Although Fisher & Phillips LLP, est 1943, is one of only a handful of large national firms to specialize in employment law representing management, they didn't get a lot of media mentions.
As most old law firms do, Fisher & Phillips had a legacy of hesitancy when it came to marketing. New clients were executives you met in a civilized fashion at the golf club or through mutual business acquaintances ... not via a promotional megaphone.
"There had been this somewhat ingrained feeling that the media was not a good thing," says CMO Kevin Sullivan.
However, before Sullivan joined the firm last November, he was a media relations PR consultant. And, prior to that, he had a 15-year TV journalism career.
How can a PR-positive CMO convince nearly 200 lawyers in 16 regional offices scattered across the US that they should listen to the marketing department and jump on command? CAMPAIGN
Sullivan constructed his in-house marketing strategy as carefully as he would an external media campaign…
Step #1. Introduce the Chairman to the Press
Although the Atlanta-area business press were vaguely aware that Fisher & Phillips' CEO was in the area, it never occurred to reporters to call up the head of such a venerable law firm for a fast quote on deadline.
Sullivan convinced his boss to meet key reporters for one-to-one get acquainted meetings. The goals: externally to start the wheels turning for future possible stories and internally to demonstrate the importance of media relations to all lawyers in the firm.
Key -- although Sullivan briefed the Chairman on each journalists' background and beat prior to the meetings, he did not accompany his boss to the meetings. "I didn't want it to look like a sales job. The Chair was coming by himself. He is clearly a person of some import whether you know him or not."
No particular stories were pitched. This was an eye-to-eye meeting to build personal relationships. However, the Chair did come armed with leave-behind business cards featuring his direct dial phone number. Sullivan also sent reporters business cards with his own cell phone as well for any weekend or off-hours calls.
Step #2. Hire a national team of PR pros with "nagging rights"
Although Sullivan figured he could handle the major national trade publications himself -- such as HR-related journals -- he wanted to build an eye-to-eye in every media market that Fisher & Phillips had an office across the US.
So, he hired a team of 14 separate boutique PR firms, one per location. All were locally owned and grown and had B-to-B professional services media relations experience. None specialized in law, however, because Sullivan didn't want any conflicts of interest. Besides he knew he could train them on the niche beat fairly easily. It was that local, foot-on-the-ground experience he needed.
In every case he bucked the emerging trend in PR by contracting to pay a monthly retainer for services *rather* than just a flat fee per resulting media mention. "The concept of paying only for results is totally bogus," he exclaims. "I'm a little biased. You pay our lawyers for their professional council. Win, lose or draw, lawyers get paid at the end of the day."
He also felt that part of a local PR firm's value was to provide judgment not just clippings -- including telling their client when potential coverage might be a lousy idea.
Next Sullivan turned this group of independent PR firms into a true virtual team by:
o Holding a national conference call the first Monday of every month so everyone could swap what-worked-for-us stories. "There's a lot of energy on the call. It's never exceeded 50 minutes. We won't go through all the details of every pitch on the call, we'll reference it and send email to everyone."
o Sending two-three story ideas per week to each firm that are relevant to their market.
o Giving each firm "nagging rights" over the lawyers at the office in their region. This includes cell phones for all lawyers along with a list of specialties and notes on who is willing to speak on what topic.
o Telling the lawyers they would lose the opportunity to be interviewed by the press or plant an article or column in the media, if they didn't quickly and fully cooperate with the PR firm in their area. The PR firm was authorized to move on to the next lawyer on the list if they had no success with their first contact.
Step #3. Pro-actively strategize for anticipated news trends
During his year-ahead planning session in late 2005, Sullivan gathered input from the legal team on what they felt would be the hottest topics for the coming year.
What, he asked, new laws were being debated on Capitol Hill that might affect clients? How about potential lawsuits with a newsworthy aspect?
The team identified immigration law as their top hot-button topic for the upcoming year. Key -- very little had appeared in the press about this topic at the time. The team were not being reactive -- watching what the press was writing about -- but rather proactive, using an educated guess to determine what the press might write about in future.
Then they put together a kit of materials and strategies to cover the eventuality the story would break:
- names and contacts of partners who specialized in immigration law
- a how-to booklet on coping with little-known aspects of the current law
- opinion columns and articles (written in business exec-friendly English) on aspects of pending bills
- An in-person training seminar (roughly 3 hours) featuring a 101 backgrounder for journalists and employers on how to cope with current laws.
Step #4. If it's hot, take it on the road
As you're no doubt aware, the firm lucked out. Immigration law wound up being one of the hot button news topics of 2006. The PR team sprang into action, getting ahead of the story curve in most markets.
Along with standard media relations and story plants, the team decided to launch the training seminar nationally. In each market, they worked with lawyers to determine who had a connection with a local relevant business club such as a chamber of commerce, an HR association branch or employers' group.
Then they offered that seminar to the club -- for free. The club had to send out brochures and mailings to invite its members (naturally Fisher & Phillips' art department was ready to design these on command) and book the room. The club could decide if it wanted to charge or not. The law firm provided the speaker.
In markets where no one had a relevant connection, the firm booked a local conference room and sent out its own invitations to local business leaders and press.
Then the PR team worked on pre-seminar mentions, ranging from calendar notices in business papers to feature interviews with local press. Plus, they pushed for post-seminar mentions and write-ups from press in attendance.
Step #5. Measure and promote your success internally
Sullivan set up a spreadsheet that he posted to the firm's intranet for everyone to see that listed every single media mention they'd gotten. He updated this spreadsheet at least every week.
In addition, he had the speaker at the in-person seminars hand out a simple speaker evaluation form at the end that also acted as a lead-generation device. (Link to sample below.)
Plus, whenever his team planted columns and articles written by the lawyers, they carefully inserted a hotlink back to the firm's main site at the end. This helped with SEO, but also was easy to track as a traffic generator to the site.
Here's an example --
Source: Fisher & Phillips Breakfast Briefing, “Immigration Reform Changes Your World,” presented by David C. Whitlock in Tampa, Florida, on June 14, 2006. Mr. Whitlock may be contacted at 1500 Resurgens Plaza, 945 East Paces Ferry Road, Atlanta, Georgia 30326. Phone: 404-231-1400. Web site: http//www.laborlawyers.com.
Over the past six months, Fisher & Phillips has landed nearly 350 media mentions -- enough to make updating that results spreadsheet a bit of a headache! "I've never had so much stuff to load."
Nearly every single journalist Sullivan pitched a CEO-meeting to agreed to take it. "They were surprised a big fish was reaching out to them so they decided let's see what he has to say."
Once the Chair had done that first round of meetings, "other attorneys became very approachable if they had not been previously." Sullivan also discovered one key to getting lawyers to take PR pros seriously was if that PR pro had a media background themselves. Experts respect other experts.
The road show took off -- now the firm has conducted more than 20 seminars. The self-promoted seminars were moderately successful, drawing 35-50 attendees. The partnered seminars promoted as an event of a local event were often blowouts, with 200 or more executives coming.
So, if you're going to do a road show, don't do it on your own.Useful links related to this article:
Creative samples from Fisher & Phillips' campaigns
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