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Presence & people – key success factors for regional law firms

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Starting on regional newspapers, I was part of a central newsroom team that produced stories from talking to contacts, often by phone.

But this Midlands daily had a secret weapon – its six district offices produced big stories, because their reporters knew and were trusted by local people. There’s a lesson here for regional law firms – make the most of where you are.

When issues are discussed and decisions made, there’s nothing like being there. Regional firms have an advantage – they can act and respond quickly to local events, or pilot a marketing initiative ‘where they live’ then assess its impact should they wish to take it wider.

Find the hidden stories that demonstrate value

In communication terms, bringing together experts from across your geographical network can spark very useful ideas. Internal discussions uncover hidden stories that lead to new and productive conversations with your audiences.

If something is important in Cardiff, it might also carry weight in Leeds; with your local presence, your team in each area will know how to assess and present the issue to its communities.

Thinking local helps establish and underline authenticity. Legal PR teams face competition in seeking their own newsworthy angle on big current topics, whether it’s a special ‘world day’ or an issue dominating the international agenda. But none of that should stop you using your local presence to develop even national stories that are uniquely your own.

By sharing experiences in a regular, multi-site calls, a team focused on a practice area or industry can identify issues with potential for expert comment. An offhand remark picked up by an intern could trigger a lightbulb moment on, say, the possible effects of planned legislation across an entire client base.

Align communication with aims

As in all communication, client confidentiality must be strictly observed, potential conflicts avoided or dealt with, and care taken to ensure nothing is taken as advice unless specifically stated. Those issues can all be addressed, but they should not prevent a firm publicly signposting a looming issue for current or prospective clients.

Good communication is always two-way at least, and the collaborative approach will appeal to younger professionals, both on your team and among prospective recruits such as trainees and paralegals. It’s also ideal for those working from home.

Building a reputation for expertise involves setting things up so you create or uncover then examine every opportunity to demonstrate your expertise. In addressing this challenge, effective communication tends to build its own positive momentum.

As colleagues in a firm share their experiences, they get more comfortable; communication begins to align naturally with other activities in the pursuit of common objectives; writing skills improve as people contribute more; focusing on specific issues for comment gives even reticent team members a chance to shine. Done properly, it will also lift the ‘fun’ quotient.

The resulting content, whether posted on social media or distilled into corporate collateral, delivers insights for clients and raises a broader awareness of a firm and its people. By posting stories and commentary derived from actual experience, you boost search rankings, making your firm discoverable by new audiences.

What journalists want

By working this selectively into your media activity, you not only have a self-sustaining system but also a growing body of work in ‘earned’ media, plus articles, posts, presentations, podcasts, infographics – why not a magazine? – that builds followers and sets you apart from your peers.

Working with professional firms in this way, we’ve discovered many headline makers, from wind turbines taller than Scotland’s highest bridge (also a great picture story), to addressing mental health issues in retirement for lawyers.

By combining knowledge-rich content with a strong call to action, you’re presenting an expert team that’s on top of current issues and doing the right thing – while retaining control of your message.

Inside tip – once you’ve broken a story it’s a lot easier to update it, as required, to remain current.

Regional firms have some real advantages in dealing with media – centrally produced business and legal platforms may know your London office, but some will also be keen to get a professional perspective from outside the capital. Restricted to one office and lacking a local ‘stringer’, they and their readers will welcome a strong regional story.

Human connection is key

Separately, local journalists prefer to deal with people in their area, including lawyers. Regional offices of larger firms will usually have a relationship with regional media, often a paper that outweighs the national press in terms of local importance. That’s a great platform for good stories about your practice and people, so develop good relationships with local reporters.

National news editors read and often follow up stories from big local papers for their own readership, potentially extending your reach still further.

Here are some points to note as you ponder how your office network might boost communication outcomes. First, decide your objectives, and over what period; second, much will depend on how you set up the team interactions that might spark the big opportunities – meeting times and structure, team members present, generating buy-in, story allocation and copy-chasing, frequency and follow-up; and third – assessing and evaluating performance.

Human connections are the most valuable and it’s only right that professionals from across a regional network engage with communities in ways that maximise that value.

Peter Curtain, a solicitor before moving to journalism, is Director of Allerton Communications, a strategic PR adviser to professional services firms.

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