Events, Media Relations, Media Strategy, Public Relations, Public Relations Strategy

You’re Invited to Promote This

At the Legal Marketing Association conference in New Orleans in early April, the PR Pre Conference hosted a panel, “You’re Invited to Promote This.” The discussion centered on how law firms can generate their own PR from events they host or produce.

Moderated by Elizabeth Lampert, president of Elizabeth Lampert PR, Carrie Brunelle from Baretz + Brunelle; Royal Simpkins, director of branding and communication at Bryan Cave LLP; and Anne Gallagher, director of global communications at Jenner & Block LLP shared their experiences with event PR.

The speakers pointed out that just like most PR matters, this type of promotion is far from an exact science. A firm can spend a good deal of money and time promoting an event or a theme and can gain a commitment from a reporter – but the reporter might fail to show up or to pursue the lead because of factors that are out of the firm’s control.

Some best practices discussed by the speakers include:

  • Build a relationship with the reporter on the basis of trust, long before the event or pitch occurs
  • Focus on events that reinforce a law firm’s existing brand and reputation
  • Repurpose as much as possible; use the ideas and the coverage in the law firm’s website, social media and recruiting materials.

Simpkins discussed the Bryan Cave Business Academy, which is the firm’s innovative training program that teaches associates about the business of law. During that program, associates were asked to come up with new technology ideas to help the firm help its clients, and winners were given up to $10,000 to develop the technology and put it in place.

To promote this program, Bryan Cave offered an exclusive to the American Lawyer group of publications. As a result, The American Lawyer magazine did a cover story about the training camps, and law.com listed the firm as one of seven firms nationwide that are truly innovative. This was a big win for the firm.

Simpkins also discussed a wrenching and important news event last year that, with the right approach, helped to build Bryan Cave’s image. This was the white nationalist demonstration in August 2017 in Charlottesville, Va., which led to the death of a woman named Heather Heyer and which focused national attention on the persistence of racism in America.

Many law firm leaders spoke out against the white nationalists.  One of them was Therese Pritchard, the chair of Bryan Cave, who sent an internal email that the firm later tweeted. It read in part: “We reject the hatred and bigotry exhibited in Charlottesville as well as any attempt to equate neo-Nazis, the Ku Klux Klan and white supremacists with counter protesters.”

Brunelle then discussed another successful approach to this news event. Heyer, the woman who was killed by a white supremacist in Charlottesville, worked as a paralegal at the Miller Law Firm in that city. After her death, the firm set up a foundation in her memory to provide scholarships to people who wish to seek positive social change through the law. A Los Angeles law firm announced that it would become an active supporter of that foundation. Brunelle said that this plan, besides reflecting a commitment to social change, was an excellent PR step.

“Be bold and be a connector,” Brunelle said.

The speakers said there is always a delicate line when dealing with tragedy – whether a violent criminal event like the Charlottesville rally or a natural disaster like Hurricanes Harvey or Irma – since no firm wants to be seen as callously taking advantage of the suffering of others.

Another best practice, the speakers noted, is to focus on news stories that reinforce a firm’s existing culture. Gallagher said that her firm, Jenner & Block, has a longstanding reputation for pro bono work. When the firm was named by The American Lawyer as the nation’s number one pro bono firm, the firm set up a microsite, www.probono.jenner.com, entitled “The Heart of the Matter,” that used video to show the firm’s commitment to pro bono.

In preparing this site, the firm’s communications team developed no fewer than 42 feature stories and 27 videos representing different pro bono matters.

Gallagher said that the communications team turned their offices into a newsroom to build this site. Every office of the firm was represented in the pro bono stories.

Although this PR effort will not necessarily lead to new business immediately, Gallagher and her firm are confident that it was the right step to take.