We’ve heard endlessly (more than once from me) about the imminent death of newspapers, the collapse of a once-great industry and business model, etc. and the correspondent rise in the power of social media. No one will dispute that news organizations are having a very difficult time adjusting to the post-internet economy, and I’ve written here about the increasing significance of blogs, Twitter and other new platforms.
Nonetheless, law firms (like other corporate entities) still strive for just a mention of the firm or its lawyers in a “major newspaper” or “national magazine.” I spent ten years editing an actual “National magazine” at the Canadian Bar Association, and I was struck by how much lawyers and law firms wanted to appear in its pages. PR agencies would constantly propose lawyers as interview subjects, and large national firms would ask for PDFs of an article featuring their lawyers to post on their websites. They clearly perceived some value or prestige arising from a mention in the magazine — even more so, I’m sure, in the Globe & Mail or National Post. But is the perception accurate? I’m not sure enough law firms ask themselves this.
Media appearances have long been considered a self-evidently valuable marketing effort. But just like any other such effort, they still demand a degree of ROI examination. Most lawyers would say they want the value arising from the imprimatur of legitimacy and respect that a media outlet bestows — “we were quoted in The New York Times!” And don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot of power still invested in these legacy media brands that can make them powerful players in this new landscape. But from law firms’ point of view, “major media mentions,” in isolation, can’t automatically be assumed to have an effect on a law firm’s brand and business development. They need to serve a purpose.
I was often tempted to ask the law firm marketing professionals seeking an appearance in National: “You do know that only other lawyers read this magazine, right?” Because it sometimes seemed to me they were investing a lot of time and effort in getting their lawyers in front of their competitors rather than their clients. They might have had good strategic reasons; for example, a firm’s repeated appearance in a nationwide legal periodical could translate into recruitment and lateral hiring advantages. But just as often, I suspect, a request to profile or interview a particular partner was driven by that partner’s combination of ego and influence.
All of which is to say: before setting out to get you or your firm into any kind of media outlet, be certain why you’re doing it and what you hope to get out of it. Brand management, profile enhancement, business development, referral generation, expertise demonstration — these are all valid reasons for pursuing media exposure, but most won’t apply in every situation. Be strategic in your choice of media placement, just as you should be with every other marketing choice. For example:
- If you run a small family law practice in New Brunswick, will you get more value from a mention in the Globe & Mail or in the Fredericton Gleaner? The answer depends on whether you want a prestige injection or a business development opportunity.
- If you run a civil litigation firm in Montreal, do you want to be profiled in Canadian Lawyer or in the Montreal Gazette? The answer depends on whether you want referrals from other lawyers or higher profile within your local business community.
- If you own a full-service firm in Edmonton with a smaller Calgary office, do you need attention from the Edmonton Journal or the Calgary Herald? The answer depends on whether you want to strengthen your headquarters or develop your satellite.
Before setting out on media placement efforts, lawyers and firms need to ask themselves: where do we want to show up, what do we want to be noted for, and why? Answering those questions correctly will greatly amplify the effectiveness of those efforts.