The PR Lowdown - What to Expect From Your Public Relations Professional
Several years ago, I asked an acquaintance at a professional services firm about the progress of the PR program the firm had embarked on a year earlier. They told me they had stopped the campaign after only six months because it “wasn't working,” adding that the PR company had done little more than get them “a few quotes” in the media. I was stricken by how this firm had apparently entered into the world of public relations with completely inaccurate expectations – and an unrealistic definition of success.
Contrary to that firm's perception, PR – which includes being interviewed by and quoted in the media, profiles about you and/or your firm, and publishing articles that bear your byline – plays an integral role in strengthening the career of any professional, particularly women lawyers. But it takes time and effort, and there are limits to its effectiveness. Before launching any PR campaign, you should be clear on how the program will work and what you can hope to achieve.
Raising Your Profile as a Woman in Law
A key reason that compels many women attorneys to launch a PR program is to increase their firm's visibility – and their own. A well-executed program can allow thousands of people to read about your firm or see you quoted in a publication as an expert. The first step toward this greater visibility is to ensure that you and your firm are available to journalists, editors, producers, and prospects in your target market.
One of the most valuable aspects of PR is its ability to confer the all-important power of third-party credibility: A quote, mention or byline in a trusted media outlet indicates that this unbiased outside entity thinks enough of your expertise to cite you as an expert. The endorsement of a third party is meaningful to the media outlet's audience, and ultimately beneficial for you. Additionally, PR builds name recognition and familiarity, which also reinforces your credibility – and credibility is key for attorneys.
In many ways, PR is really a process of packaging and repackaging. It's about taking the work you are already doing, wrapping it up, and presenting it to target media in a way that is attractive to them and fits in with their existing objectives. PR is not merely spin or fluff; rather, it involves a marketing professional viewing your work and expertise with fresh eyes and understanding how that work aligns with what the media are currently looking for. A skilled PR professional knows how to leverage the marketing return on the work you are already doing.
What to Expect from Your PR Professional
The nature of your relationship with a PR professional – whether you are working together on a single project or collaborating on an ongoing basis – will strongly influence what you can expect from your PR campaign. In an ongoing PR program, for example, you can expect that your expert positioning will be heightened and reinforced gradually and steadily over time. Depending on the type of program that you create, you can also expect to reinforce your professional credibility through media placements, such as being quoted or through bylined articles -- published articles bearing your name as the author.
Over time, as you consistently offer usable quotes and sound bites, you can also expect to build relationships with key media figures. Eventually, you may be contacted directly by media outlets, with the PR contact no longer having to function as a go-between.
Effective PR gives you the opportunity to promote notable events such as new service offerings, successes, new hires or other newsworthy items through the use of press releases. Even if a press release does not get direct media coverage, it is still useful for your website, where it will convey the news to your existing clients and colleagues while enhancing the site’s SEO value.
PR can also extend the shelf life of your marketing investment in other areas. For example, if you speak at a conference, your PR firm may be able to craft a media pitch and garner interviews based on your talk, or you may be able to publish an article based on the topic of your presentation – all of which reinforces your expertise and your public profile as an active, leading woman lawyer.
Investing Time in Your Career
Building visibility and credibility via PR takes time. Unless you have access to some particularly newsworthy information, journalists may not need a quote from you for several weeks, or even months. Seeing one of your articles appear in print or online can also take months in some cases.
To avoid frustration, keep in mind that you can’t control the finished product when it comes to media interviews and notices. During interviews, you can control only what you directly communicate at that time, which is why preparation and media training are so important. Most media outlets will check facts, but they will not seek your approval for a quote before publishing it.
Bylined articles are somewhat easier to control because you, or a ghostwriter, write them directly, although you should still prepare yourself for unexpected changes. Publishers have made changes to my articles without my input that I haven’t entirely liked, but in many cases they will run major changes or edits by you first.
Remember, the main goal of your PR campaign should be an elevation of your visibility and professional credibility. PR will not necessarily generate qualified leads – at least not right away, and you can’t necessarily expect everyone to see or notice your quote. To put it in perspective, consider how often you have time to pore over the news, reading every single line – and keep in mind that those in your target market have similarly busy schedules, so they could easily overlook your quote or profile. Similarly, one quote will not make a difference in your expert positioning; however, being quoted repeatedly in multiple media outlets will have a cumulative effect that will strengthen your reputation considerably over time.
To make PR work, you need to work it. Take the fruits of your marketing campaign – articles, media quotes, TV interviews, all of it – and let your markets know about them. Mention your successes in your newsletter and via social media. Post article reprints (with the outlet's authorization) on your website, or have the reprints available at a conference. Distill the value from your quotes, notices and articles, because if you don't, their value will quickly dissipate.Ultimately, the elevation of visibility and increased credibility that PR provides for women lawyers is what is important, and what offers lasting value. It's critical, therefore, to understand what public relations can do for you and your firm, and to undertake a plan that will meet your goals.