5 Things PR Firms Need to Know About Their Legal Clients

GravelIf you are a communications professional and have decided to take on some law firms or individual attorneys as clients, you will likely face a unique set of obstacles. Attorneys are very particular about the way they market and that’s not without valid reason. On one hand, an attorney needs to promote her- or him- self in order for potential clients to find them. On the other hand, if an attorney decides to advertise in a new or innovative way, they may risk drawing the attention of their state bar ethics board. Here are some things that PR Firms and marketing professionals need to know about their legal clients and a few tips that may help you navigate the attorney-marketer relationship.

1. There is no time for marketing
In a law firm production is king and anything non-billable such as marketing is often discouraged. Therefore, lawyers often fail to see the big picture and the potential return on investment from participating in marketing efforts. For instance, many firms have very lucrative reward compensations systems, which are triggered by bringing in new business. A lawyer cannot bill for the two hours you spend a week handling their social media accounts or the five hours it took to write a bylined article for an industry magazine. However, in a few months when they get a call from So-and-So, CEO from “Big Company” because he/she read your clients intriguing article in The Legal Paper and saw their profile on LinkedIn, and he/she wants to meet to discuss representation of Big Company in a multi-million dollar deal, everything changes. Only then will a lawyer feel are those tedious-unpaid-for marketing efforts are suddenly reaping some benefits. This is not to say that having a LinkedIn profile and writing a bylined magazine will undoubtedly lead to huge client deals, however, it can multiply the opportunity for that to happen tenfold and your client needs to understand that.

Tip: Create substantive measurable goals for your clients and explain how some results may not initially reap benefits. Whenever possible, track as much of your marketing efforts and engagement as possible. Having solid numbers representing growth prior to- and post- marketing initiatives can instill trust and motivate attorneys to participate in your marketing strategies.

2. Social Media for Lawyers
The good news is that lawyers are finally beginning to understand the impact of social media and many have begun to interact on a variety of social networks. The bad news is that legal ethics committees across the country have recognized this and have issued conflicting and sometimes confusing, opinions regarding the ethical issues presented when lawyers interact online.

Tip: Make sure you know the law before you give your clients advice on what their social media efforts should entail. If you go into your meeting with your client armored with the knowledge and understanding of the ethical issues that can arise with social marketing for lawyers, they will be less resistant to participating and confident you can help them navigate what many are calling the “social media ethical minefield.”

3. Lack of understanding, focus and accountability
This one may surprise you. How could a smart lawyer lack understanding, focus and/or accountability? Lawyers are trained to learn a lot of information in a short period of time, to make sense of it, and to analyze it. However, they are not trained to promote their business. In general, attorneys are uncomfortable with marketing. Many times marketing is poorly understood and ineffectively implemented in law firms, small and large. This is not a new revelation, but the reason is often due to a lack of understanding, training, and experience with the process in addition to the ethical issues that comes along with it.

Tip: Tell your clients to treat marketing as a new specialty rather than an added job. By law, an attorney must provide competent representation to a client. Competent representation requires the legal knowledge, skill, thoroughness and preparation reasonably necessary for the representation, according to the law. In other words, when a lawyer is practicing on a new case with issues the lawyer has not worked on previously they must take the time to educate themselves adequately enough to represent that client competently. Encourage your clients to treat themselves as a client and marketing a new law they need to learn. They can think of it as a contingency client. Only if they win (participating in your strategies), they make money. The more your client understands what marketing is the easier you job will be.

4. Strong “anti-marketing” culture
There is a distinct culture for lawyers and their marketing efforts and getting lawyers and law firms do anything different or new is not an easy task. Lawyers do not look at marketing in a positive light. Instilling a marketing mindset among lawyers is a major effort for most legal marketing professionals. Generally, law firm culture perpetuates the stereotypical lawyer tendencies to be highly skeptical of new ideas and concepts, needing proof that change will work; to prefer their own judgment over all; and to have a high sense of urgency, expecting immediate results on even complex efforts.

Tip: The legal market is changing and law firms must evolve in order to survive. Any firm that wants to last in today’s increasingly competitive marketplace must support a marketing and sales culture, to some extent. Market changes are forcing lawyers run their firms more like a business than ever before. As they should! Remind your client marketing is what enables a firm to attract and retain desirable clients, and it puts the firm in a position to fire the ones it no longer wants. If nothing else, the capability of releasing a difficult client without feeling it in the bank, will motivate an attorney to ramp up their marketing efforts.

