A strong story has the power to change the way we see the world, our industries and ultimately ourselves. Michelle Calcote King instinctively understands the resonance a well-told narrative can impact. But it’s the time and dedication she’s spent refining her craft, learning the particularities of a niche industry, and working with the finest journalists and PR professionals in the game that has taught her how to rise above the rest.
King is the President and founder of Reputation Ink, a firm that specializes in narrative-shaping and strategic PR for law firms, attorneys, legal tech companies and legal service providers alike. This sophisticated cohort of professionals stands to benefit greatly from working with King and her company – as many have. King encourages her clients to understand the fast-paced news cycle and learn to actively work within it. With a distinctive ability to translate legalese with ease for potential client comprehension, King helps to connect law firms to those that need them most in a rapidly changing climate.
“Most lawyers need help building their reputations, demonstrating their expertise and establishing their credibility, and like to work with professionals who understand their unique business model,” says King. “It's gratifying to work with professionals who value your work and see how it impacts their practices and careers.”
According to King, it’s more important now than ever for law firms to get out in front of clients, to get their stories told and their expertise understood. For an industry that has traditionally relied upon human connection, proximity and personal touches, it can be difficult to pivot. In our current climate, press cycles move rapidly online, so clicks and likes can mean (almost) more than handshakes.
“The internet has forever changed relationship-building.” King explains, “Clients are now reading email alerts, social media posts, bylined articles and blog posts from a variety of law firms, including those who don’t attend the same Chamber or Rotary meetings. Thus, there’s a much bigger demand today for law firms to consistently tell their stories and demonstrate their expertise than there used to be just 10 or more years ago.”
King hosts the popular podcast, “Spill The Ink,” where she interviews guests with a unique lens on thought leadership and brand visibility for professional services firms. On “Spill the Ink,” King tackles topics ranging from “Ditching the Billable Hour” to “Trends in Legal Tech” and “Strategic Planning for your Firm.” The podcast promotes connectivity and business-to-business branding, and truly positions King and Reputation Ink as distinguished authorities in the space.
King is ranked among the top in her field in Lawdragon Global’s 100 Leaders in Legal Strategy & Consulting list for 2023.
Lawdragon: Welcome, Michelle. Can you describe for our readers the types of services you provide within the legal industry and to whom?
Michelle Calcote King: Thank you, and yes, absolutely. At Reputation Ink, we provide public relations and thought leadership marketing services to law firms and attorneys, primarily mid-size corporate business-to-business firms, as well as legal tech companies and alternative legal services providers. We build reputations by helping attorneys get published and featured in traditional media outlets and podcasts, submitting for numerous awards, profiles and rankings, writing social media content, producing videos, developing email campaigns and more.
LD: What was the path that led you here? How did you first get into the field?
MCK: I've worked in public relations my entire career. I graduated with a master’s degree in international communications from the University of Florida. Then, soon after, I started at a high-tech PR agency in London during the dot-com boom. Truly, that was where I discovered my niche – promoting companies that work in very complex industries.
In our current climate, press cycles move rapidly online, so clicks and likes can mean (almost) more than handshakes.
I worked with my first law firm about 16 years ago while serving as the PR director for a full-service marketing agency and loved the work. Lawyers are smart people and are involved in interesting, influential issues of the day. Getting to write about those issues and seeing my work impact the firm's business was fulfilling.
Then I joined a public relations agency devoted to law firms and was promoted to oversee all of that agency's client services. I learned a lot about the law firm industry in that role. I decided to leave and start my own firm in 2011.
LD: That’s fantastic. What do you like about working with lawyers?
MCK: Some people think that by working in a specialist agency, you could get bored working on the same type of work every day. However, with law firms, you get to work on a wide variety of topics and issues, and nearly all of them are substantial and thought-provoking. Most lawyers, too, need help building their reputations, demonstrating their expertise and establishing their credibility, and they like to work with professionals who understand their unique business model. It's gratifying to work with professionals who value your work and see how it impacts their practices and careers.
At the same time, law school teaches lawyers some really bad habits that are detrimental to marketing. Common mistakes include the age-old “no comment” tactic or misunderstanding that “off the record” may not mean what you think it does.
