Business Development, Public Relations

PR Isn’t an Exact Science

Many attorneys think that just because they begin a strategic PR program, clients will immediately flock to their door. It’s just not that simple, unfortunately. An excellent public relations representative or company can do a great deal for a lawyer or law firm, but PR has to be understood as a long-term project and as

something that needs to dovetail with the firm’s marketing and business development efforts.

I know of clients who have decided to close down a PR program because they saw no obvious immediate results after six months. This kind of action can be true of any client in any industry, but attorneys in particular often have unrealistic expectations about how PR works. This may be because attorneys tend to think in a linear fashion: If a good brief will convince a judge and win a case, a good PR campaign will convince the media immediately and lead to new business. If it’s not working right now, perhaps it isn’t any good.

These clients don’t realize that PR is not an exact science. Even the most carefully thought-out pitch or PR program will often not be immediately successful, for any number of reasons that are beyond the control of the public relations person.

As Annie Pace Scranton, a New York PR person and former TV news producer, wrote in Forbes in 2013: “I can’t predict whether a producer will like a pitch, or a reporter will quote my client. Although it may feel uncomfortable, I think that saying this clearly and in no uncertain terms, positions the client to take a leap of faith in your work and also helps them to understand the process behind your work.”

Especially in the Internet era, reporters have short attention spans, and stories have short life cycles. A great story idea based on a thoughtful PR campaign can fall apart seconds before it was to appear in the media.

It can take months if not years to become well known in a field. Don’t expect your PR campaign to do all your work. You still need to network, speak at events, follow up with your contacts and take leadership roles in industry trade groups.

But when you are at lunch with a prospective client, and he or she asks, “Didn’t I just see your name in this newspaper or this blog?” then you will know that your PR campaign was a smart investment.