5. Credibility
Some lawyers believe marketing is not a valid profession or discipline. You and I know that’s a falsity and we are responsible for invalidating that perception. Many attorneys are confused about the difference between marketing and advertising and do not realize that marketing activities can exist without any promotional components. As I mentioned earlier, attorneys do not look at marketing efforts in a positive light. When lawyers discuss some more traditional and explicit forms of advertising (i.e. billboards and commercials) it is often considered a joke. Therefore, at times, lawyers do not see the profession of marketing as a credible one. It is the job of the legal marketing professionals to dispel any misconceptions of the profession and show their clients how effective marketing can be for lawyers. In fact, most marketing initiatives recommended lawyers do not involve traditional advertising at all.

Tip: In order to build your credibility with your clients, be careful about how you look and speak. It is very important that you are professional and that you choose your words wisely. Lawyers are trained to analyze language. In addition to that, you must make an effort to understand, at the very least, the gist of the particular law your client practices. Understanding the terminology and the basic framework will take you a long way with your lawyer clients. Explain to your client that you understand the complexities of the law firm brand and that your services are tailored for the particular industry. When you can show that you perform your services at the same standard that an attorney performs theirs, credibility and trust is created.

My number one piece of advice when dealing with lawyers as clients: Do not take anything personally!
Lawyers are infamous for being explicit and frank. They are not going to delicately turn down your ideas. They will tell you they hate it, why they hate it, and how silly they think you are for thinking it was right for them. Learning to take this as constructive, albeit rude, criticism, will take you much father with your law firm clientele.

As an Account Executive at Maven Communications, Valerie Calderon specializes in professional services public relations, business development, crisis communications and content marketing. With a diverse and accomplished background, Valerie brings a deliberate and distinctive style to critical communication strategies for her clients. Valerie has more than half a decade of legal and real estate experience. Her business and legal background provides her with insight on working with C-suite executives and attorneys in creating successful communication plans that provide measurable success for their companies.  Valerie earned her Juris Doctorate from Villanova School of Law with a concentration on corporate and international law. She also earned a Master of Science degree in accounting with a concentration on marketing and her Bachelor of Science degree in marketing with a concentration in international business from the Tobin School of Business at St. John’s University.

The Marriage of PR and Employee Engagement – Industry Experts Weigh In

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Public relations is defined as “a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.” PR is telling the story of the organization and protecting its reputation on behalf of all stakeholders. Knowing that it’s an organization’s employees that give the company structure, substance, and culture – and not the other way around – it’s vital to engage your workforce in this process.

However, one must be engaged themselves as a PR professional first to be viewed as credible to his or her audience. When the PR employee is perceived as a genuine, ethical and trustworthy colleague, in both favorable and disastrous times the organization and its reputation both win.

In his book, WE, How to Increase Performance and Profits through Full Engagement, author Kevin Kruse defined employee engagement as, “the extent to which employees are motivated to contribute to organizational success and are willing to apply discretionary effort to accomplishing tasks important to the achievement of organizational goals.” Based on a 4-domain model, employee engagement is governed by four primary key drivers: communication, growth, recognition and trust.

A simple exercise mentioned in Kruse’s book is the “We Test.” The test is performed by asking employees to describe the way they refer to their workplace. Is the word “they” used when describing the organization or do employees refer to the organization in “we” terms? “You can tell a lot about an organization’s culture and whether workers are fully engaged in their jobs by how often they use the word “we” as opposed to “they,” “our” or even “I,” states Kruse.

With this in mind, how does PR help to build and enhance employee engagement?

PR needs to be the link in getting employees educated and excited to perform and exceed. “It’s a symbiotic relationship. You really can’t have one without the other,” said Georgina Gonzalez-Robiou, APR, director, marketing & public relations at Baptist Outpatient Services & Baptist Health Enterprises in Miami, Fla. She continued, “employees with a higher level of engagement are more likely to be active on behalf of the organization and serve as brand ambassadors.” Brand ambassadors can be your biggest advocates in the community, be it for charity walks, serving on boards, or representing the organization in various outreach events.

At St. Peter’s Health Partners in Albany, N.Y., engaging the employees as brand ambassadors was the key to a successful merger between two large health systems. “We wanted people in each of the legacy organizations to visibly see people (in a television branding campaign) they recognized as both leaders and co-workers who they truly respected and say to themselves, ‘I know that person, that person has bought into this – I am part of it too’,” said Elmer Streeter, director, corporate communications. The branding built trust and the campaign was centered on collaboration and inclusion. “We wanted the unofficial and official leaders of the system who live the mission to be a part of the campaign,” said Streeter.

Matt Cabrey, executive director, Select Greater Philadelphia, said, “PR not only sets the company tone and shapes the image and reputation for how audiences view the company, it has a direct influence on internal communications and the level of pride employees feel in their role and in the organization.”

Bill Cowen, professor and PR program director, Villanova University and president, Metrospective Communications LLC, said, “Whether through tangible rewards or being given a respected voice at the table, collective and creative employee engagement is more crucial than ever to talent cultivation and retention in PR. This is especially the case with the newer generation of professionals that wants to believe fully in the organization.”

