally, once you think you have secured all possible coverage from a press release or commentary, it can be a good idea to add a similar version of the original copy to your blog. Regular readers of your blog may be interested in the subject, and Google also loves to see fresh, relevant content being uploaded to your website so it ticks another SEO box!
Think You Might Need a Hand?
A comprehensive and successful PR and outreach strategy can take up a lot of time and resources. It requires long-term planning, quick reactions, an eye for a story, the ability to write engaging copy and create eye-catching assets, and relationship-building with journalists.
Fortunately, at I-COM we’re the masters of PR and outreach. So if you need a hand with any element of your PR, or want someone to take on the bulk of the heavy lifting, we’re at the ready to help your business get the attention it deserves.
Want to know a bit more about our work first? Take a look at our legal marketing section.