When you’re in the thick of it, and you can’t see the wood for the trees, do you sometimes think back to the start of your career and wonder how it all began? Some of you may have charted out your careers from the get-go but like many of my peers in PR and comms, my entry into the industry wasn’t pre-planned.
Having read Law at university, I quickly realised practising law was not for me. However, I wanted a career that would allow me to utilise what I had learnt during my challenging three-year Law degree. That’s where I began an internship at Byfield, which quickly turned into a full-time job and the rest, as they say, is history.
I recently spoke at a PRCA Legal Group panel event, entitled ‘How to be successful in Legal PR and Comms?’, alongside other peers with considerable experience under their collective belts and realised how “in it” I am. Without a doubt, there will always be more for me to learn and more to experience, but having carved out six years in the industry, I have a little bit of insight to share for those looking to build their careers in legal PR and comms.
Within the professional services spectrum, the legal sector is often perceived as weirdly wonderful. It is a uniquely peculiar world where ownership structures are different to that of other industries, but if you are intrigued by the law it can be a rewarding sector in which to develop your PR and comms career.
Is there a skillset?
A law degree is not a requirement if you are looking to begin a career in legal PR and comms. I have come across many successful legal comms professionals who do not have a legal education.
At the very foundation, you need to focus on developing your technical skills, from writing (anything from press releases to articles and blogs), to media liaison. Precision and an eye for detail are also important – you are working with lawyers and barristers at the end of the day.
Further to this, you need to be interested in the news agenda and what is happening in the world, not just for law firms and other legal sector focussed businesses, but also for their clients who span a wide number of key industries and sectors.
As part of building up your skillset, you will need to establish yourself as a generalist and to develop a good understanding of how the business world works. From real estate through to financial services, you have got to immerse yourself across all key sectors and industries so that you have a solid understanding of your clients’ expertise and the ecosystems in which they operate.
Here are some considerations to keep in mind as you hone your comms skills:
Devour the news
A PR and communications role requires you to work with the media which means that keeping on top of the news agenda is crucial. Start your day with a newspaper, maybe pick up two, and listen to the news. You cannot do your job well if you don’t know what is happening in the world, and if you don’t have an understanding of how the changing legislation, court judgments and other developments are impacting law firms and their clients. In legal PR, we need to consider not only national and broadcast, but also B2B trade publications across all sectors and of course the dedicated UK legal titles. There is a lot of news consumption to be done, so news alerts and daily updates are your friends!
Take a multi-channel approach
As a 21st century PR and comms professional, you must take a multi-channel approach when it comes to profile-raising, brand building and executing effective campaigns for your clients. The modern PR must balance the need for traditional media coverage, with the maintenance of their digital channels.
Consequently, To be a well-rounded PR and comms professional you have to engage with both traditional and digital channels, and should seek to use these tools in tandem, to achieve the desired outcome and objective. If you have the opportunity, learn to write different content and utilise social media in a business context to complement the more traditional PR skills like press release writing. Furthermore, If you have an interest in social media/digital, make the effort to learn more. If you enjoy crisis and risk management work, ask your manager for opportunities to upskill via training and project experience, and broaden your existing skillset.
Relationship building is key
Another thing is clear – in PR, relationship building is key. A good PR should seek to build lasting relationships with media contacts; developing a long-term, mutually beneficial relationship for both parties – as opposed to a one-time hit in the Financial Times. Build trust with clients so that they turn to you for strategic advice and counsel as they look to grow and preserve their brand and reputation.
As an account executive at the beginning of your career, one of the biggest challenges will be having a conversation with a seasoned journalist or a law firm partner who are established in their careers and may come across as intimidating because of their knowledge and expertise, but just remember, the journalist or partner is still a human being at the end of the day. Good advice to those worried about developing relationships is not to go into meetings with a short-sighted objectives: put in the time and effort. Build a relationship by taking the time to check-in and have meaningful conversations. Ask about their work, the stories they have expressed interest in, and the clients they’re working with.
Most important of all will be your approach and energy, take the opportunities to learn more and enjoy the intellectual challenge of working within the legal sector.
My next article in the series will look at adding value to clients by working with your team.