Last month saw the launch of the PRCA’s Legal PR Guide which was produced in conjunction with Byfield Consultancy. I contributed the chapter on buy-in.
About the Legal PR Guide
At just 60 pages, the Legal PR Guide is short and to the point. But it contains a wealth of wisdom
- Law firms and public relations: an overview (Gus Sellitto, Byfield Consultancy)
- Brand awareness (Elliot Moss, Mishcon de Reya)
- Media relations; How do you do it? (Georgina Bennett-Warner, BCLP)
- 3a How to write a bylined article (Antonia Welch, WelshPR)
- 3b How to work with legal journalists (Byfield Consultancy interviews six leading legal journalists)
- Litigation PR (Gus Sellitto, Byfield Consultancy)
- Law firm mergers (Lydia Rochelle, Fieldfisher)
- Crisis management (Samantha Mangwana, Shine Lawyers)
- Training lawyers (Abi Donald, Vox Media)
- Thought leadership and Legal PR (Richard Gerrard, Carter-Ruck)
- Law firms and social media (Barney O’Kelly, Hagen Communications)
- Gaining buy-in (Kim Tasso, RedStarKim)
- Measurement (Caity Dalby, Signal AI)
- Making your mark as a Legal PR (Helen Obi, Mayer Brown)
Download The Legal PR Guide http://byfieldconsultancy.com/2019/11/prca-legal-pr-guide/
Public Relations and Communications Association (PRCA) https://www.prca.org.uk/
Byfield Consultancy – Legal firm PR agency http://byfieldconsultancy.com/
Kim Tasso’s book on the use of social media by lawyers for marketing and relationship development http://kimtasso.com/social-media-in-business-development-a-guide-for-lawyers/
Gaining buy-in to law firm media relations
Buy-in is “the commitment of interested or affected parties (stakeholders) to a decision – to agree to give it support”. But actually in media relations we need more than buy-in from our lawyers – we need them to be actively engaged in the process, constantly identifying story ideas and regularly contributing high-quality content.
As a PR professional you understand the power and value of media relations. But your lawyers will need some education and persuasion. Gaining buy-in from the lawyers is one of the biggest challenges you will face. But be reassured, just about everyone who works in legal marketing faces the same challenges – you are not alone!
There are many tools at your disposal which I have used during 30 years of working in the legal profession. You could argue that achieving buy-in is simply the application of expert consultative selling skills to the internal audience. I developed the 7P model which is an integral part of the buy-in and stakeholder management courses I run regularly for the Professional Marketing Forum. Here are some insights that tackle both the rational and emotional aspects of achieving lawyer buy-in.
Let’s start with psychology. More precisely, with empathy. You need to put yourself in the shoes of the lawyer and see media relations from his or her point of view.
Lawyers are often not familiar with media relations or they are used to adopting a crisis management approach when protecting their clients. So you will have to educate them on the role of proactive media relations and manage their expectations. Explaining the editor’s right to control content is a frequent requirement.
Lawyers are risk-averse so putting themselves out there for the public and their peers to scrutinise isn’t comfortable. The risk of being called out on something they might get wrong always outweighs the upside of potential positive coverage. There’s also a sort of humility in the legal profession’s culture which suggests that it’s not quite right to blow your own trumpet or hold yourself out as an expert – especially if they are commenting in an area where the law hasn’t been tested in the Courts.
So learn more about the individual lawyers. Understand their different personalities and motivations. Listen to their ideas (often these will be your ideas reflected back at you – the sleeper effect – but you know you’re winning when they consider your ideas as theirs!). Listen to their concerns. Support them as they step tentatively outside of their comfort zone. Adapt your style and approach to the different lawyer personalities. And reassure them about how you will minimise the risks.
There’s a natural human tendency to value what they have – their hard-won reputation – and avoid its loss far more than any potential gain. So tailor your communications accordingly.
The key to achieving buy-in is having a strong relationship with the lawyers. Your confidence, impact and expertise will be important in winning trust. However, you need to spend time away from your desk, phone and screen to interact in real-time with lawyers to really cement relationships. Recent research also shows that people are 34-times more likely to agree to a request for help if you make it face-to-face.
Ensure you use pull rather than push communications – don’t tell them what to do as that is sure to generate resistance. Ask the right questions so that they come to the right conclusion all by themselves.
