This week, we sit down with Beth Durkin, Associate Director at Byfield, to learn a bit more about her.
How did you end up doing legal PR at Byfield?
“I was doing consumer brand PR work at an agency – mostly FMCG clients – and it wasn’t the right fit for me. I wanted more of an intellectual challenge and found the idea of crisis comms interesting. A recruiter suggested Byfield and I came in as an Account Exec. I didn’t know legal PR was a dedicated area before I joined, but I liked the variety and the breadth of the legal news agenda, as well as finding it interesting how complementary litigation PR and crisis PR can be. I joined in June 2017 and here we are, nearly six years on.”
What has changed in the sector since 2017?
“I think law firms are becoming more open and transparent, and there is an increased recognition of the value of marketing and PR. A few years ago there was more anxiety about engaging with the media, but now firms are more proative in engaging with issues. This is particularly noticeable on the reputational side. A firm will more often say we are spotting a potential issue developing and we want to get ahead of it, rather than only engaging with press or reputational considerations once their house is on fire. I also think there is more of a willingless to talk about culture and people, and the legal sector has become more humanised because of that. Finally, the business of law is more prominent in the news agenda these days because the biggest firms are genuinely large multinationals in their own right, turning over billions every year.”
What are three of the most valuable things you’ve learned over the past six years?
Firstly, the importance of professional curiousity – you should always read very widely – whether its M&A trends, leaseholder law developments or high net worth divorces, all can be valuable knowledge for getting clients PR opportunities. Secondly, asking questions when you’re unsure – use the experience of the people around you to do a better job than you could do alone. Soak up what they know. Thirdly, the importance of switching off and recharging. It’s easy to get stuck in the 24/7 news cycle and you need to take a mental break and recharge, so having interests outside of work is vital.”
You work across legal PR, crisis and litigation – what do you like most about each?
“For legal PR, it’s when you achieve something for a client that has a real impact for them, such as hearing that a piece of coverage secured in The Times or FT has led to a new instruction for them. In crisis work, you are facing a problem you have to solve. I like the intellectual challenge of that – how do you use language in a way that creates certain outcomes and avoids others. For litigation PR, it’s quite similar and I enjoy mapping a PR strategy onto a legal process to help drive outcomes for the client.”
How do you find managing people?
“I enjoy it. PR is a people business. I find it satisfying when you are working with a less experienced team member who you can coach through a particular challenge they are facing and then you see the lightbulb moment, where it all clicks and then they achieve great things on their own. I like seeing that journey and helping them.”
What are the most difficult bits of the job?
“Juggling competing priorities – of course this is true in most jobs where you have multiple client accounts. In our world the breadth of different issues that can arise and constantly dealing with that variety can be challenging. Plus as you become more senior there are also the challenges of helping to run a business as well as being a practitioner – there are new things to learn and new challenges at each step of the career ladder.”
Finally, you talked about the importance of switching off. How do you do it?
“I play a lot of sport: tennis, bouldering, running, and skiing when I can. I like sports that force me to be really present and concentrate on what I’m trying to do – whether it’s trying to dictate the rally in tennis or solve a problem on the climbing wall without falling. I’ve found creating this focus is the most effective way to clear my mind of other things and switch off.