What are the pros and cons of centralised/decentralised PR for law firms?
There’s a big debate as to whether PR should be managed centrally or decentralised within a law firm. Whatever law firm you work in there are pros and cons to each approach, and it’s important to take into account the level of experience, costs, efficiency and ease for each side before deciding which option to choose.
To give you the short answer we think it’s best to use a combination of the two; with the strategy set in your central PR team and ideas fed back from divisions and offices. Here’s why.
The pros and cons of having a central PR team (also acting as a point of contact for a single law firm PR agency).
The benefits of a centralised PR function at a law firm
Coordination – PR agencies or a PR team can efficiently coordinate larger campaigns. They will ensure everything is going out at the right time and dovetails with the rest of your marketing and communications strategy. Campaigns mutate, the news agenda moves quickly, and so teams need to be alive to changes in sentiment to make sure of the right outcome. Being able to gauge the news environment is one thing that separates great PRs from average ones. Coordination is much easier when campaigns are handled centrally than in a devolved way.
Clarity and consistency of messaging – keeping your messaging consistent across all your marketing efforts and communications is key to developing and retaining trust in your brand. Recent reports show just how effective, consistent marketing can be when creating a recognisable brand. If your messaging is inconsistent, your target audience may not associate it with your organisation, wasting the money spent on that communication. You need to remain consistent to remain front of mind because recognisable brands (which have good ‘front of mind recall’) sell more.
Knowing what sells – central PRs (and there are some great ones in the law that we’ve come across over the past two decades) know what sells and how to sell it. They know how to draft a quote that speaks to the journalist’s reader (as opposed to boosting the quotee’s ego). Trust them, or get an agency that you trust to do it.
Wider experience – centralising PR puts your communications in the hands of a professional who will have years of experience in getting the most coverage. They will either have extensive PR experience or will know how to manage a PR agency and how to get the most from them.
The challenges of centralising PR in a law firm
Can fail to understand the issues quickly enough – an average central PR professional can often fail to understand the issues surrounding your firm and work soon enough. The time needed to educate them can create delays in getting your communications to your customers and the press. It may also result in missing the point in the news cycle at which they should be pitching to journalists, and so your competitors grab the coverage instead. To minimise this risk, we suggest hiring a professional with a background in law or law PR. It’ll help.
Can be reactive – PR professionals can often work in a reactive way, rather than bringing new, structured communications to the press and customers. They may be handling dozens of pieces of concurrent press work and fail to act quickly enough on a topic that then grows to be a big news story. Hiring ex-journalists who have turned their hands to being PRs can often prevent this from happening as they klnow how to prioritise and what constitutes ‘news’.
The pros and cons of allowing divisions and offices to run their own press work
What are the benefits of getting divisions to run their own PR?
Subject matter experts – divisions are clearly experts in their own subject matter and can bring interesting insights to an audience; whether that’s the press or potential clients. The flip side to this is that experts are often too immersed in their subject to be able to pick out key facts and information and can often write promotions in wording specific to their industry. Lawyers also often write for themselves (as opposed to their target audience) and they make huge assumptions as to the level of knowledge that the client or target has. One trick here is to have a pen picture of a person who you are writing for and write for them, consistently. We have one. And no, we’re not going to share it with you.
Easier to act than to go through the central machinations – it can often be more straightforward to put together your own communications rather than have to explain it to a central PR professional, who will then inevitably come back with questions, rewrites and amendments.
What are the challenges of getting divisions to run their own PR?
Lack of consistency of message – if each division is running their own promotions messaging can often become inconsistent across a firm. We have discussed the benefits of consistency of messaging when it comes to centralised PR. An inconsistent tone of voice or key messaging can be detrimental to your marketing campaigns and your broader brand.
Doesn’t have the reach of centralised PR – PR professionals know journalists and have contacts at a number of publications. They understand how to sell a communication to a publication and can extend the reach of your PR. If PR is run by distinct divisions, they can very often have huge success with one publication picking up a piece but are then unable to get the snowball effect PR professionals are able to achieve by promoting it through other publications.
Quotes are often written for themselves, not their readers – as a professional who has been working in an industry for years it’s hard to step outside and put yourself into the shoes of the consumer. Subsequently, communications created by individual divisions are often inadvertently aimed at themselves rather than their key audience.
Divisions are often reactive and they don’t have the planning systems that centralised teams do – PR won’t be the primary concern of a division, leading to reactive communications rather than planned and optimised PR strategies.
Lack of understanding how the news cycle works – the right idea pitched in the right way at the right time will likely get coverage. Do decentralised teams know enough about how this works to guarantee coverage and to know what to do if and when their initial efforts fail? In our experience, they do not.
How does the modern PR team survive in the middle of this?
The outcome of weighing up the pros and cons of a centralised PR strategy may come out differently for every firm. But a centralised PR team or professional combined with effective communication with key divisions is the strategy we recommend for most legal businesses. PR remains the event around which many of your BD, marketing and other comms strategies can be built. It’s not the only hook around which to build activities, but it is a good one.
We’ve often found that pre-agreeing messaging about a topic means that the central team can mobilise quickly without needing to seek extensive permission internally from partners before proceeding (because they have already signed off on messages/angles etc). If you’d like, we can show you how to do this. Just drop us a line.