Legal awards: what's the point?

26/01/17 |

Could Bob Dylan's apparent ambivalence towards his Nobel prize for literature set the new standard for playing it cool around awards?

Well, it doesn't seem to have dampened the enthusiasm of stars of screen, now midway through their awards ‘season'.

As nominations open for The Lawyer Awards, the magazine's team are likely right to expect plenty of nominations and a full house on the night.

Lawyers can sound pretty cynical about awards, so why do they submit, and why are they going?

No doubt they are partly worried that if they don't submit and get shortlisted, all their competitors who'd also affected a lack of interest in awards would in reality submit and win things – meaning they go quite fast from feeling like Bob Dylan to looking like they're not in the club.

There are more positive reasons too.

First, anyone can claim they are really, really good – and clients who might instruct a firm and lawyers who might think of working for it know that.

Awards are different – even though there are plenty of them these days, they are still a differentiator, because in each category, at each awards, there is just one winner.

Secondly, people notice when you win – they really do. If your clients like you, they'll be really chuffed (and also have the idea reinforced that they instruct the right lawyers). It's not a bad internal PR exercise at your firm or chambers – look at my prize-winning practice everybody!

Thirdly, it can change a view of you that's inaccurate and dated. Reputation tends to lag actual achievements. If a fresh set of judges' eyes look at your work and decide it's a winner, perceptions in the market can then be changed faster.

A magic circle firm might not see an uplift for winning corporate finance team of the year; but the impact on others who win can be much greater. Here, we're once again back to standing out from the crowd.

Of course wrong decisions get made in awards – they are subjective. And maybe the process behind some includes things the organisers would rather weren't scrutinised.

But I'm reminded of the way a friend confessed he buys wine. ‘I always go for one that's won a prize,' he says. ‘It means someone else sampled it and thinks it's alright.'

If you want help to get your awards submissions to stand out, get in touch.

Melissa Davis is the managing director of MD Communications, the international legal PR agency. She is also chair of the IBA Law Firm Management Committee Business Development Working Group and a member of the ABA Transnational Legal Practice Committee.

MD Communications is on Twitter @mdcomms

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Media training - can you afford to skip it?

26/01/17 |

Request our free guide: 13 mistakes lawyers make with the media.

In this social media age, we fire off a tweet – expressing sadness at the death of a pop star or concern about an incoming American president's views – hoping a few people will see it; knowing there's a chance it gets very widely picked up.

You release it, hoping it's good enough.

Maybe we can now blame Twitter for a PR mistake I've seen many times. A company, law firm or individual sends off a press release to the media, goes home for the evening and looks forward to seeing their name in the next day's press. Job done.

Did we go viral?

Well of course not. This really was only going to be the beginning. 

The phone rings - are you prepared?

Investing your PR strategy solely in the odd press release is a gamble – just as, in fact, a barely-used social media account won't garner a following, and is unlikely to spread the word wide while you sleep/eat/work out.

More reliable is a multi-layered PR strategy, and that includes media training – being able to handle yourself when engaging with the media. 

Look at it this way, you could get lucky. That press release you sent off yesterday could be a great story that catches the eye of nation's media.

However - what do you do when the phone rings and it is the BBC or a national newspaper asking if they can interview you further on the topic of the press release? 

Or, as happens these days, when the press call asking about the online abuse your initiative is receiving from disgruntled ex-business partners, campaigning groups or a local community.

The brave or naive might jump at the chance and cross the difficult bridge of how to handle tough questions from a journalist live on television in front of millions of viewers there and then.

Others might panic.

Be confident when facing the media

Then there will be those who actually decided to take some media training on board as part of their overall PR strategy who will feel much more confident and handle their interview in a way that makes them, their firm and the point they are trying make much more professional. 

While the public might find it entertaining to see someone stumble in the face of questioning on the television or clearly being out of their depth when a newspaper selectively prints their quotes in the next day's edition, the interviewee won't share in that pleasure. 

A one off media training session, with refresher sessions to follow, can make the whole world of difference to how you and your firm are perceived in the media.

This is even more important given the fierce competition in today's legal market, and the way media appearances get shared and critiqued.

Put yourself in your potential clients' shoes, who, remember, are media viewers and social media users as well.

They want to see an articulate professional who is confident and clear in an interview situation, rather than someone who looks out of their depth, nervous and muddled or even worse defensive and contradictory.

The benefits of media training

If you haven't checked out this (at least in PR circles) classic interview posted on YouTube with Peter Ward, then chief executive of the British Dental Council. Even the most innocent looking pre-record can go horribly wrong.

