It was around 1998. Two grad students had landed investments for their new company, Google, and opened their first office in a garage. A new R&B group called Destiny’s Child, fronted by a teenage Beyoncé, was climbing up the charts. The iPhone was still a decade away. And I started my first PR agency job.

A new law firm client told our team, “We need PR,” and since I was hired as a publicist, I knew that PR meant to be “in the news.” The kickoff to our campaign would include a press release about a new partner and office, along with pitches to secure coverage in BusinessWeek, Crain’s, the regional law journal and the lawyers’ hometown newspapers. We also sought background meetings with reporters at the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal.

Back then, PR meant a lot of phone calls and a lot of mail. A media placement was a victory celebrated with scissors and glue — more on that later.

The way we practice PR has changed a lot since the late ‘90s, but the objective is still the same: Law firms want brand recognition. Fortunately, we have a lot of ways to accomplish that today.

This year, I’m celebrating 25 years in the PR game. Here’s the story about how my PR practice has evolved.

There Are Multiple Avenues in the PR Lane

These days, what is meant when a law firm says “We need PR”? Law firm marketing has evolved and today’s hybrid model of PR practice lets us approach the law firm’s broad objective — brand recognition —  through multiple routes to accomplish that goal.

For example, when a law firm brings on a new practice group, we will start with a press release and bios, media outreach, and interview coordination. The hybrid model we now have for law firm marketing means we can explore the lawyers’ specific experience and target audiences, and suggest:

  • Submitting speaker proposals for an industry conference
  • Identifying criteria for a ranking in the new practice area
  • Proposing a topic for a bylined article for trade publications
  • Boosting a social post
  • Designing a client alert
  • Sharing internally to foster cross-selling
  • Adding information to recruiting and RFP packets
  • Recording short videos of the new lawyers for web and social media

This integration of tactics is a philosophy here at Jaffe — an approach that removes silos and appreciates the changing needs of law firms.

My First Job in Legal PR

At my first job as a publicist for law firms, I would spend a lot of time flipping through the multiple, alphabetized, heavy volumes of impossibly thin pages with tiny print — aka Bacon’s Media Directory, with the iconic green cover — to find media contacts for pitching attorneys as sources.

I regularly met journalists at cafés in New York City to talk about their beats, stories in the works, how my clients could be resources. The Motorola StarTAC 85 flip phone in my bag was never a distraction; it was just a phone.

Along with media placements, most lawyers saw tremendous value in print advertising, so I spent time calling ad reps for specs and working with the creative team on designing ads and writing copy.

I would promote a firm’s sponsored bar function or industry conference for firm name recognition. Occasionally, the mailroom would deliver an envelope addressed to me that included conference brochures, with Post-It notes tacked to the pages where a lawyer had used a Sharpie to write, “How come I wasn’t the speaker here?” and I’d place calls to the conference organizers for next year’s meeting. We also recommended and coordinated roundtables as a tool for bringing prospects, clients and attorneys together, often with an editor of a publication, for a Q&A type of long-form article.

These tactics were the components of a solid PR program.

How We Shared Results Back in the Day

If I thought a story had published, I’d be at the newsstand on 43rd Street at 7 a.m. to peruse the magazines and newspapers. If a client’s interview had hit, I’d buy a few copies and dash back to the office to photocopy the clip and fax it to the client. I also literally clipped the story with scissors, and glued it on a sheet of paper for the client’s clip binder. If columns were uneven or stories “jumped” to other pages, that task would turn into quite the art project.

Those days, there were no e-newsletters, no social media, not even website news pages! A lawyer would purchase the reprint of an article, buy a frame and hang the hit on the walls of the office. You might think that it was wholly a vanity placement, but the lawyers understood the impact the clips could have: Clients — who came to law firms’ offices in person — would see multiple framed stories on the walls, and the justification of engaging the lawyer was reinforced by the third-party validation of a media placement. An excellent tool for generating conversation about the lawyer’s experience and knowledge, the framed clips also had an impact on other lawyers in the firm who, upon seeing the wall, would want similar publicity.

Remember the clip binder I mentioned? That binder was in the firm’s reception area, for clients to see the mastheads and their lawyers’ names in print. We updated the binder regularly, sometimes providing multiple copies.

I was fully engaged in my PR work for professional services firms, always energized by a media hit, and very aware that those earned placements had value. The campaigns that went beyond media placements, with print ads and sponsorships, also made a lot of sense to me; each tactic added a layer of visibility or an extended reach to target audiences, which meant a greater likelihood for building and maintaining name recognition.

Building on My PR Foundation

Jaffe is a multi-service agency, and collaborating with a broad team of specialists and resources expanded my PR tools and thought processes. When I first joined Jaffe, I went beyond the traditional media outlets and secured more industry trade hits. I leveraged the data Jaffe had about conferences, found speaking opportunities for clients and then pitched journalists attending those events to have coffee with speakers. I found opportunities in Jaffe’s rankings database and wrote nominations. I wrote bios, press releases and pitches, and set up client interviews with journalists. And I still considered myself a publicist, 100%.

A new opportunity arose, and I left Jaffe to work in consumer marketing, representing pet brands and veterinary specialty practices around the country. Pitches were not just for interviews; I now asked for product reviews, inclusion on gift lists and television segments. Conferences now included trade show exhibits and new product industry awards. My veterinarian clients added marketing to their processes through better branding on appointment cards, postcards asking for Facebook likes and Sunday brunch seminars at the clinic to interact with pet parents.

The PR pie now had more slices — advertising, branding, social media, websites, Google ads, digital banners, community events — and I saw that PR was no longer a single lane. While PR definitely meant traditional public relations and media results, it also included ideas for building public reputation, managing that reputation via internal and external communications, connecting with a community, and looking for ways to share or repurpose a media placement and give it “legs.”

When I rejoined Jaffe in 2017, right away I saw that my PR lane had again shifted, expanded, widened. I was on a new roadway with my colleagues at Jaffe who focused on law firm business development, law firm culture, client acquisition, recruiting strategies, rankings, crisis communications, website content, creative, digital and social media! When a new client asked for “PR,” I knew I could do traditional PR and simultaneously explore the strategies and tactics my colleagues offered.

The rush of getting a media hit will never subside, of course, but I enjoy using all of these other tactics to position lawyers. As I advise my lawyer clients, media placements generally won’t happen every week, so it’s smart to view PR as a constant process and the sum of many parts. 

In theatrical improvisation, one of the first rules commonly taught to artists is to always say, “Yes, and…,” so they can continue the story, move the scene forward and expand their line of thinking. I like this perspective and I appreciate its application to “We need PR.” We say “yes” because media coverage is a tremendous and tangible way to raise awareness. We also say “and…” to brainstorm more ideas and build a hybrid program.

If you have a need for PR, try the yes, and explore the integration of tactics that will meet both immediate and more long-term needs.

If you need help in driving in this new wide lane of PR, reach out to me, Liz Lindley, at llindley@jaffepr.com.