Building a brand-- Law firms turn to PR pros for 'marketing' and more

By Jeanine Matlow

Legal News

Publicists are often associated with A-List celebrities, but public relations can benefit a multitude of businesses. In fact, many attorneys rely on PR people to build name recognition in their highly competitive fields.

Mark Winter, managing partner for Identity Marketing & Public Relations in Bingham Farms, says attorneys often seek to establish a heightened level of credibility and want to be the person who is viewed as the expert in their field.

As he explains, when someone is quoted in a story about his or her particular area of law, someone might read it and say, "That's the kind of attorney I want on my side." Winter says, "There is a trend of seeing others in that spot. The best offense is to have the best defense. Perception is reality."

Besides, Winter says attorneys need to focus on what they do best and represent their clients.

"Typically lawyers are not good marketers. Some are great networkers. I have met those who have written fantastic marketing plans that are still sitting on shelves somewhere that don't get implemented. Unless someone is doing it for them, it doesn't get done."

There also are plenty of young attorneys looking to get work and build a business, he says.

"One of the downsides is that many lawyers can't talk about their own cases, but people at other firms can and do put their own two cents in to become credible sources," Winter says.

On the upside, he adds, whether it's radio, television or newspapers, most media outlets love having "lawyer" sources. But they often pull from universities for law professors to comment about the process.

Winter describes their services as a three-pronged approach. For marketing and PR, the firm helps attorneys develop plans to stay in the marketplace. They create strategies for media relations, community relations, direct mail and/or advertising that pull everything together.

Graphics are an integral part of the plan.

"Every law firm has their brand and it needs to be kept consistent," Winter says.

The firm's name and logo go on anything from invitations and announcements to online and hard copy materials.

Lastly, they have their own dedicated social media department.

"Most attorneys have already seen the value of LinkedIn and have a robust profile," Winter says. "Websites and brochures help to continue the brand and get the word out."

Still, he says, "What we do only works if it's consistent. Repetition is reputation. Most firms don't have enough time to devote to PR. It's a process, not an event. If you do it right, it becomes part of a strategic plan for the firm."

Stuart Sklar, partner at Fabian, Sklar, & King PC in Farmington Hills, which specializes in fire injury, explosion and property damage, is seeing great results from the branding done by Identity Marketing & Public Relations.

"We wanted to have a better identity of what we do. We're such a specialized firm," Sklar says. "That's how we got the flame logo. Now people see us and know what we do."

People notice that logo, Sklar says.

"It tells people what we do immediately. You need something that sells what you do. We couldn't be happier with the way this turned out."

Winter says there are simple tools attorneys can use that don't cost a thing, such as Google alerts for their own name, the firm's name and their clients' names.

"You must be able to monitor what's being said online before it's too late," he says.

"You don't have to have PR people to do everything," Winter says. "You can try to create your own relationship with reporters."

For social media, he says LinkedIn is a nice safe place to start because you control the contents.

Michael Layne, president of Marx Layne & Company Public Relations, Marketing and Social Media in Farmington Hills, specializing in professional services, has been handling PR for attorneys over the past 25 years.

As Layne explains, many attorneys advertise, especially if their focus is personal injury or other areas of expertise that market to individuals as potential clients. But for larger law firms that represent corporate clients, advertising isn't always appropriate.

"They are looking to be positioned as experts or top legal guns," Layne says. "One way to do that is to be quoted in the news media."

That part hasn't changed through the years, but Layne says there is more of an acceptance of marketing and PR by lawyers and law firms today.

"Once they were supposed to just hang a shingle and not solicit business," he says. "Now we see pretty aggressive soliciting. It's very rare to see a large law firm that doesn't either have in-house public relations or a PR agency."

According to Layne, "The biggest change has been the Internet and all that comes with it. First, every law firm had to have a website. Now they're much more involved with the back-end of it with things like search engine optimization."

Another significant change has been in the area of self-publishing, Layne says.

"While attorneys once wrote a piece and tried to find a home for it, now the Internet makes it a much easier feat to publish something and develop links to make it easy to find."

Layne says they combine media relations, which might mean getting a client quoted in a major business publication like The Wall Street Journal or The New York Times, with positioning them on the Internet.

The PR firm also provides media training nationwide, which is frequently done for law firms.

"The attorney who knows how to be quotable is always the firm rainmaker," Layne says.

This profession is different from the rest.

"You want to be professional and market in good taste," Layne says. "You're not marketing hamburgers. You want to be using a combination of marketing tools to consistently position an attorney or a law firm."

Steve Hilfinger, managing partner of the Detroit office of Foley & Lardner, says for a large national firm such as theirs, PR is part of the program. The firm has been in Detroit for the past decade, so they continue to build name recognition here with the help of Marx Layne.

"They are helping to build name and brand awareness and to highlight our great collection of individual attorneys," says Hilfinger, who specializes in mergers and acquisitions and finance.

Their signature practices are many, including a renewable energy group and automotive industry team.

"One of the benefits of Marx Layne has been the introductions they've made to the business community," Hilfinger says. "They helped us in business development too."

In the end, Layne says, "When it comes to PR, there is no magic bullet. It's doing a number of things well."

In this economy, he says, "It's no longer enough to be a good technician. They need to generate business in order to survive. The most successful understand how to market themselves and how to market the firm."

Published: Thu, Jan 13, 2011