Influencer relations: Notes from a big country

Last week we attended FutureComms16, an all-day conference hosted by which looked at storytelling, social media and digital PR challenges. 

As ever, it’s fascinating to hear about the challenges and victories that PRs in other sectors are experiencing, and compare notes. However, the first two sessions stood out in particular. The issue at hand was influencers and how to use them effectively. Influencers in this context meant bloggers, and the panel (which included bloggers) discussed their experiences of brands and bloggers working together.  
Consumer PR is heavily geared towards engaging with bloggers, whether for quick wins (product reviews) or longer term associations (sponsorship, collaboration). It’s a no-brainer: a recent survey by BlogHer found that 61% of online consumers in the US admit to having made a purchase based on a blog’s recommendations (see here for more on this).
But, as we heard from the panel, it’s not always straightforward. Many bloggers, particularly if they’re more successful, have no day job and are dependent on brands for their income, something brands are still getting used to. At the same time, bloggers are keen to retain their autonomy and integrity. Journalists are cushioned by their employer’s brand but bloggers have to address accusations of ‘selling out’, if they arise, by themselves.
Brands with limited experience of these sensitivities may find themselves going wildly off track, alienating the blogger and potentially also their customers. As someone who deals principally with professional services communication, this was eye-popping, both in terms of the potential wins and the navigation that’s needed to get there.
So what are the lessons for those working in law firm PR? If you’re on the point of dismissing this as the preserve of consumer comms, don’t. The influencers are already at the gates, and have been since time immemorial.  
Every time a law firm hosts a keynote speaker at a seminar they’re engaging with influencers. The only difference is that most professional services influencers aren’t digital natives, at least not yet. Whether fellow professionals, academics, or industry leaders, they won’t generally be blogging regularly.
However, this is going to change as millennials, and centennials (those aged 15 to 18) grow into these spheres. For this generation, blogging and tweeting are as natural as breathing and afford them the opportunity to interact in a highly targeted way with people all over the world.
So what challenges will law firms be facing in the Age of the Blogger, and how close are they to those already faced by our consumer marketing colleagues? Closer than you might think.
Law firms are less likely to be dealing with creative wunderkinds with rock star demands, but they may well find themselves having complicated conversations around reciprocity. Meanwhile, as we all know, law firms are highly controlling of any output associated with them, which could give rise to problems when conversations with influencers migrate from conference rooms to the much larger arena of the web.
So what can law firms do to ensure they’re not left behind? Firstly, research bloggers and other influencers in your key industries—you may be surprised. Secondly, make sure that your firm has a strong policy in place to deal with the challenges outlined above, or you could quickly have a communications crisis on your hands.
Thirdly, if you are not already doing so, make sure that your law firm is positioning itself as an influencer on the issues that matter, via blogs or other digital collateral. The digital world is out there and law firms risk being left behind if they don’t start carving the path for themselves in good time.

For more on this from Tal Donahue and Alex Spurgeon click here


Gleaning content lessons from a digital impresario

One of the co-founders of Politico recently made this provocative claim to The New York Times: “Journalists are killing journalism.”

How? By creating 50 versions of roughly the same article about the same event or development. In our digital age—where accessing streams of free content is as easy as breathing—that follow-the-pack strategy is a roadmap to irrelevancy. 

Media companies need to distinguish themselves with website content consumers can’t get elsewhere. Maybe it’s deeply reported pieces that take major resources and significant time. Or maybe it’s great video or podcasts. Whatever it is, it should be unique and it should be distributed to consumers on whatever platform and in whatever medium they want.

This idea is relevant to law firms, too. Whether they realize or not, they’re also in the content business. Fortunately, law firms don’t depend on content to make money. But just like BuzzFeed and The Washington Post, they’re after the same precious commodity every time they publish an article, post a video or send a tweet: people’s time and attention. And every day, those two things seem to dwindle a bit more.

Which is why I reached out to David Lat, founder and managing editor of Above the Law. There may be no other legal news site that knows precisely why it exists and how to serve its readers more than Above the Law

I wanted David’s take on what he’s learned about thriving in the digital media jungle and about becoming essential to his audience. While his experience is in journalism, I think what he has to say is applicable to law firms developing their content strategy and branded collateral. The biggest takeaway for me: be interesting and useful. Just as 50 stories of the same development is not helping journalism, 50 client alerts about what happened yesterday are not helping most law firms. 


Can journalists find you?

A recent survey discovered only 6% of journalists find that newsrooms on corporate websites meet their expectations. At the top of the journalists’ list of bugbears: missing or hard to find contact details.
How do law firms stack up? At Infinite Global, we’ve just completed some research of our own looking at the online newsrooms of 100 of the world’s largest law firms – 50 headquartered in the UK and 50 headquartered in the US. Of these leading firms, 22% have no online newsroom and a further 16% do have an online newsroom, but it is not easy to find.
There are no named media contacts at 15% of the firms’ websites and 9% have no media contact information whatsoever. And even where contact information is available, it is often limited. Of those with named media contacts, nearly one in three provide just one individual’s name and contact information without alternatives should they be unavailable. Only 15% of firms provide mobile/cell numbers for out-of-office contact.
But perhaps those journalists wishing to talk to law firms have all the contact information they need? Surely they know who to talk to and don’t resort to looking for information on websites. Not so. We spoke to a few journalists about it.
A reporter on a US legal industry magazine summed it up, saying: “It can be frustrating trying to find the details of a suitable media contact at some firms.” Moreover, the legal correspondent on a UK national newspaper said: “It is not just the out-of-hours details that are hard to find. Many firms seem to bury even their normal working hours press contacts.”
And the features editor of a leading UK legal magazine said that some firms are missing out on positive profile: “The harder they are to contact the quicker I switch to looking up their competitors for comment instead.”
Of course, some firms are not interested in media coverage. But we know that is a small minority. We suggest that PR/communications teams at law firms take a fresh view at their own firm’s website, looking at it from the point of view of a visiting journalist. Does it provide the information they are likely to be looking for?
But before you do, read our full report on law firm online newsrooms, which as well as covering contact information, looks at the ease of searching press releases, finding background information on financials, headcount, insight and opinion, and additional newsroom facilities such as print-quality photographs of key people – all things journalists may seek when visiting your website.