Even when you are contacted unexpectedly by a journalist, isn't it better to be prepared? Media training is painless, not having it can be as painful as having your teeth drilled. Just ask Peter Ward. 

We offer media training courses specifically tailored for lawyers - please get in touch for a chat about how we can help.

Request our free guide: 13 mistakes lawyers make with the media.

Melissa Davis is the managing director of MD Communications, the international legal PR agency. She is also chair of the IBA Law Firm Management Committee Business Development Working Group and a member of the ABA Transnational Legal Practice Committee.

MD Communications is on Twitter @mdcomms

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How to incorporate rankings into your marketing strategy

26/01/17 |

Legal directory rankings used to be seen as a ‘nice to have,’ a little ego boost once a year and a way of getting one up on your drinking buddies from other firms. Now, with the digital age increasingly making information on firms more searchable, and competition increasing, they have become another crucial marketing tool.

If you’re going to invest time and effort into making submissions to directories for ranking then they should not be an after thought. Incorporate the submissions process, and the rankings, into your marketing decisions and you could see some very positive results.

Establish an internal process

No matter who you are in the legal sector, the directories don’t come to you. From the biggest to the smallest practices all the legwork needs to be done internally to the timetable set by the directories themselves. Set up a process for managing directory submissions and determine who is going to be accountable for them. Incorporate this into marketing strategy and resource allocation to make sure that it gets done.

You need to bear in mind: deadlines, references, writing the submission, doing an interview with the researcher, following up after the interview, getting feedback post-ranking.

Buy a profile

The rankings at both Legal 500 and Chambers & Partners are independent and no amount of cash is going to change where you sit in the table. However, both publications offer the opportunity to buy a profile that provides more information on what your firm does and that’s something that can be very useful for marketing purposes.

Make sure that you provide enough information about the firm in terms of geographic reach, numbers, practice areas and specialisms. It’s also crucial to ensure there is a link back to your website.

Use the rankings in your PR

Both the Legal 500 and Chambers & Partners are considered a reputable source of information on where firms sit in the sector, so if you get ranked then shout about it. Build ranking info into email marketing and website updates and factor this into your social media planning too.

Use everything that the directories give you in your marketing, not just the numerical rankings themselves but any client quotes that are included and where other firms sit in comparison to you. When you’re planning marketing for individual practice groups, make sure that you include any directories information.

Get the whole firm involved

It’s amazing the difference that it can make to getting results from rankings when everyone in the firm is focused on it. Ensure all teams are feeding into the submissions process, from partners, to those managing what goes out in terms of PR and what appears on the website. Make sure that individual rankings appear on the profile pages of the lawyers who are ranked and provide internal training on how the process works.

Measure your success

An important part of any marketing strategy is establishing what is working. With directories, there are a number of metrics to use. For example, how many hits is your website getting from the online profile that you paid for? Can you put a number on the new instructions that have been generated because of a ranking received?

Do job applicants answer yes when asked if they made the decision to apply based on a directories reputation? Directory rankings aren’t the solution for every firm but if you put the time and effort into getting them right then they can produce some great results.

MD Comms' dedicated Legal Directories Ranking team is made up of former directory editors and senior marketing managers from UK and global law firms. Our consultants have the insight and experience to make your submissions count.

Find out more about our legal directories services

Melissa Davis is the managing director of MD Communications, the international legal PR agency. She is also chair of the IBA Law Firm Management Committee Business Development Working Group and a member of the ABA Transnational Legal Practice Committee.

MD Communications is on Twitter @mdcomms

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Should lawyers be 'human' on Twitter?

20/01/17 |

I've written before about how easy it is to make a social media faux pas these days - and how the strength of this fluid online world can inflate something small into a trending #fail in no time at all.

As if on cue, on 10  Jan @BritishGasHelp tweeter 'Paul' produced something that proved my point entirely using the anniversary of David Bowie's death as the subject of one of the company's tweets. He said:

“Morning all. A year today we lost a pop icon. David Bowie, time flys don't it? We're here till 10pm if you need anything. Thanks, Paul #RipDB.”

You might find the grammar/spelling in the tweet a bit offensive but what a lot of people complained about was the inappropriateness of using a big public event for self promotion. And a sad public event at that.

Where's the connection? It's clumsy PR and it does make you wonder whether 'Paul' had a free hand with the British Gas Twitter account or whether someone in a management position approved the content. More than that it really shines a spotlight on the humanisation of brands.

