Two Tales of Why Lawyers Are Returning to Public Relations
Just last month, we got two new clients at The Legal A Team. But that’s not the important part of the story.
What is key to both these clients is the “Aha!” moment: Public Relations is still a critical part of the marketing mix. Both clients realized the value of Public Relations, even in the days of LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter. I’m not knocking social media, SEO, or SEM. I’m just reporting on what clients have shared with me.
CASE STUDY 1: A boutique law firm
Client A is a lawyer in a boutique, national business-to-consumer (B2C) law firm with five lawyers. He explained that he had been spending about $5,000 per month on Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and Search Engine Marketing (SEM). He had done this for 12 months. His problem? No conversions! Huh?
Of all the leads that he received from SEO and SEM, he did not succeed in converting even one into a paying client. That hurts when he spent $60,000 with absolutely no return. Abysmal results like this are not due to a single problem, but point to a number of problems. Here are just some of the reasons, according to the client:
- Increased competition for ad bids for his desired keywords. In prior years, SEO/SEM were effective at getting clients.
- Skepticism of Pay-Per-Click (PPC) advertising (many click on the ads, yet no one wants to buy, indicating high curiosity but lack of readiness to buy).
- Confusion of clients. (Many thought he was a branch of the government, and inundated the firm with questions. Answering questions from too many prospects wishing only to “kick the tires” is not remunerative, however.)
- Client has allowed his website to become dated.
- Client probably did not retain the right SEO/SEM firm.
Amazingly, clients who found the boutique law firm through organic search became clients pretty much right away. When people are ready to buy, they followed through on their decision to retain the law firm’s services.
There are a couple of points worth noting here.
The internet, websites, and Google’s algorithms are changing at breakneck speed. What was good enough two years ago or last year, doesn’t cut it any more. Especially in marketing B2C law, it’s the “unknown unknowns” that will kill you. Don’t know about SEO, SEM, and the importance of keywords? Compound that by retaining the wrong supplier and you could be sealing your own doom while spending a bundle.
Even though the client was spending a lot of money on Facebook and Google advertising, it was still advertising. It was the firm saying: “Here we are! Here’s what we do. Hire us!” Clearly, this was perceived (as much of advertising is) as the client tooting his own horn. People tend to filter out ads and look for top entrants in organic search instead.
In contrast, “earned media” is the equivalent of the media tooting your horn for you. Sort of. Of all the law firms and all the lawyers they could have interviewed, the reporter/editor/producer chose your firm. That is a critical signal for prospects and existing clients, too.
This client has now elected to do traditional public relations, to get “earned media” in traditional newspapers, business magazines, radio and TV. “Earned media” is the moniker that popped up about 10 years ago to describe media that was obtained the old-fashioned way: You have to say something important, interesting and beneficial to the readers and viewers of that medium. You have to earn the ink that is devoted to your story.
Here’s another important reason to hire a public relations or a media relations professional: Google is changing and tightening its algorithms all the time. It is tightening the loopholes and penalizing those who are trying to take advantage, or “game the system.” What Google does like is fresh content that is useful and well-read, including earned media–content that people want to read. That’s how you get to near the top of organic search results, on page 1 or 2, as opposed to page 22.
Here’s the best news of all: Public Relations is much more cost-effective than advertising, especially if your budget is small.
CASE STUDY 2: A leading SEO/SEM firm
Our second client, Client B, is a firm that does highly effective SEO/SEM for major corporations. Yet they also still see the value in doing traditional media relations. It wants to be featured in newspapers, magazines, and business shows on TV and radio to help promote the firm’s services.
Why would a SEO/SEM firm want traditional media? (They also design social media campaigns for clients.)
Well, for openers, traditional advertising will cost them a bundle. In contrast, public relations and media relations are very cost-effective. A few well-placed interview opportunities per year pretty cost about the same as a one-time, full-page ad in a national newspaper.
Because even though the newspaper industry model is broken, it is still the traditional media that have the lion’s share of readers and viewers. The problem is that with dwindling ad revenues, the number of print pages is dwindling. High quality news segments are still expensive to produce. Plus, the news media is still struggling with now to charge for news, or if they should charge at all. A related problem: Millennials have a great aversion to paying for movies and music and news.
Meanwhile, a highly competent firm that does SEO and SEM for clients wants to be interviewed in articles and on TV, thank you very much.
So, while it is nice to connect with 2,400 Facebook “friends,” 3,800 Twitter followers, or 1,200 LinkedIn connections, those numbers still pale in comparison to 250,000 or 500,000 readers of many major daily newspapers across the US.
PR is the Bank of Good Will
A useful way to think of public relations is like a bank, except we can call it the Bank of Good Will. You or your firm treat your clients and employees fairly. You contribute to social causes, sports, and the Arts. We can call these activities “deposits” into the Bank of Good Will.
You make regular deposits as a form of “reputation insurance” because you never know when you’ll need a large withdrawal of public opinion, in the form of a crisis. When you’re a “good citizen,” the media are willing to cut you more slack when bad things happen to you or your firm that are not your fault.
Another way that PR helps attorneys is through “third party endorsement.” This area of PR is called media relations. If the media are interviewing your lawyers, your firm must be good. Your firm becomes known as experts in their field. That’s good for your reputation. It’s not you “tooting your own horn,” it’s the media tooting it for you.
For prospects, it essentially says: “You should look at hiring this firm if you need this legal service.” And prospects who may have been sitting on the fence decide to pick up the phone.
For existing clients, it says: “In hiring this law firm, you made the right choice because they were interviewed for this article/TV segment.” Your clients take note and are reassured.
PR is most effective when a firm commits to doing it for the long term. It is like any relationship, better measured in years and decades rather than days or weeks. Like the saying goes, you cannot build a reputation overnight. But you sure can destroy one.