Most marketing and business development plans and strategies for 2020 pretty much went by the wayside when it became apparent that the initial “two-week” shutdown for COVID-19 became two months, and then two quarters, and there is still little sense of when “going back to normal” might actually happen in the U.S. In light of the dramatic shifts the business world has been forced to make in this time, we will emerge looking very different than we did when first facing these challenges this past March.

Despite the uncertainty, though, developing solid plans with accountability, results and measurement can be done. Preparing a comprehensive business development strategy — one that is integrated with public relations — is more critical than ever to avoid being considered pleasant but boring elevator music.

“Stop, Collaborate and Listen!”

“Sophisticated buyers of legal services want to have confidence that they’re making a good decision when they hire outside counsel,” advises Jim Jarrell, Chief Marketing and Business Development Officer at Norris McLaughlin, P.A. “Maybe they have the relationship, but they have to establish themselves as more than a friend so there’s substance to the relationship. You do that with careful, thoughtful and targeted PR and media relations efforts that are designed to give confidence to that buyer of legal services. If it’s not a coordinated effort — truly integrated marketing, business development and PR, you have to ask yourself what you’re spending money to achieve.”

“Rumor Has It”

“Brand awareness is a critical component of any business development plan,” says Liz Lindley, Senior Vice President, Public Relations, with Jaffe. “Branding efforts align closely with networking and lead development plans, content strategies, internal and external communications, and cross-selling of services.”

What is the best way to communicate with your target marketplace to raise awareness of the firm’s brand to help drive new business leads? Lindley recommends several integrated tactics.

  • Media commentary and publishing bylined articles in business and trade press help validate thought leadership, raise awareness of knowledge of the topic and provide credibility that the attorney’s viewpoint matters.
  • Leverage those placements in your firm’s social media campaigns and reach the firm’s direct audiences with your legal perspective about a trend, legislative or regulatory decision, or other current news event important to the firm’s clients.
  • Ask the firm to add the placement to the firm’s website and attorney bio, and include media relations results in any internal or external marketing email.
  • Take a step farther with a commitment to establish a blog or podcast on a subject that sets the firm, practice or attorneys apart from others in the same field.
  • A content strategy extends your firm’s digital influence, and ensures that PR results integrate with business development, PR and marketing to showcase expertise.

“Really, focusing on only one aspect of PR without purposefully weaving in the other business development and marketing tactics is a wasted opportunity,” says Lindley.

“Take a Chance on Me”

Evyan O’Keefe, Senior Vice President, Marketing & Business Development at Jaffe, says that sharing PR successes directly with a network of prospects is another effective avenue for raising your brand.

“Find ways to get PR results in front of the right prospective clients so your attorneys’ experience and knowledge supports and confirms their decision that your firm would be the right choice for their needs,” she says. “Have the attorneys keep a deliberate focus on targeted prospects to regularly send a personalized note that shares a news article with their quotes about a topic of importance to their business or either informs or reminds them of something relevant that reinforces the firm’s capabilities and value.

“When a prospect sees your firm’s attorneys quoted in trade magazine news articles, reads their blog posts on important matters, hears them as speakers at industry events — online for now, the firm becomes recognized as a valuable source for thought leadership, and stands apart from competitors.

“Taking it to the next level gives your firm much more ‘street cred.’”

“Don’t Stop ’til You Get Enough”

Examples abound of how to manage this. With the addition of six laterals since March 2020, one of whom was an eager registered patent attorney, the nearly century-old law firm of Henderson, Franklin, Starnes & Holt, P.A. was able to expand its services in the midst of the COVID-19 shutdown.

“Through the onboarding process, monthly coaching sessions, and meetings with the Marketing Committee Chair, we developed a solid and aggressive plan to launch a formal intellectual property practice group,” says Gail Lamarche, Director of Marketing and Business Development. The new group incorporated a diverse team of both litigation and transactional lawyers from multiple practice areas.

In addition to publishing eight new pages of website content and a digital brochure, the firm shared this news in client alerts and its social media channels, and issued a press release to the media as well.

“Fortunately, since we had built relationships with local media over time, the press release was picked up and shared in several publications throughout Southwest Florida,” Lamarche says.

Throughout this six-month period, the firm also ran print ads showcasing the patent attorney and practice group chair. Lamarche says that future plans include a digital media campaign launching October 1 and speaking engagements, including CLEs both in-house and to local bar associations.

“Within one month of the launch, ROI has already been realized,” says Lamarche. “The IP practice group chair shared that several dormant clients have reached out as they were reminded of our services and want to take measures to protect their intellectual property.”

She reminds us that, “In a year that has taught us everything about adapting, the basic ingredient for BD success still remains the same: Have a plan with goals and deadlines, and then execute.”

“I Heard It Through the Grapevine”

Focusing on business development is an important piece of the current toolbox. “PR should help my attorneys achieve their business development goals,” says Jarrell. “We talk about paying more than ‘lip service’ to what we value in our client relationships, and this is what’s more – establishing that thought leadership leads clients down a pathway that ends in trust. That’s the ballgame.

The point of a strategic and integrated plan that supports and marries public relations activities and results with business development is for prospects to sing — or rather, say, ‘I will remember you’ and ‘What you got, baby, I want it.’ With combined tactics, turning those prospects into clients will have you ‘taking care of business,’ ‘time after time.’

This article originally appeared in the October 2020 issue of ALM's Marketing the Law Firm.