PR for professional services – a “nice to have” or something you have to consider when either you or your client makes a faux-pas? Although many firms have a retained PR agency on hand for any crisis, few engage with them, yet are surprised when they don’t get the column inches they expected.
With the latest statistics from the Solicitors Regulation Authority highlighting that 30 of the UK’s top 200 law firms are in serious financial difficulty, with reports of a further 160 firms at risk of failure, ensuring that you are getting the best return on investment has never been more important.
So what can you do? We’ve identified some of the areas where many organisations struggle when making their first forays into collaborating with a PR agency:
- Make sure the firm and communications strategy dovetail
A communications strategy can only be successful if it is borne out of a concrete business strategy. We have often been asked to develop a PR proposal with minimal knowledge of the firm, its values and its objectives. And in short - it won’t work.
Investing time with your PR organisation at the outset is essential to helping us to understand your organisation and developing a thorough communications plan. We will be representing you, so it’s important that we know you like the back of our hands, enabling us to convey the correct messages to the correct people at the correct time.
Having a constant, two-way dialogue with your PR agency will pay dividends when sensitive issues arise. Whether they’re about redundancy, an employee involved in gross misconduct or a change in leadership, if a journalist calls a PR for reaction to a sensitive issue that has been leaked, it puts the PR immediately on the back foot. This means they have to make reactionary comment, rather than proactively dealing with the issue at hand. The more the PR is in the know, the more messages can be controlled and negative publicity avoided. They should be an extension of your in-house team - not a 999 call when a sticky situation arises.
- Time is money
With online coverage transforming the way we communicate, time is of the essence. Commentary on new legislation, deal completion, reaction to the news – it’s all instant and you need to be quick out of the blocks if you’re going to beat your competitors to the finishing line. Some of the most well-received coverage can be just two lines in a larger article.Approval processes for deal completion can be as complex as the transactions themselves, so make sure you agree with the other advisors on who is taking the lead and ensure that your firm is name-checked at the very least. The time taken to chase up outstanding actions can eat into your retainer, so ensure that you have someone who's able to respond quickly, even if it’s only to say ‘no’ or ‘contact me in a week.’
To help you avoid common PR pitfalls, we've put together some top tips on how best to collaborate and get the most out of with your PR agency:
- Treat PR meetings as you would an important client meeting
PR sessions can be seen as a “moveable” meeting, but if it is constantly postponed then communication can suffer. Schedule them in and stick to them as best you can.
- Ask for feedback
Your PR agency will get to engage with every key part of your business. They will be privy to how your different teams operate and may have updates on issues that you weren’t aware of. Listen to who is engaging with them and who isn’t. There may be a really enthusiastic member of the team who is keen to increase his or her profile in the media. While all PR strategies need proactive people, make sure that other members of the team who aren’t as PR savvy don’t hide in the background. They may well be the future of the business and in the area that the firm is keen to grow, so make sure you’re kept in the loop able to refocus the strategy if it deviates.
- Ask for advice
Use your PR agency to find out about the world of PR and what more your firm can benefit from. While terms like inbound marketing, social media and blogger outreach may seem like buzz words, understanding how these initiatives are helping other businesses can give yours a competitive edge.
They are experts in their field, so tap into their knowledge, find out about what your peers are doing and how successful their marketing strategies are.
- Don’t underestimate the power of online coverage
‘There’s nothing like seeing your coverage in print’ is still a view held by some, but that is changing apace. Online coverage provides you with so much additional, long-term value, it’s impossible to ignore. One article alone can be shared, referred to, create debate, improve your profile online and show the strength of your team.
- Embrace social media and steal a march on your competitors
Whether you’re a lawyer or an accountant, the very mention of social media can have many closing down their laptops for fear of repercussions if they step out of line.
The subject of social media in any professional services organisations is quickly followed by ‘social media policy’ or corporate protocols. Yes, procedures and guidelines are necessary, but don’t let these fears prevent you from capitalising on these powerful new channels.
For professional services firms, engaging in PR is something of a no-brainer these days but it's surprising how many fail to make the most of this unique relationship and are put off the discipline altogether. Remember, you only get out what you put in!
Do you have any experiences of PR which you would like to share or have ideas on how PR and clients can work better together? Please leave us a comment or get in touch - we’re always interested to hear what you have to say!
And if you want more tips on making the most of your profile in the media, be sure to check out our new tipsheet on creating a media strategy that delivers effective results:
Images used courtesy of The European Institute and ByranFranklin.com