Human is the hardest thing to be

The Twitter accounts that seem to achieve the most success are those that have a very human feel to them. They might be tweeting about cakes or cars, legal services or voucher codes, but it's always the ability to be human that makes people engage.

Which is where Paul sort of fell into a trap - because, while corporate Twitter accounts need to be human, they should never be too human i.e. clumsy and insensitive, drunk, emotional. There's much less room for error with a brand than an actual person.

The question of sensitivity in branding

The likelihood is that if a tweet like this had been read out during a digital marketing strategy meeting it would have been shot down in flames. However, the idea is sound - there is no shortage of examples of businesses trying to find new ways to get humans to engage with their corporate social accounts and latching on to external events is one that makes it into many a strategy.

And it can be a good idea - it does work. Although, here at MD Comms we tend to advise clients to steer away from the topic of death and to avoid combining the sad with the promotional. Had the tweet been a little more sensitive - without the sales bit - it may have worked but you're still walking a very fine line.

The power of Paul

However, there is another argument here that perhaps Paul did British Gas a favour. His ham-fisted approach to David Bowie's death was so human in its faultiness that he really did give the brand a face. Albeit a slightly embarrassed one. He responded to what must have been a barrage of irritated responses with “Hey, David Bowie meant so much to me. I didn't mean to offend anyone & I only wanted to pay tribute to a master songwriter & true icon ^Paul.”

Which makes you feel rather sorry for the guy. Paul was promptly removed and replaced by another tweeter with a more corporate attitude. However, his 'offending' tweet received 206+ responses, 257+ retweets and 371+ likes. @BritishGasHelp's average engagement prior to this was 1 like.

The difficult matter of a social voice and brand humanisation is one that all businesses have to deal with. However, as Paul may have proved, perhaps having some personality - even if it not everyone gets it - is better than none.

Find our more about our social media training courses

Melissa Davis is the managing director of MD Communications, the international legal PR agency. She is also chair of the IBA Law Firm Management Committee Business Development Working Group and a member of the ABA Transnational Legal Practice Committee.

MD Communications is on Twitter @mdcomms

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Why KWM's collapse could threaten YOUR firm's reputation

17/01/17 |

Today's headlines confirm the sad news that King & Wood Mallesons LLP is finally filing for administration.

Remaining London staff at 10 Queen Street Place are currently being doorstopped by journalists whose colleagues back in the newsroom are phoning round banks, creditors and ex-partners trying to glean any further gossip on KWM's downfall.

The question is - is your firm next?

That's not my question - it's the one being asked by journalists looking for a story, banks feeling fearful because a member of the 'global elite' is unravelling, and the regulator which doesn't want to be caught napping.

Information and communications that were once pretty mundane suddenly need high-level PR advice and support.

Why?

Put simply, anything that resembles part of the KWM story will have press, banks and regulators sniffing around a firm. Let's think about the component parts of that.

First, lateral moves by partners. In the good times, partner moves are a fairly dull story - to be handed to the most junior of rookie reporters. Post-KWM they will draw a lot of attention to the firm – it was in retrospect the first sign that all was not well.

Second, firm results. Most firms produce figures that are more detailed these days - again, when a booming economy is floating all ships, reports on figures are a job for a trainee reporter. Now there will be an editor looking at the screen over their shoulder.

Third, worry about any third party the firm deals with. Who might have reason to gossip?

Finally there's close attention needed on internal communications - staff tend to believe what they read in the press above what management say. Silence, or an evasive-sounding narrative will damage the firm internally.

PR advice for these events is about protecting reputation, and avoiding the sort of misunderstanding that, with a little push, can be self-fulfilling. King & Wood Mallesons has made everyone jumpy.

If you or your firm needs advice on crisis communications, please get in touch.

Melissa Davis is the managing director of MD Communications, the international legal PR agency. She is also chair of the IBA Law Firm Management Committee Business Development Working Group and a member of the ABA Transnational Legal Practice Committee.

MD Communications is on Twitter @mdcomms

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Protecting your firm's reputation after a high-profile exit

13/01/17 |

If you take an interest in law and politics, then the first week back at work was a treat – Law Society chief executive Catherine Dixon resigned in a letter to Chancery Lane’s 100-strong governing council. The next day, Sir Roger Ivans, UK ambassador to the EU, resigned.

The human interest ‘treat’ if you follow these areas is that both wrote enormously long, scathing resignation letters that were leaked to the press in full.

