- Posted by Dave Poston
- On November 7, 2018
- content, Dave Poston, legal marketing, PR, pr budget, PR tactics, public relations
Legal marketers ask us all the time: What should my law firm budget for public relations and content? We’re excited to finally put pen to paper on the question we’ve been asked about for decades.
Regardless of your budget, the most successful programs are planned and executed in alignment with the firm’s strategic plan and business development goals. But the complete answer to the question depends on which level you are at with regards to your program.
Need to Start My Program
If you are the sole marketer at your firm, your budget needs to be reasonable for the time and resources you have available to execute a PR strategy. Remember, PR is a lifelong commitment for any organization that requires patience and realistic expectations.
It’s important to have good content as the basis for PR. Start by crafting one client alert or evergreen article each month that you can recycle for PR purposes. Budget $1,000 for a 500- to 1,000-word client alert for each month of the year, totaling $12,000 for the year. Then, add $1,000 per month to maximize the client alert beyond your typical distribution. It may take a few hours to research and identify media outlets that would be interested in each piece of content as a bylined article. A budget of $24,000 per year also gives you a bit of flexibility for when you need to replace a client alert with a press release, award or some other tactic.
If this budget of $24,000 is unrealistic, commit to one strategic PR activity every other month. Divide this number in half, or halves again, alternating one content piece each month and one PR effort the next month. It’s important to just start somewhere (even with one attorney or practice area) and now.
Get to the Baseline
Our 25 years of experience serving clients has given us an informed view on budgets being set to get to the baseline – in other words, matching and then surpassing what the competition is doing.
A BTI Consulting Group survey listed being quoted as an expert source in the media among the top three important business development activities, following a referral from a peer and an in-person, scheduled introductory meeting. This makes sense, as the entire focus of professional services marketing is knowledge-based marketing. Law firms need to at least be on par with the competition in distributing breaking news and information in a timely manner, which explains why content and PR are so important to our industry.
It’s not unusual for large firms to spend up to $50,000 per month on PR plus $120,000 per year on content production. Large firms realize that it is cheaper to outsource PR and content services than it is ask some attorneys to stop billing and write articles on their own. The additional benefit with this approach is that necessary content is being produced on schedule and then used for PR, which makes the whole program more successful.
Scaled down, apply the 80/20 Rule. We see firms with 50 attorneys spending a minimum of $5,000 a month on PR and firms with 100 attorneys spending $10,000 a month on PR. These budgets follow the rule, which means that 20 percent of the firm’s attorneys can be expected to be actively involved. For example, 20 attorneys in a 100-attorney firm doing a PR activity every month at $500 each would total $10,000 a month.
No matter what your firm size, for the 20 percent of active business developers in your firm, you need to budget $500 to $1,000 each month for PR for each of them. Then, add an additional $500 to $1,000 per month for content for each of them. For a three-attorney firm, where each is responsible for business development and the 80/20 Rule does not apply, that’s $1,500 to $3,000 per month.
Advancing a Mature Program
The possibilities of going beyond traditional PR and content functions are incredibly exciting. Firms that are aiming to elevate to the next level are embracing approaches that will increase the PR and content ROI significantly and enable integrated sales success. However, the budgets for these higher-level activities can get complicated.
In recent years, we have given a presentation to various legal marketing groups entitled “Building a Communications Department of the Future.” We present 12 new ways to utilize communications tactics, including PR and content, as a strategic business development and revenue-generating opportunity.
As an example, when integrating target list and sales PR, we only are presenting clients with PR opportunities aimed at the specific needs that the firm’s target list wants to address. Because this involves research, highly focused pitching, communication with prospects to arrange interviews with our clients, media training for executives and following up on the entire process to move the firm’s prospect along the sales funnel, there may be fewer classic PR placements to report. There should be greater revenue-generating results, however.
As another example, when doing crisis communications or other work that involves the firm’s clients, innovative firms are providing their internal PR staff with billing rates and/or formalizing a relationship with the firm’s PR agency of record or other outside agencies. Any law firm with a litigation practice may find additional revenue by managing the client’s litigation PR needs, particularly during a large litigation event. Some firms have made significant revenue this way and even spun off communications agencies as ancillary businesses, transitioning PR from a line item and cost center to a revenue-generating item. Now that’s exciting!
A Few Final Thoughts
We hope this budgeting information and innovative ideas inspire you for 2019. If you’re just starting out, sell a smaller budget so that you get a commitment and buy-in for the long term. (Don’t worry, PR results also serve the ego and make everyone happy, especially the first ones!) If you’re coming up to baseline, congratulations on getting your arms fully around a solid program fueled by content marketing and PR best practices. And as you progress into developing the law firm communications department of the future, enjoy and embrace the transition of measurement from counting placements to counting revenue!
Dave Poston is CEO of Poston Communications.