Not all lawyers are the same. Some have more power and influence than others. Target your activity at those lawyers who are respected by others and have great writing skills or front-of-camera presence. Segment your internal audience and target your media relations activity to win over the supporters and early adopters and avoid the dinosaurs. You can leverage the competitive spirit and in-group bias by identifying which lawyers to work with initially – to get the others to follow suit.
Process & Precision
Lawyers love process. So show them a clear process. If they are new to media relations you will need to break things down into small, specific steps. Help them understand exactly what they need to do – and what your contribution will be. Be precise in what will happen and when. Remove as much uncertainty as you can.
Lawyers like precision – particularly with language. If you edit a lawyer’s copy make sure you don’t inadvertently alter the legal meaning. You may not consider a minor typo to be important, but for a lawyer this is where they will focus. Lawyers are trained to find the tiny error in large documents so to retain credibility, be obsessive in your proof reading.
A key method of achieving buy-in is to align your goals with those of the lawyer – and they may be quite different. So it’s back to the importance of empathy and really understanding what motivates each lawyer.
Often lawyers see communications activities as ad-hoc activities in isolation. Show them a plan with clear objectives (this helps manage expectations too), the target audience and the various campaign components and how media relations is an integral and important role.
But remember that planning isn’t a forte for lawyers – so keep any shared plans brief. And ideally involve the lawyers in building the plan so that they see it as their plan rather than yours. That way you build in engagement from the outset rather than having to achieve buy-in at the end.
The plan should also show that you have all eventualities covered – including addressing lawyer fears of where things could potentially go wrong.
The priority for lawyers is serving their clients – and generating fees. Time is money. Appreciate that a 30-minute meeting with you could be costing them hundreds of pounds in lost fees – so make every minute count by being really prepared and focused.
Unless they see a clear benefit to devoting hours of their time to developing a media relations campaign you will struggle to get their attention. You need to answer the “What’s in it for me?” question. And explain that the results may not be immediate.
You can persuade lawyers by appealing to their dedication to clients – sharing their views on a media platform will reassure clients that they have chosen the right adviser. Remind them that if clients see competing lawyers in the spotlight they may experience cognitive dissonance.
You can explain how using media relations increases their reach and repurposes content they have already developed for seminars and newsletters – then it’s an efficient time saver from this perspective.
Harness psychologist Cialdini’s six drivers of persuasion – scarcity (there are few opportunities to gain coverage), reciprocation (you will help them in return one day), commitment and consistency (they have already agreed that an enhanced profile is important), social proof (there are other top lawyers showcased in the media), liking (you have a great working relationship) and authority (the firm’s management is committed to media relations).
You can resort to getting senior sponsors and champions to apply pressure to lawyers to participate in media relations. Where there are firm or team plans, projects or thought leadership campaigns you can show how one lawyer’s support is vital for the timelines of other lawyers. They won’t want to be seen as the one letting their colleagues down.
Or you can prompt the management team and heads of department to adopt an active approach to media relations – role models are extremely powerful in the legal world.
And be kind to yourself – it’s really hard when you are constantly battling against time pressures on the one hand and lawyer resistance on the other. PRs in law firms experience a lot of stress and if this is constant it can take its toll on your enthusiasm and your physical and mental health. Take time out to reconnect with your PR peers to remember that you are talking sense and to stiffen your resolve. You’ll be able to return to the never-ending buy-in challenge with fresh determination too.
One of the first lawyers I ever worked with advised me “Slowly, slowly catch monkey”. Changing attitudes takes time. You need to be consistent, persistent and patient to engage lawyers and win their trust and buy-in.
I urge you to anticipate all the possible objections you will hear and to prepare in advance your answers and responses to such attack strategies. Know that you will be required to patiently explain things time and time again if you are to succeed in the long run.
Accept that some lawyers will be control freaks. They will want to micro-manage everything. They will need to see everything to approve it before it is released. At least twice. You’ll need real patience to work with those folk.
I used to wonder why law firms hired and paid experienced PR practitioners to promote them in the press when they simply ignore our advice and refuse to co-operate. But then I realised that winning that understanding and collaboration is a vital part of our role.
At the end of the day, nothing sells like success. So equip yourself with victory stories and evidence (impressions, digital analytics, engagement, enquiries etc) to show that media relations is effective.