However, keeping employees engaged comes with its challenges. For example, the BP oil spill disaster carried with it negligence on behalf of the rig workers, lack of compensation payouts and continuous internal strife. Were the BP employees kept up to date regarding the changing events? Who was taking the blame? When companies are in survival mode it’s even more important for them to engage their employees.

“Relegating employees to some lesser level of importance during a crisis is a mistake,” said John J. Moscatelli, APR, Fellow PRSA, owner, JJM Communications LLC, who teaches PR at Rowan Universtiy. He continued, “uninformed or ill-informed employees, those relying on rumors and speculation, tend to be distrustful of management, express a lack of confidence in the organization to their friends and neighbors, and, in a worst case, make the crisis even worse.” However, out of chaos comes order. The very definition of PR suggests the relationship itself between the organization and its audiences.

Joe Anthony, president of financial services & partner at Gregory FCA, said, “…thoughtfully deploying key employees in telling the company story and weaving their roles into the company narrative can make them feel more a part of the company culture and direction. We do that here at Gregory FCA and encourage our clients to do the same. It’s not just about “staying in front” of employees, it’s about keeping them working alongside of you. That’s why it’s so important to keep them feeling as if they are in the loop.” BP would have fared better if they had strived to achieve this from the beginning.

Often seen as the face of the organization, and an employee themselves, the PR professional must remember it’s important to keep both sides of PR and employee engagement well represented and all parties informed. And remember that it’s an ongoing process. It must start at the recruiting stage, continue through employment, and flow from top to bottom and bottom to top of the hierarchy chain.

As noted by Kruse, trust is a key driver. “Research shows that employees who feel more pride and trust towards their employer are more satisfied and expend more discretionary energy on their work, enabling them to advance key business objectives and achieve results,” said Cathy Engel Menendez, director, communications, PECO. And that after all, are what companies are in business to do. If PR is telling the story of the organization in a favorable light, what better way than to communicate that by using your biggest assets…your employees.

Meg Boyd is a corporate communications professional who is passionate about PR and employee engagement. She earned a master’s in strategic communication from Villanova University and a bachelor’s degree in communications from the University of Dayton. She is currently seeking opportunities. Contact Meg via email at marg.j.boyd@gmail.com or connect with her on LinkedIn.

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Glassdoor – A Valuable PR Tool You May Have Overlooked

You’ve probably heard of Glassdoor – the job and career site launched in 2008 which offers something unique compared to other job boards – employee and interview experience reviews. As with Yelp, Trip Advisor, Open Table or any other website that encourages customer or visitor reviews, Glassdoor publishes all employee reviews, positive and negative (excluding those that may include inappropriate language). Although it is your human resources team’s role to track, monitor and be in-the-know about Glassdoor reviews that can harm a company’s reputation, Glassdoor is also a valuable tool for public relations pros.

Utilize this tool two ways – read the employee reviews and ensure the page enhances your company’s image wherever possible.

Uncover What You Don’t Know Through Employee Reviews.
Here’s an idea. When your creative side is feeling challenged for the next topic to pitch, visit your company or external client’s Glassdoor page and scan employee reviews. Maybe you will uncover positive information you did not know about. Maybe you’ll read that an employee enjoyed working with other employees across the country on a million-dollar fundraising initiative. Maybe you’ll read about an intern who had an opportunity to sit with the CEO at a new hires networking event. Utilize these reviews, dig for the deeper story.

Negative employee reviews contain information that can prove similarly valuable. Media representatives and bloggers might visit your company’s Glassdoor page in search of something to fill in their story blanks. Be proactive by making yourself aware, reading between the lines and staying current on potential crises. Look for the red flags that could blow up – fear of mergers, layoffs or management changes – and find out as much as you can so you’re equipped if called upon.

Enhance Your Glassdoor Page. Build a Positive Image.
Work with your marketing and human resources teams to ensure the company’s Glassdoor presence is one everyone is proud of.

Here’s how:

  • Include links to your company website, careers page, blogs and social media outlets.
  • Showcase photos from community service projects, awards ceremonies and your cutting-edge facility.
  • List of all your company’s awards and honors.
  • Work with human resources to encourage employees to post reviews.
    (The more positive reviews posted, the higher the company’s ranking.)
  • Ensure that someone is designated as the company point person for responding to reviews.
  • Subscribe to “follow” your company to receive email notifications when new reviews are posted.

Are you utilizing this priceless PR tool to position your company as one that is doing great things?

This post was written by PPRA member Karen Toner. Karen is communications manager at ParenteBeard, a top 25 accounting firm in Center City. She learned about Glassdoor when encouraged to review one company’s repeated horrible employee reviews for a laugh. Hopefully your company’s Glassdoor page is not a PR nightmare like that one.