Public Relations: Clearing up common misperceptions about PR

Public Relations: Clearing up common misperceptions about PR

By Ellen Keiley

Public Relations (PR) is often misunderstood and mistaken for various other forms of marketing. The goal of public relations is to gain media coverage through interviews, quotes and article placements by or about the law firm in local and national media. Experienced and well-connected PR professionals can open doors for law firms. They can make introductions to editors and reporters as well as public officials, business executives and community leaders, and help attorneys secure speaking engagements, board positions, civic and pro bono involvement and other opportunities. PR is an effective form of marketing that raises a firm’s visibility and provides Return on Investment (ROI) with referrals, clients and broader connections.

What is the difference between PR and advertising?

Advertising is paid and controlled, including “pay to play” schemes, or “special advertisements” where organizations pay to have their articles appear. Public relations opportunities are unpaid, such as news coverage or published articles, that demonstrate a law firm’s credibility, expertise and thought leadership.

Can’t the law firm’s internal marketing team handle PR?

PR takes a very specialized skill set including the ability to recognize newsworthy events and develop story ideas. PR professionals must know which editors and media outlets to pitch, how and when to pitch, and how to follow up in a timely manner. While internal marketing professionals can submit articles and ideas to the media, they often lack a comprehensive list of media contacts, working relationships with those contacts and knowledge of the specific interests of each.

Public relations experts are sensitive to the fact that editors and reporters are bombarded with pitches for articles and photos. Pitches may fall into the black hole if the sender is not recognized or if the pitch is improperly handled. In-house professionals have a number of other responsibilities and don’t have the time to properly focus on PR. An outside PR professional can complement the internal marketing team and should be in frequent communication with team members.

Why pay for PR when a law firm has a blog and newsletter?

If attorneys take the time to write a blog or newsletter, why not get the content published externally where it will reach a far larger segment of the target audience?  Earned media coverage has more credibility with external audiences. Many in-house attorneys get their information from trusted news sources and not necessarily law firm blogs or newsletters. In addition, in-house counsel receive scores of newsletters from law firms, making it difficult for counsel to know which ones deserve their attention.

Should law firms seek out large PR firms or boutiques?

There is a misconception that a large agency will garner more media coverage. That is not the case. Whether a large or small firm, effective PR professionals should be proactive, know the client inside out, and have the contacts and network to be able to regularly secure media coverage.

I have come across law firms that hired large agencies and were shocked to learn that some of the agency’s clients had not been paid attention to. In fact, the “In the Media” pages for some clients had not been updated for years due to lack of media coverage. A law firm should work with a PR professional to understand its own needs. Sometimes a solo or boutique can provide more personalized attention. Regardless of the size of the PR agency, regular communication is key and the PR professional should be capable of identifying opportunities tied to timely current events, newsworthy litigation or other legal work and professional developments within the firm.

Once attorneys are quoted and get to know reporters, does the firm still need the PR firm?

While it is possible that once a reporter knows which attorneys she can go to for a quote she won’t rely on the PR firm, that is not usually how it works. Reporters often continue to tap their PR contacts for interviews and sources.  PR professionals make the process of managing and scheduling interviews and finding the right experts run more smoothly. Good PR professionals will always be on the lookout to expand media and publication contacts.

Invest in your firm by incorporating PR into the law firm’s strategic plan and marketing mix. There is so much competition out there and a well-planned, long-term PR strategy can assure the law firm’s name, its attorneys and their expertise appear in the right places at the right times. When committed for the long haul, PR can help to enhance a law firm’s reputation. A carefully planned media campaign takes time but is well worth it

Ellen M. Keiley is president of EMK Consulting Group, which offers public relations, business development coaching, marketing services, and training for law firms and other professional services firms. She can be contacted at [email protected].

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