23/04/20 // Written by Cheryl Crossley

Digital PR for the Legal Sector

No two industries are the same, so following general advice on how to plan and execute a digital marketing strategy can lead to lacklustre content and campaigns. This is particularly true of digital PR output.

How you approach PR as a technology business versus a law firm should be very different. Yet so often we see a ‘rinse and repeat’ approach with the same tactics activated regardless of their relevancy or success rate. We believe that an industry-considered approach is key, so we’re sharing some guidance on the best-fit approach to digital PR, specific to the legal sector.

Why do you need Digital PR?

It isn’t unusual for a law firm to have a ‘PR person’ or a small marketing division that handles external comms. So, why would you need an agency to handle digital PR too – surely you have it covered?

In our experience, most in-house comms teams focus on traditional communication methods and outputs – the bread and butter as it were. digital PR doesn’t replace the need for this, but it does deliver something different and complementary.

Whereas traditional PR typically leads to print coverage or non-linking brand citations, digital PR is, as the name suggests, centred around online publishers. It’s the sweet spot between traditional PR and SEO. Taking SEO insight on website visibility and links, and combining this with knowledge of the media landscape, digital PR is designed to engage your audience and boost your rankings for key terms. But why should you care how visible you are online?

Well, 96 percent of people look for legal practices through a search engine, highlighting how imperative a strong online presence is in driving enquiries and new cases. Sticking to print media practices online, or not incorporating SEO insight into your approach to digital media outreach is likely to see you fall behind the competition.

Best-fit tactics

When determining the best-fit tactics in the legal sector, you should consider two things:

  1. What your target online media are writing about – the type of editorial content they’re seeking and the way they gather this.
  2. And that, typically, legal professionals are very particular about what they share in the public domain and are also very busy.

Focusing on point one for now, a quick search on Google News alone shows there are three main editorial content trends at this time:

  • News from firms regarding appointments, award wins, acquisitions etc. These are typically driven by PR and appealing to legal press and local newspapers. Often, but not always, these are covered by in-house PR and marketing teams already.
  • Advice or explainer articles, with comments from legal experts, on changes to laws or, what new situations mean for people. For example, furloughing across a wealth of media types led by media requests. These require access to media request tools, which most in-house teams don’t have (but we do!).
  • Information regarding big cases or important rulings. Again, often with comments from legal experts about what this means for people now and in the future. These are usually found in national and regional media, driven by a mix of proactive and reactive PR activation. These are also not typically not activated by in-house teams.

In our experience, most law firms focus entirely on distributing news regarding appointments, award wins or acquisitions. This means there are two key content areas that aren’t really touched. The reason for this often lies in point two made above – there is a tendency to run any piece of PR content for external distribution through multiple people for approval, leading to heavy delays as case files take precedent, and changes are made. This, in turn, means any tactics that require quicker reaction are shelved.

Legal firms that are able to streamline their approvals process and offer slicker access to in-house experts can really reap the rewards by essentially tripling their PR output.

Leveraging expertise

This leads us nicely into the importance of leveraging in-house expertise. Establishing yourself as an authority in the industry is a goal for most firms. You want to be known as an expert in a particular field as building this reputation is likely to drive more cases, including bigger ones.

Quick to react

When it comes to evidencing expertise via digital PR, rest assured there is plenty of opportunity to do this. On any given day, there are dozens of requests from well known media outlets seeking comments from solicitors on what X means, why Y is so important, what your rights are in relation to Z, and so on.

The phrase ‘time is money’ is of course very appropriate for the legal sector. As such, investing precious time from your most experienced partners to fulfil media requests may not be a priority. A good digital PR agency will understand the importance of filtering in-bound requests, considering relevancy, authority, requirements and deadlines. This helps determine if an opportunity is worth the investment of expert time.

Most media requests relating to legal topics can be highly competitive and do have a short turn-around time – usually under 72 hours. However, the requirement of the expert is often fewer than 100 words, and the topics are usually fairly basic or mainstream meaning additional research is not usually required.

Overcome internal barriers

We find that if we want to tackle media opportunities for our legal clients, it’s best to begin with a brief education stage. This involves explaining the importance, the media’s expectations, the output and the potential rewards to key stakeholders within the business, so they’re bought in. Not understanding how the media works and what we can and can’t control via PR is often the first hurdle.

Working with you

Next, we like to determine who your experts are and what their areas of specialism include. If we can gather a list of 5-10 solicitors from within the firm who can cover a broad range of topics, then we’re in a great place.

Even one expert and a limited area of specialism is better than none! We like to find out how they prefer to receive requests, when they’re happy for us to contact them, and what their typical turn-around time may be. It’s always good to define the boundaries early on. It’s also worthwhile finding out if they’ve already produced any written advice or explainer pieces that we can review and potentially repurpose.

Monitor opportunities

Once your experts are confirmed, then it’s a case of keeping an eye out for the best media opportunities. We run these through our feasibility and relevancy filter process, and then pass them on, clearly outlining what’s needed by when and what the result(s) may be.

If we keep seeing similar topics come through, then we can repurpose comments to save on the investment of more expert time. We can often also predict a demand for comments on a particular subject in advance, allowing us more time to prepare something appropriate. Existing blog articles can also be adapted, not every request requires a completely fresh submission.

At this time, being able to respond to media requests on legal topics is, in our opinion, the most effective way of driving high quality media coverage and links while building on that all-important authority.

Measuring success

We love it when a client wants to share their coverage around the firm or even frame it, but this typically happens if the piece ticks one of three boxes:

  • It’s in a publication that is read by and valued by the team – usually a legal title or national broadsheet
  • It’s a big story
  • It mentions the boss!

All of these things are great, but there are other measures of success for digital PR coverage that should not be forgotten:

  • Relevancy of the publication to the target audience(s)
  • Inclusion of the publication on your SEO ‘wish list’
  • The authority of the website, usually measured via DA
  • Inclusion of keywords and messages such as your specialist services, firm location etc.
  • Evidence of expertise via the inclusion of useful, informative content from name partners
  • Inclusion of links to the website

These metrics may be considered before determining the crème de la crème of your digital PR output – it might surprise you to see which pieces tick the most boxes.

It’s also important to benchmark and regularly report on website traffic (organic and referral), changes to positioning for key terms and any movements with your own website authority. All of these can signal the positive impact that digital PR is having on your ‘big picture’ goals.

Within our team, we have a wealth of experience in activating PR for leading national law firms and legal educators. We understand that professional communication is key, the law and the legal system are highly complex, and solicitors are very busy! Factoring all this, alongside our knowledge of a broad range of media into our sector-specific recommendations will help you with your approach to digital PR. For more information on how to kick-start your digital PR, please get in touch with the team.