October 2003  Volume 29, Issue 7
October 2003 Issue
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Media: How Did They Do That?
by Richard Levick
What lessons can we learn from the multifaceted media and marketing campaign that helped propel Howrey & Simon’s growth? It would be hard to imagine a more appropriate story for the first installment of a column on law firms’ media successes.

By 1991, Howrey & Simon had dwindled significantly from an antitrust powerhouse in the 1970s to a firm on the brink of dissolution after years of Reagan-era antitrust deregulation and nonenforcement. Within two years, it was the third fastest-growing large law firm in the United States. And in the process of transforming itself, Washington, D.C.-based Howrey transformed law firm marketing as well. Bates may have green-lighted advertising, but it was Howrey’s renowned “Human Side of Genius” campaign that made advertising a credible part of U.S. legal culture.

Yet the ads were but one part of a multifaceted campaign that included as many as 24 separate marketing elements: market research, special events, direct mail, public relations and more.

For its PR, Howrey wisely eschewed the type of formal plan that, at most firms, slows initiatives to a snail’s pace. Instead, Howrey understood the value of more and went to work getting it. Specifically, the firm took these steps:

  • Set up regular consultations between its lawyers and PR advisors to determine what the practitioners could comment on in the press
  • “Won commitments from its lawyer-spokespersons to be available for interviews and help reporters meet their deadlines
    n Kept the PR staff on the phone to pitch daily stories to a general and legal press that had never seen such focused emphasis on third-party commentary in a communications strategy
  • Pioneered roundtable discussions on legal and professional trends, hosted and led by a Howrey spokesperson, and published the discussions in appropriate magazines

The Firm Becomes the Story
At the outset of the campaign, Howrey lawyers were commenting in the press five times a year. Soon they were appearing five times a week, commenting on everything from the advertising campaign itself, to banking, insurance coverage and the environment. Most importantly, the firm talked about all legal issues of interest to reporters, not just litigation.

Howrey got so much media that soon everybody was talking about--well, how much media Howrey was getting. By leveraging the topical expertise of its lawyers, the firm made itself the story.

The Lesson
Plan less, act more. High-volume media coverage for a law firm is a giant step toward becoming an “IBM safe choice.” Don’t focus on a particular brand for your firm until there’s plenty of India ink circulating in the institutional bloodstream.

In How Did They Do That? Richard Levick ( rlevick@levick.com) explores how law firms and their clients achieve groundbreaking media success. He is a lawyer and President of Levick Strategic Communications, which has directed media for top firms around the globe.