Public Relations: The business case for relying on PR professionals
By Ellen Keiley
After submitting a proposal to a law firm recently, I realized the firm leader was not clear about the services involved in developing a public relations campaign. Public relations (PR) is a highly specialized field with many moving parts. While it is a component of marketing, it is separate and distinct.
A public relations campaign requires developing a careful, step-by-step strategy. It can be very time intensive. A campaign begins by determining goals. Next, it typically involves extensive research in order to identify the media that cover the legal topics in which the firm has expertise, and reach the audience the firm wants to target. Within each media outlet, there are editors and reporters assigned to specific beats, which on occasion overlap. It is important to identify and locate the correct editor or reporter to receive an article or news item. That information is not always apparent. The last thing you want to do is send the content to the wrong person, which indicates that the firm failed to do its research, and leaves it wondering why it never got a response.
A lawyer recently told me he could get his articles placed anytime in a major business publication simply by sending it to a particular reporter. Unfortunately for this lawyer, 1) reporters are not the professionals who manage article placements – their job is to cover news and write about it; and 2) that reporter was no longer at the publication. Hence, the importance of doing research.
Those not experienced with public relations often do not realize how many pitches reporters and editors receive per day. Their inboxes are overloaded. Journalists are time starved and pressured to produce and publish content on deadline. It is for this very reason that it is in the best interest of a firm to engage a PR professional who has good media contacts and relationships, knows how to pitch, knows to whom to pitch, will get the attention of the editor, and increase the chances of the firm’s article or news being published.
PR involves regular monitoring and careful follow up. Articles don’t always publish right away. Depending on the publication, it can take weeks and sometimes months for an article to appear. It is rare that an editor or reporter lets the firm know that an article an attorney has written or is quoted in has been published. They simply don’t have the time. It is a PR professional’s responsibility to monitor and track all media activity. Firms often don’t have the resources to manage coverage even with internal marketing resources, and they are frequently unfamiliar with the publication follow-up process.
A common question asked by firms is why they should pay for public relations when they can publish an article in the firm newsletter or blog. The answer: There is far more return on investment (ROI) with earned media through opportunities a PR professional can secure, and the articles will have wider distribution. For example, according to The Wall Street Journal, WSJ.com reaches an audience of 42 million digital readers per month who seek the news and information critical to their business and personal lives. Compare that to a law firm’s mailing list of 5,000 or less.
It is also important to note that earned media in high-profile publications can lead to numerous opportunities, such as increasing an attorney’s visibility, which boosts the likelihood of referrals leading to new client work. I recently heard from an attorney client who said a judge reached out after seeing the attorney quoted in Lawyers Weekly, and invited him to speak at an upcoming judicial conference. The attorney clearly demonstrated that he was an expert and authority on the topic. More often than not, similar speaking opportunities involve the firm paying thousands of dollars to sponsor an event.
There is a strong business case to be made for hiring a public relations professional to lead the firm to greater visibility, and save the firm time and headaches in the process.
Ellen Keiley, CPC, is president of EMK Consulting Group, a public relations and business development firm for lawyers and law firms. She can be reached at [email protected].