What does success look like for law firm PR/media coverage?
This article is meant for senior partners, managing partners, department heads and PR teams at law firms. As a leader and/or owner of your business, you’re right to want to demand value and the right level of performance from your law firm PR team. In this day and age, cuttings reporting and audience reach is pretty easy to automate. The added commentary your PR team provides will help you understand the nuances behind their performance. Media coverage is not the only thing a PR team is there to do but it is the basis for a lot of other of its public relations activities.
What factors will impact on your PR team’s ability to deliver media coverage?
First, let’s take it as read that we at TBD understand that the PR specialist(s) you have hired have chosen to work in-house and not at an agency. One of the attractions of working brand-side is that some PRs may not wish to have the daily experience of challenging clients demanding coverage down the phone. However, this is not an excuse for them not delivering a regular slew of high-quality, strategically aligned cuttings per month.
We hate to say it but if your PR team resists any line of query on coverage, then you need to ask them ‘why?’ No other part of your business gets a free ride. Very few other areas of the business have such a ready-made set of key performance indicators. That resistance is usually a sign of deeper rooted issues. We’ve worked alongside too many other legal PRs to ignore the warning signs that point towards a couple of simple facts: PR is not as easy as it looks and some people take on the role believing it will be an easier ride than it is.
Here’s another fact about PR: it is a sales job. Yes, it’s also a listening job, and a writing job, and a counselling job and lots of other things besides. But at its heart, PR is about coverage and at the point of exchange with a journalist, you are selling an idea, a theory, the basis for Pulitzer glory.
Now, as we know for all sales jobs: failure is your daily norm. “No.”, “No, thanks”, “I’ll check with my editor”, and “Can you email it to firstname.lastname@example.org” are the most common phrases you’ll hear all day as a PR. If you can’t deal with that level of daily rejection, then you will struggle at PR.
The final point here is on rigour. It’s hard to say what percentage of your pitches convert into coverage. But what is clear is that to get more coverage, you need more pitches happening.
How many cuttings should a fully embedded PR deliver?
In speaking to friends who are PRs at law firms as we prepared this piece, it was interesting to note how far apart their estimates/expectations are in terms of coverage.
In our experience, after a few months in the role, excluding deal or case coverage, and all other things being equal*, you can expect something along the following lines for annual proactive targeted, quality coverage per PR Executive:
- National/broadcast coverage: 40 cuttings
- Sector trade press: 150 cuttings
- Legal trade press: 130 cuttings
NB these figures exclude agency cuttings. They are also figures that should average out over the course of the year. We have taken into account the rough number of cuttings for financial results, partner promotions and the like.
Now, if your PR function is set up to operate more in relay (in-house digs out stories, external agency sells in to the press), you should expect the agency to produce something like this (per year) for £5k a month:
- National/broadcast cuttings: 50 cuttings
- Sector trade press: 100 cuttings
You’ll notice that we have excluded the legal press and regional press titles from these agency targets. Your use of an agency in those areas is so nuanced as to make generic targets meaningless for our purposes.
Before you say it, we know that this is a can of worms. And it’s going to draw so much fire from both in-house PR teams and PR agencies but here’s the thing: they should be explaining deviations (for less or more coverage) to you in their weekly or monthly cuttings reporting.
How do I know if the results that are produced are the ‘right’ results?
The first thing to say is that your media cuttings should align with your objectives. They could be departmental, sector, firmwide or brand/profile – but for a cutting to count, it needs to be aligned to at least one objective and have your key messages appear in the piece.
Whatever else, please don’t get fobbed off with the following:
- Number of media meetings that have been scheduled or taken place;
- Number of journalists pitched with story ideas;
- Number of press releases written or issued;
- Cuttings which are not in target titles or are not in areas of the business which you are actively looking to promote;
- Double-counted articles e.g. a mention in the same syndicated article across a region’s titles;
- Internal communications; or
- Social media activity as a substitute for press coverage.
Nothing’s wrong with any of the above. Far from it. It’s just that the thing that matters – and the reason you hired a PR team – is that they deliver media coverage and reach your target audiences that way. Your web team, your social media team, emails to clients are all great, as is updating the internal audience. Any of those teams can re-promote the content afterwards. But don’t lose sight of why you hired a PR in the first place: to get coverage and third-party endorsement of your quality through that coverage.
Maybe encourage them to share results like this.
We think that the benchmarks that we have outlined above are ones that PRs should welcome as they can use it to manage the (at times, unreasonable) expectations of their marketing and business development colleagues. Agencies, likewise with their clients. The dialogue between those parties has to improve. When it does, coverage flows and everyone looks good.
Quid pro quo. What can partners do for their law firm PR team or agency?
So here’s my appeal to management and partners on behalf of your PR team: you need to clear the path to them making their targets and doing their job. Please:
- Sign off on their quotations (which if they are good at PR, they will have written with the target audience in mind and using language that means that it is likely to appear). Make amends if you have to, but please sign off on the basis of those changes being made;
- Don’t turn down coverage in the nationals or trade because you’re ‘too busy’ (each opportunity probably took your PR hours to get on average);
- Don’t waste their time on an ‘after the deal has closed’ press release. All the coverage is on exchange or announcement, not on completion. The latter is marketing; and
- Don’t tell them what PR is. The parts you can see (drafting, brainstorming ideas, upcoming features) are just part of their role. Keeping smiling when you’ve heard the word “No” 10 times today before you’ve even spoken to a journalist is something partners don’t see. The protracted negotiations over draft spokesperson quotations, another.
So what should you do next?
Here at TBD, we help PR teams peak perform. We’ve honed our techniques over the last couple of decades and we know how to improve the No:Yes ratio of your pitches. So, if you’re not getting the appropriate level of coverage from your agency, or you want to talk about your in-house team performing, then it’s time for us to talk. Try us on 0117 2872099 or Simon.Marshall@2bd.me in the first instance.
*i.e. no crises, no mergers, systems in place, no management responsibilities, and the in-house team does the majority of your PR (with an external agency doing crisis and any special projects).