Sir Roger’s letter is not unusual in his field, but in a long tradition of ambassadors’ frank farewell dispatches. As there’s an equally long tradition of leaking them, the Foreign Office has tried in vain to ban them.

The surprise is that Dixon chose to use this device. It goes against normal communications and PR advice, and is worth understanding.

Gosh, that’s long!

We normally tell clients to keep communications short – one side of A4 for a press release. Here the length of the letter is way over that, and it’s part of what makes it a story. Unlike an over-long deal announcement, this one screams “packed with juicy detail!”. You read to the end because it is long.

No way back!

It uses language (“moribund” rather jumps off the page, used in relation to the Council) you don’t normally see in comms. It’s a real headache for Chancery Lane’s press team, but for Dixon, it’s become about her own PR. No-one’ll ask her to reconsider off this. She definitely means to go.

So being so direct and specifically rude, coming after a list of her achievements in office, this is about promoting her legacy, in part by trashing people who frustrated her on progress in some areas.

Shocked face!

Emailed to 100 people with divergent agendas, this letter was always going to leak. Mock shock that it did is part of the comms routine here – admit you want it leaked, and some of your moral authority is lost.

Of course, Dixon has another job lined up. She likely would not have been as “interesting” in her letter if she hadn’t.

She doesn’t hold all the cards here, but she has got to decide what happens and when. How do you respond to that when you are the organisation she is leaving?

You could trash her – but in doing so Chancery Lane would be damaging itself. So the right response is to say “sorry she feels this way” (blocking the line of questioning); repeat her stated “achievements” (linking to work that carries on); and mention something you do want to talk about (a central message – possibly unrelated to anything she’s mentioned in her letter).

Someone in Dixon’s position, if she’s well advised, now stops talking, so there’s little chance of a long-running war of words – Chancery Lane just has to stick to its line.

Melissa Davis is the managing director of MD Communications, the international legal PR agency. She is also chair of the IBA Law Firm Management Committee Business Development Working Group and a member of the ABA Transnational Legal Practice Committee.

MD Communications is on Twitter @mdcomms

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New Year’s social media resolutions

12/01/17 |

New Year’s resolutions. Like them or hate them, there’s no doubt that they can be a useful way to set your sights on the goals that you have for the year ahead. While stats tell us that 80% of us will make, and then fail to keep, resolutions such as losing weight, working less and getting fitter in 2017, when it comes to social media your chances of seeing results from resolutions you make now are much higher. So, below are a few of our suggestions for changes you can make next year to get more ROI from your social media usage.

Shed the dead weight

If you feel like you’re sinking beneath the number of social media platforms you’re juggling at the moment then it might be time to drop a few. Streamline your social media offering by focusing on those that really work for your business. Where do you get the most responses? Which platforms result in the most clicks through to your website? Which sets of followers are engaging with you the most? If you don’t have a clear picture of this then use analytics to provide some cold hard numbers.

Start social media advertising

Yes, organic, informative content is very important but statistics tell us that between 20 and 25% of people will visit a brand’s website after seeing Facebook or Twitter advertising. According to market research firm Forrester Consulting, engaging with ads on social media channels is the top way social media users find out about new brands, products or services so if you’re not allocating some of your advertising budget to social media spend you’re not getting the return that you could do from Twitter, Facebook et al.

Engage employee advocates

According to Forbes, one of the Top 5 ‘things you should be doing with social media’ is activating your internal audience. Advocacy campaigns are a key part of social media success but can be expensive when you’re engaging external parties. Instead, use the workforce you have to generate attention – people trust work of mouth marketing more than any other type, even if it is coming from the mouths of employees.

Focus on mobile

Remember that we are moving towards a market where users engage with social media (and everything else) via mobile not desktop. When you’re planning content for your social media bear in mind your mobile browsers.

Understand social media searching

SEO has been the buzz term for years now but we’re beginning to see something of a sea change in the way that consumers search – we’re coming off Google and moving into social media. There are two reasons for this: firstly, that social media is likely to yield more visual results and, secondly, that people really value others’ opinions, something they’re more likely to find by searching for products or services via social media platforms.

Get visual

Words have been the content of choice for social media up to now but over the last year we’ve begun to see images and videos move way ahead. If you want to get the most out of social media this year then resolve to start using moving and still images more, whether you’re delivering up inspirational photos or short clips of ‘life within our business.’ Your engagement will go through the roof.

Social media for lawyers

We offer tailored social media training for individuals and firms. We can also audit your current social media and develop a new strategy for you.

