Yes, says Helen Campbell, Head of PR at The Ideal Marketing Company Here, she looks at why and how barristers should approach their local media.
Solicitors tend to have a high profile in the local community with many occupying a prominent position on the high street. But ask people to name a barristers’ chambers in their area and I’m guessing that very few would be able to do so. That’s a balance that needs to be redressed.
Of course, barristers are often instructed by solicitors as well as by individuals, so you could argue that awareness amongst the general public isn’t important. However, in my opinion, that would be wrong. People are now used to doing their own research online and feel increasingly confident in cutting out the ‘middleman’ in a whole range of areas – from booking holidays to legal tasks more traditionally done by a law firm. For example, the relative ease with which people can set up wills and LPAs online gives potential clients an assurance that they know something about the law. So, barristers need to appeal to the general public more so than a decade ago.
Go it alone or strength in numbers?
There is another issue unique to barristers when considering PR. As barristers are generally self-employed, should they be aiming to raise the profile of themselves as an individual or of their chambers as a whole?
There’s no definitive answer, but it’s worth considering that unless you are the kind of highly conspicuous, flamboyant character that tends to attract media interest, it’s generally easier to promote your chambers and their range of services than an individual.
Know what you want
Whichever way you choose to go, it’s important to consider three questions:
- What are you trying to achieve through media coverage?
- What is your brand and how do you want to be seen?
- Who are you trying to communicate with?
As in all areas of marketing, PR needs to be strategically planned. It should also form part of a wider marketing strategy. So, you need to decide why you are seeking publicity and how it could help you.
The most common answer I hear from our clients is ‘to win more business’. But to create a more targeted approach (generally far more successful than a scattergun style), you need to decide what kinds of clients you want. Is gender, age or class an issue? What kinds of cases are you seeking? Are you focusing on a particular geographical region, a specific area of the law and/or a particular demographic? And of course, are you aiming to communicate with solicitors or the general public? Local media can reach both these audiences effectively, but if your main focus is law firms then the industry press might be a better place to concentrate your efforts.
Finding a direction
If developing a strategy for your chambers, you should discuss this as a team. Look back at the cases that have been most lucrative and decide what kind of cases you want going forward. Are there solicitors that you prefer taking instruction from? Where are they based and what areas of the law do they specialise in if any? This will help direct all your marketing efforts, not just PR.
Why local media?
National media is difficult and time consuming to get into. Journalists get hundreds of press releases and pitches every day and are likely to block anyone who contacts them with weak stories, so only reach out if you have a story that is genuinely newsworthy on the national stage.
Many chambers (and solicitors) draw their clients from a small radius around their practice – probably within 30 miles maximum. So, while it may be great to get a story in The Times, local PR can be just as valuable in attracting clients.
Local media now includes so much more than just newspapers. Just like the nationals, local media outlets are working on their online presence. For example, many local newspapers and radio stations have a healthy following on platforms like Twitter and Facebook. This helps to ensure that any press releases or articles get wider coverage and reach different demographics. It also helps with search engine optimisation by creating backlinks to your website.
Do your research
As a barrister, you won’t be a stranger to the need for research, so approach this as you would a case. Find out what local newspapers, radio stations, TV programmes, magazines and websites exist in your area. Which of those publications are your target clients most likely to read/listen to/watch?
Next, work on building a relationship with key journalists who should already be interested in you because you have a local story to tell. Drop them an email to introduce yourself and offer to be on hand to comment on any story with a legal slant so you are their go-to contact. However, as with any non-paid for media, any story needs to have proper news angle to it and be relevant to their audience.
Decide on the services and subjects that are most likely to interest prospects and adapt content accordingly. Local newspapers tend to be read by an older demographic whilst younger clients are likely to go online. Approach newspapers with stories around the sorts of services that older people are more likely to be interested in such as probate disputes. Online publications with a younger readership might be more interested in family law issues or employment cases.
Focus on the positive
One of the benefits of local media is that they are more likely to be interested in putting a positive spin on a story. Of course, depending on the nature of the story, that isn’t always the case, but generally local media are keen to promote their region and the good things that go on there.
It’s true that print media is going through a tough time and has had to adapt to survive, but newspapers are still well-read in their community and because they are local, a significant proportion of that audience could be interested in your services.
There are also many forms of local media, including radio and TV news programmes. Regional radio stations may cover a relatively small radius but are often listened to by a wide range of people who also look on the website, Facebook and Twitter for useful information such as traffic updates, weather and breaking news. This captures a wide demographic – again all of whom could potentially be interested in your services.
So, although national media offers widespread coverage, you can waste a lot of time and money trying to get featured. Furthermore, unless you have a nationwide client base, it‘s also quite likely that most of the people reading it won’t be interested in what you do. So, local media can be a good way to go – just don’t make the mistake of thinking it’s easy to get quality coverage. Just like any other PR activity, it takes planning, research and skill to identify the right publications and the right stories.
About the author
Helen Campbell has worked in PR for 15 years. She is Head of PR at The Ideal Marketing Company (www.idealmarketingcompany.com) who offer a full range of marketing services for law firms including PR, search engine optimisation, social media and website design.