Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Why Law Firm Public Relations Fails

Public relations can boost your firm’s credibility and profits. Avoid the pitfalls that prevent PR success. 

The old adage of the more things change, the more they remain the same still holds some truth. Public perceptions still have a strong hold in society. Visibility and credibility still go a long way in cementing business relationships and deals. The credibility associated with getting cited in press or seen as an expert is very hard to buy in advertising dollars. Johan Bloom, in the February 2006 issue of Advertising Age, said, “Trust in various forms of advertising runs from about 40% to under 10%. Paid advertising still has its place in an integrated marketing strategy, but only a supporting role.”
Showcasing legal expertise through consistent public relations is a powerful business development tool that brings with it visibility and, more importantly, credibility, which ultimately leads to more business. Public relations initiatives can help law firms maintain/improve their image, increase brand recognition, bring in new clients, and position it or its practice groups as thought leaders and experts in key target markets. In his book, The Expert’s Edge, Harvard University seminar leader Ken Lizotte says that publishing articles and books and landing speaking engagements will help attract media attention and are essential to building the thought leader profile.

However, for any public relations strategy to be successfully implemented, buy-in from the decision makers of law firms is required first and foremost. When that doesn’t happen, relationships between law firm and pr agency are bound to sour, which frequently can be chalked up to the following:

1. The lack of a serious commitment on the part of the firm, which leads to missed opportunities.
TRANSLATION: Attorneys and associates don’t return telephone calls or emails when public relations professionals are working on story ideas and asking for input from a legal perspective.
According to Marla McAlpine, Marketing Manager with a Canadian based law firm, “The best strategy for any legal marketer is to continuously educate lawyers on the value of returning the PR agency calls. Media is all about relationships, and reliable sources move to the front of the line. If a lawyer proves him/herself reliable and responsive to the PR rep, they have proven they will be responsive to the media when the calls come. Media-savvy attorneys recognize that PR reps are the bridge between them and the media. The reps do the legwork so attorneys can shine in the spotlight.

2. Unrealistic expectations of the law firm.
TRANSLATION: Unrealistic expectations such as being quoted in top-tier media outlets such as the Financial Times, Wall Street Journal, CNBC, and Business Week within a month of working with the agency.

3. Attorneys taking the backseat, the assumption being the PR firm must do all the work.
TRANSLATION: Untimely input or no input from attorneys on story ideas and/or the latest legislative developments that will help public relations professionals pitch stories to reporters.

4. Disrespect: not valuing the work of the PR professionals.
TRANSLATION: Failure or lack of commitment not only to understand some of the components of the PR work but also to work cohesively together as a team.

5. Lack of understanding on the part of the attorneys on the basics of how media works.
TRANSLATION: The traditional relationship attorneys have with the media contains elements of animosity. Most of this animosity is due to lack of understanding each other’s role.

6. Attorneys not improving their skills such as honing the delivery of presentations and interview skills.
TRANSLATION: Failure to improve their skill sets, particularly skills needed when speaking to specific target groups and reporters.
So before committing any faux pas, it’s critical to sit down with the decision makers of the firm and ask the following questions:
  1. Will the firm’s public relations objectives HELP business goals?
  2. How will public relations initiatives be measured? What will some of the benchmarks and milestones look like? Getting media coverage and writing press releases will not determine either of these goals. If your public relations firm is offering such measurement, get rid of them, or have a serious conversation with the firm.
  3. Why does the firm want public relations at this particular juncture of their business objectives?
  4. Who is the target audience? Does the firm have several audiences?
  5. How does the firm wish to be perceived in its target market(s)?
  6. Is the PR strategy realistic?
  7. What are the specific PR tactics, such as giving CLEs—both online and in person—getting published, becoming a source for the press, conducting seminars, etc.?
  8. Can public relations goals be met within the allocated time frame?
  9. Do you want public relations for practice groups or do you want PR help when working on a specific case?
  10. How long will the firm be committed to the PR initiatives?
  11. Which attorneys will regularly talk to the PR professionals to brainstorm ideas, etc.?
  12. How frequently will this be conducted?
  13. How comfortable are the attorneys talking with the press?
  14. Do the attorneys have a basic 101 understanding of how the press works?
When done well, public relations achieves several objectives, including being an effective tool to support sales and marketing goals as well as positioning the practice groups as thought leaders and experts. Going through the motions isn’t enough; it is like having a PR hologram—the firm is committed but not really committed.

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