For law firms seeking to thrive in today's competitive landscape, partnering with a specialized marketing and PR agency is a strategic imperative. Agencies possess a deep understanding of the intricate balance between legal expertise and effective brand communication.

From thought leadership campaigns that position legal professionals as industry authorities to adeptly managing a firm’s reputation and navigating the nuances of attorney advertising compliance, agencies offer a tailored approach that aligns with a law firm's unique identity and objectives. Ultimately, the partnership empowers law firms to amplify their reach, establish credibility, and attract a diverse clientele in an ever-evolving legal marketplace.

While most law firms understand the importance of marketing and PR, they may choose to partner with a marketing and/or PR agency for different reasons. For small to mid-size firms, an agency can provide senior-level service across various marketing verticals, effectively acting as the firm’s in-house marketing team at a lower cost compared to an in-house team.

For large firms, agencies often fill gaps in services where the in-house marketing group may lack experienced specialists. This often occurs with public relations where a seasoned publicist has deeper connections with reporters and editors than an in-house marketer would have.

No matter what your firm’s reason for engaging with an outside agency, a successful partnership hinges on effective collaboration between your firm and your agency’s counterparts. In this article, we explore essential ways that law firms can work seamlessly and successfully with their marketing or PR agency, ensuring a productive working relationship.

1. Define clear communication protocols
Open and transparent communication forms the foundation of a successful client-agency partnership. Establishing a clear line of communication helps prevent misunderstandings, fosters trust, and ensures that both parties are aligned on goals and expectations.

Contractual considerations
From the outset of an agency engagement, it’s crucial that both sides clearly understand the scope of work. Make sure your contract contains a detailed description of tasks, a mechanism for expanding or contracting services and an outline of how the firm will be charged for “scope creep” (tasks and deliverables that are outside the scope of work).

Day-to-day communications
It may seem simple to state that a law firm needs an effective line of communication with its agency, but this is foundational to ensuring information is transferred accurately and in a timely manner. Your firm should have a primary point of contact at the agency who knows everything that is happening with your program. On the flip side, your agency needs access to a dedicated individual who can either respond to requests or forward requests to the appropriate individual. As an example, if your agency’s publicist brings an opportunity for an attorney to speak to media, the publicist may need an immediate response from the attorney because reporters work quickly under tight deadlines. If they can’t reach your attorney for a comment, they will look for another source.

Some firms choose to have marketing committees comprised of attorneys, marketers and administrators. These committees can be helpful for collaborative strategy sessions and important decision-making, but they typically slow down the day-to-day implementation of the marketing plan. (That Super Lawyers social media post doesn’t need committee approval!)

2. Stick to a structured meeting schedule
Regular meetings and check-ins contribute to a more effective working relationship. Whether in-person or virtual, keep a consistent meeting schedule to help hold everyone accountable for their tasks and deliverables. Your agency should provide an agenda before each meeting and follow-up notes after each meeting.

3. Establish a comprehensive strategy
Crafting a clear marketing and PR strategy requires close collaboration between law firms and agencies. Both parties must align on objectives, key performance indicators, and the desired outcomes of the program. Law firms should provide insights into the types of cases or clients they want to attract, enabling agencies to tailor strategies that maximize reach and impact.

The firm and agency should meet annually to review the previous year’s goals and accomplishments, revise objectives, and plan for the coming year. This session will yield a plan that includes strategies for the firm, its practice areas and select attorneys. Collaboratively setting measurable and realistic goals ensures that efforts are focused and results are trackable, allowing for adjustments as needed.

4. Provide access to necessary resources
Set your partnership up for success by ensuring your agency has access to the resources they need. This might include timely access to brand assets, marketing materials, data, analytics, and any other relevant information. Offering a centralized repository for these resources expedites the agency's work, minimizes delays, and optimizes the efficiency of the partnership.

Create a master list of platforms that your agency needs access to, including your website, analytics reports, social media accounts, Google Business, Best Lawyers, Super Lawyers, AVVO, and other profiles, and other tools needed to run the marketing program. If credentials are changed or people leave, be sure to update your master password list and remove administrative access for anyone who doesn’t work for or at the firm.

5. Develop a clear crisis communications plan
Crises tend to strike when least expected, so having a communications plan is crucial in a law firm/agency partnership. The plan should cover a wide range of potential scenarios and identify the key players in the crisis response. Multiple people should be included from the agency in the event someone needs to be reached during off hours or on weekends. Your agency point person will help draft statements, prepare attorneys for interviews and mitigate the fallout from the crisis.

6. Review status reports and analytics
Your agency should provide a reporting system that details the status of ongoing work and key performance indicators as outlined in your strategic plan. Don’t just file these reports away. Your partnership is a collaboration, so make sure you have a clear picture of what’s in progress and how the marketing program is performing. Regular performance analysis allows both parties to assess the effectiveness of strategies and make informed decisions for future campaigns.

A few reports that may be important to your firm include a monthly round-up of work performed, a list of PR placements that were achieved and opportunities that the firm declined, website traffic metrics, keyword ranking data (SEO), social media engagement and growth, and advertising reach.

7. Embrace flexibility and adaptability
In the dynamic world of marketing and PR, being open to change and adaptation is crucial. Law firms should recognize that industry trends and client behavior can shift rapidly, requiring adjustments to strategies and tactics. Encourage your agency to stay nimble and responsive to changing circumstances, and be prepared to evaluate and modify your approach as needed.

8. Value expertise and trust the process
One of the primary reasons for partnering with a marketing or PR agency is to leverage its expertise and experience. Law firms should trust the agency's recommendations and insights, especially when it comes to industry trends, best practices, and strategic guidance. An effective partnership is built on mutual respect and a willingness to collaborate based on each party's strengths.

A harmonious and productive client-agency relationship is built on a foundation of clear communication, shared goals, and a collaborative approach. By establishing a structured workflow, providing access to resources, and valuing the expertise of your agency, you can set the stage for successful marketing and PR campaigns that yield impactful results. Remember, effective collaboration requires ongoing effort and commitment from both sides, ultimately leading to a partnership that fuels business growth and brand success.

This article originally appeared in the September 2023 issue of ALM's Law Journal Newsletters Marketing the Law Firm.