You’ve made the decision. You understand that marketing must be seen as an investment and not as an expense. After much hemming and hawing and perhaps extensive interviewing, you’ve decided to hire a public relations
firm. You like these folks and they like you and together, you’re determined to make the faucets of firm publicity turn on to allow an overflow of wonderful exposure.
Flash forward six months later and all you can point to is an article in a second tier publication and that press release announcing your new associate’s hire.
So what happened?
Well, in truth, it could be any of a number of things, including the possibility that you just hired a lousy PR firm.
But all too often, when a law firm contracts with a PR firm, it fails to take an active role in the publicity generating process.
So with this in mind, here are some “best practice” thoughts for how to get the most from your PR provider:
Let Your Agency Know What’s Going On at the Firm
This is perhaps the most point of all. Your agency cannot help you or generate publicity on your behalf if it is clueless as to the cases on which you are working, the nature of your work, the accomplishments of your attorneys and the “victories” the firm achieves. Regular status meeting to update the agency on these matters is one way of assuring that PR initiatives do not get subjugated to the back burner.
Make Sure Your PR Professional “Knows” Each of Your Attorneys
In line with the above, the best way to truly “know” the firm is for the PR folks to “know” the key player or players at the firm. Allow your PR professionals to meet each of your firm’s attorneys or at least the partners and department heads. In addition, be sure to provide your agency with resumes, bios, headshots, etc. of each of these key personnel.
Focus on Media Credentials as Much as On Your Legal Credentials
Having great legal credentials is terrific. But editors, reporters and producers also want to know that you will give an insightful interview, that you will feel comfortable in front of a camera, and /or that you (or your ghostwriter) will be able to write a substantive article. Anything you can do to convince the targeted media decision maker of your prowess in these areas will help your agency to serve you better.
Recognize Which Cases Make for “Good” PR Stories
As much as we may want all the publicity we can possibly muster, it is safe to say that from a PR standpoint, not all cases and stories are the same. Trying to sell the media on cases or ideas that will not be of interest to their audience only serves to damage your reputation as a provider of good, informative material. Focus on cases and stories that have some sizzle.. These can include those that a) concern a high profile individual, b) involve a large sum of money, c) has or will break new legal ground d) involve sex or violence (you had to know that these would be on this list), e) affect a large part of the overall population, f) are a response to something in the news and/or to a new piece of legislation.
Inform Your Agency What Is and Is Not Confidential
Clearly, the details of some cases cannot be revealed because of confidentiality agreements, gag orders or otherwise. When pitching or writing a story regarding a particular case, be sure to let the agency know what can or cannot be communicated. If necessary, redact confidential information from relevant documents.
Look for Story Ideas From Cases On Which You Are Not Working
There is potential PR fodder in cases that you are not handling. Unlike the attorneys working on such cases, you are not subject to any gag orders, client confidentiality agreements or anything else that precludes you from speaking with the media. Journalists are hungry for fresh perspectives on high profile stories, affording the astute attorney or law firm with an opportunity to provide just that.
Communicate to your agency that you expect them to be vigilant for stories and events on which you might be able to offer unique and professional insight.
Get Back to Reporters
This is critical. In terms of PR, reporters, editors and producers are your lifeblood. If your agency gets you an interview or an article placement, it is very important that you respond within a reasonable amount of time. What is a reasonable amount of time? Well, it depends. If a story is of an emergent nature, then that might mean getting back to them immediately. If it’s a “thought” piece, you may have the luxury of more time. But don’t take too much comfort in that. After all, there are scores of other lawyers more than willing to offer their expertise as well.
Most important, ignoring the media or being late to respond to them reduces your agency’s credibility with them. This makes it much, much more difficult to garner future PR “hits” with that publication or station.
Remember PR Professionals are NOT Lawyers
Part of a good PR professional’s job (particularly those involved in legal marketing) is to translate your “legalese” into language that the layperson can understand. Give them the tools to do so by taking the time to be interviewed by them and by suggesting relevant resources for further research if necessary.
Review Everything that Goes Out
This should go without saying. You’re a lawyer and anything you write or have written in your name can potentially be seen, not just by the media, but by your prospects, clients, other attorneys and judges. That’s why it is especially important that you review the agency’s work – not because you don’t trust them, but because you can’t afford to have anything go out that’s incorrect or puts you or your clients at risk.
If you take away anything from this article, it should be that the hiring of a PR firm does not mean that the firm no longer has a role in the publicity generating process. In fact, the opposite is true. You’re the legal professional; they’re the communications specialists. Your most effective PR programs will inevitably those in which your separate and distinctive skill sets mesh smartly together.