Melissa Davis is the managing director of MD Communications, the international legal PR agency. She is also chair of the IBA Law Firm Management Committee Business Development Working Group and a member of the ABA Transnational Legal Practice Committee.

MD Communications is on Twitter @mdcomms

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Reputation matters - just ask the Law Society

11/01/17 |

What do you love about being a solicitor? Email us! Maybe add a picture of yourself running a marathon or learning to fly.

These are some of the new year exhortations from the Law Society, as Chancery Lane sets about helping members make better use of the solicitor 'brand'.

Lawyers can be a sceptical bunch, and having worked for the Law Society where I ran the press office, I know member responses to such initiatives can be on the, shall we say, sardonic side. I’m sure that natural inclination won't be helped by the brand campaign now coinciding with the Law Society's own 'brand issues' as the CEO departed with some stinging words.

But I'd urge readers to put their scepticism to one side. Brand will matter in 2017. If you break out in a rash at the use of the word, then I suggest we replace it with reputation - and a drive to improve what you are known for.

I've used Chancery Lane's headings here, but had some more thoughts for each.

Expertise

No surprise that this is the fiercest battleground. People (by which I mean the public) append expertise to individuals, rather than firms - your brand (sorry, reputation) is your people.

So even if the firm is very small, the people should always be visible, named pictured - on your website, in marketing material. Email addresses where possible should be names, not 'info@'.

Whatever experience your professionals have, it should be the first thing visible about them. If you've been handling property instructions in the Dulwich area for 15 years, say so. Accreditations, awards, any directory recommendations - all should be prominent.

And as people are looking to trust a person, definitely have a photo - even if it's not one you'd choose for your entry on an online dating site.

Client focus

Any evidence that clients are happy is great. The awards or listings already mentioned help here too, but if clients have told you they are happy - by email, letter or a call - don't be shy to ask them for an endorsement, attributed or anonymous.

Some accreditations - the Law Society's Lexcel or Conveyancing Quality Scheme, for example - are demanding on client focus. Why not say so beside your display of the accreditation badge?

Value for money

'Cheapest' as we know is a race to the bottom. But if you don't want clients to decide on cost alone, you need to stress 'value' beside price.

To be honest, this is something anyone who has done a law firm business plan should have considered - to grow a business, you need to understand the value your service adds, not just what it costs you.

If there are alternative ways to fund legal advice, or the fees depend on a 'win', it's important to be clear. The money side of things is a reason why clients avoid lawyers when they in fact do need a legal solution and would benefit from advice. 

Honesty

In an ideal world, this would be taken as a given. But attacks on lawyers by government and the media (think 'ambulance chasers' and the way 'whiplash' claims have been talked up as 'bogus').

You know your standards are sky-high. Dishonesty is a striking-off offence, and there are clear ways to complain about problems. 

Some of this is about personal conduct as well as what goes on your website - a local or business community is a small world. You and your people shouldn't get a reputation for indiscretion or being a gossip. Word can spread about you fast offline as well as on.

Approachable, accessible

The lead question here - do all your staff need to be in a sky-diving team selfie to be approachable?

When this sort of thing gets derided, I think the assumption is that lawyers are being told to put it top of the page.

I'd say, absolutely not. Definitely have the human stuff there, but it's for a side bar or the bottom of a page. It's a pic in the local paper.

After all your expertise, 'In his spare time, John referees junior football matches,' is a nice thing to say.

Perhaps a better way to come across as approachable isn't by bigging up your javelin-throwing skills, but in the way you wear your 'expertise'. Where you've shown that - in an article aimed at potential clients, say - how did you come across? Did you hide behind legalese? Or did you speak 'fluent human'? 

Adding value to society

Lawyers often take this one for granted a bit. The regulator demands they act in the public interest; any lawyer I know has done things as a favour, and many take on clients they know might struggle to pay costs that couldn't be recovered. And I question how many under-tens became clients having noticed a law firm had supported their primary school Christmas fair.

But this is an age where lawyers are regularly run down by the prime minister, the health secretary and even lord chancellors.  

So there is it - 'brand' in 2017. Sceptical lawyers, should in fact be reassured by how many of the headings in a 'brand' campaign lead back to 'expertise'. Now. Team selfie anyone? 

Need advice on reputation management or branding? The bespoke MD Communications service ensures that support is unique to your needs.

Melissa Davis is the managing director of MD Communications, the international legal PR agency. She is also chair of the IBA Law Firm Management Committee Business Development Working Group and a member of the ABA Transnational Legal Practice Committee.

MD Communications is on Twitter @mdcomms

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