Rather than bringing you our regularly scheduled “Two for Tuesdays” today, I’m continuing the roundup from the LMA New England Conference, with “Creating a WOW Communications Program,” another excellent session I attended.
Whether you’re tasked directly with communications or not, the truth is that we’re all communicators in our firms – we all have messages to deliver, whether it’s as lawyers to clients or as marketers to our lawyers. So there are strong benefits to gain from this session for all of us.
Per the conference program:
Communications and public relations (PR) are valuable marketing tools that help law firms raise visibility, attract and retain clients, and recruit new attorneys. However, building a plan and including the right team of professionals can make or break any communications program. Regardless of firm size or available resources, there are steps you can take to ensure your communications and PR efforts have the best chance of success. This panel of experts with in-house and agency experience will discuss strategies for creating an integrated communications team that can motivate your target audiences.
Our panel will discuss:
- Strategy and planning that drives the firm’s goals
- Messaging your firm’s WOW factor and getting audiences to care
- From blogs to bulletins (and everything else) – what communication channels do you really need to succeed?
- How to build a communications culture in the firm
- To outsource or not to outsource, that is the question
- How to maintain flexibility in an ever-changing environment”
The panelists for the session were:
- Lisa Murray, Principal, Trevi Communications, Inc.
- Liz Cerasuolo, Director of Communications, Fish & Richardson
- Leah Schloss, Director of Marketing, Sullivan and Worcester
- Stephanie Solakian Goldstein, Managing Director, Communications and Marketing, WilmerHale
Murray moderated the session, kicking off by asking the panelists to weigh in on how important (on a scale of one to ten) communications is as their firms. Not surprisingly (since they’re all on this panel), they were mostly all at a 10. Cerasuolo noted that she works with a very nimble communications team, who is always looking at their audience and their message – that’s a great takeaway, by the way, for all of us as communicators. No matter who you are, and what you’re communicating, always be looking at your audience and your message.
Goldstein observed that she’s lately seen marketing and business development come together, and that’s a good thing. What else has changed? Channels, for one, and the idea of inbound marketing, versus just outbound. Schloss added that she’d recently read a study that noted that 32% of marketers think that paid advertising is one of the most ineffective means of marketing – there were a lot of nodding heads in the room, but how many of us are still getting the requests to run ads in trade magazines? (The answer is “quite a few”)
Communication happens in a lot of different ways, so what was the panelists advice to us?
- “Be flexible.”
- “Pare down what you can’t measure.”
- “Keep it simple and easy to understand.”
Just as important as what we’re communicating to the outside world is what we’re communicating internally. And that’s all about your brand – if you don’t live it, how is it believable? Internal communications include things like intranets, video, and other things that offer a sense of culture and what to expect at the firm. It’s about building a sense of community within the firm. When building an internal communications strategy, it’s a cultural shift – you need to get people to buy in. To do that, you have to keep chipping away (this take time, by the way).
So, talk to people. The more you do it, the more it becomes contagious.
For smaller firms, tap into as many other resources as you can. You can’t do it alone. Another tip from the panelists – there are software tools if you don’t have a big staff that can be enormously helpful.
The panelists also discussed my favorite topic, content marketing. This is falling under the purview of the marketing/communications department more and more. At Fish & Richardson, they have a “repurposing plan” – they take every piece of content and twist it every which way. Cerasuolo advocates showing examples of how using all the tools you’ve got, because this can really make an impact.
Schloss talked about an excellent project they undertook – the firm launched a blog, and had a landing page that asked people to subscribe and to submit a topic for the blog. They got over 100 ideas. That’s a REALLY smart topic and lead generating idea.
How do you connect with people and get your content to catch fire? Ask the questions and listen to the answers.
Murray asked the panelists where their firms fall on the social media spectrum, and for the most part, they were early adopters (WilmerHale was a bit later). There are things that they do as communicators to make content marketing easier for their lawyers, to help educate them and help them to pay attention to what the firm is doing. For example, Cerasuolo works with a social media consultant to audit individual social media presences, and she spoon feeds her lawyers tweets, etc.
For those that identify themselves as a “Fish” employee, they’re held to a strict social media policy, and Cerasuolo was only half joking when she told the room “If you don’t have a social media policy at your firm, you should stand up and go write one right now!” While her comment got a lot of laughs, the meaning is clear – having a social media policy (and one that is a living document, that the firm trains on and doesn’t languish on a shelf somewhere), is a must.
The firm doesn’t let caution stand in the way of connection however – they have their social media policy, but they also have an Instagram account. “It’s all about culture,” says Cerasuolo (which, incidentally, is what I say all the time!).
Firms don’t have to go it alone either. A number of those on the panel work with PR firms too. Goldstein noted that they’ve been most satisfied with their PR firms when they’ve been most specific about their goals. Fish & Richardson uses their PR firm to take awards submissions off their plate. It was clear from the panelists’ comments that it’s a team effort, both internally and externally, and even with segmentation, everyone works together.
Firms are also working with external distributors for their content, with the agreed upon trifecta being JD Supra, Mondaq and Lexology. Not only do they help with distribution, but these companies will provide you with the data you need to measure your results – and as Goldstein advises, you should be showing your lawyers data to inform strategy moving forward.
Two great pieces of parting advice from the panel:
- “You can’t manage what you can’t measure” – Goldstein
- Schloss advised looking outside of legal for inspiration. She can’t live without HubSpot, and also recommends looking at what clients are doing.