LD: Out of all the work you’ve done in your career, what would you say is the most interesting matter you’ve worked on for a legal client?
MCK: There are so many. My team helped a lawyer become a nationally recognized expert in special investigations by positioning him as a media commentator during the Mueller-Trump investigation.
LD: Oh wow.
MCK: That work was fast-paced, and it was really thrilling to see the outcome. He was interviewed on CNBC, Fox, the New York Times, the Washington Post and more, and the firm secured new work directly from the coverage. He went from a relatively unknown figure to someone who is called upon by major media outlets frequently.
LD: That’s incredible. It must be exhilarating to see your work having such a direct impact.
MCK: It really is.
LD: Can you tell us, are there any trends you are seeing emerge in the types of matters keeping you busy these days?
MCK: From a marketer’s perspective, law firms can be challenging. And it’s not the lawyers themselves – I like lawyers. It’s the way firms are structured. Pre-internet, clients chose firms based solely on geography and personal relationships. They met attorneys at local Chamber luncheons and Rotary events, went to church with them or sent their kids to the same school. Thus, law firms became generalist shops serving a wide range of clients with varying needs.
Today, however, geography and personal relationships aren’t enough. The internet has forever changed relationship-building. Clients are now reading email alerts, social media posts, bylined articles and blog posts from a variety of law firms, including those who don’t attend the same Chamber or Rotary meetings. If those alerts or articles speak directly to the client’s industry and demonstrate in-depth knowledge of its nuances, the client is likely to choose the attorney from that firm – who they might not have any personal connection to – over the one they met at a charity function.
Common mistakes include the age-old “no comment” tactic or misunderstanding that “off the record” may not mean what you think it does.
Thus, there’s a much bigger demand today for law firms to consistently tell their stories and demonstrate their expertise than there used to be just 10 or more years ago. While traditional business development and networking tactics are still important, today’s legal client expects to be able to learn about a law firm or an attorney through the firm’s website, social media and more. Thus, we spend a lot more time creating content for LinkedIn, writing articles for blogs and submitting for awards that showcase expertise. It’s no longer about creating beautiful ads and calling it a day. Instead, firms must commit to consistently educating their prospective clients and demonstrating what it’s like to work with them through digital content.
The media has changed quite a bit throughout my career. Today, many industry trade publications are staffed thinly and rely on contributions from in-the-field experts, which we facilitate. In the past, we wouldn’t be authoring entire articles and would instead aim to be included in an article written by a staff journalist. Now, with many industry trade publications, we work directly with editors and are the writers. Some might bemoan this trend, but I think articles by experts in the trenches – ghostwritten by us – are a valuable contribution, especially in niche business-to-business fields.
We also have quite a few legal tech and alternative legal services providers (ALSPs) on our client roster now, which is a reflection of the growth of these types of companies.
LD: Public relations is essential for such a wide variety of different industries. What brought you over to the legal side of things?
MCK: I received a bachelor’s degree in public relations and a master’s in international communications from the University of Florida and moved to London immediately following graduation. I spent three years in London and then two years in Melbourne, Australia, before returning to the United States. Throughout my early career, I worked mostly in public relations agencies or full-service marketing agencies. I was drawn to business-to-business marketing and PR early on, as I liked the substantive topics that I got to write about – versus, for example, writing all about shampoo. I first worked with a corporate law firm in 2007 and never turned back.
LD: I love that. You’ve clearly had outstanding success in the industry, so tell us, how do you “sell” your firm to potential clients?
MCK: We are a niche agency. We know how law firms work, and we know the legal media. As well as knowing what to do, we know what to avoid. We recently wrote an article that sums it up pretty well – it’s called “8 Reasons Law Firms Should Work With a Specialist Legal Marketing & PR Agency.”
I like to hire former journalists as their skillset is extremely valuable for what we do. They know how to ask questions, conduct research, write, simplify complex concepts, find newsworthy stories and more. The majority of our team consists of reformed journalists, and I believe it’s a big part of what makes us so successful.
LD: That makes a lot of sense. They’re expert communicators.
LD: What do you do for fun when you’re outside the office?
MCK: I’m an animal lover – I have two dogs and two cats. I also love to garden and love running very slowly in the Florida heat. I’ve completed several half marathons.