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How to Choose and Successfully Work with an Outside PR Firm

The Delaware Valley Law Firm Marketing Group’s July educational meeting was held at Blank Rome on July 26, 2005.

The Panel

Joshua Peck- Senior Manager--Media Relations for Duane Morris and Anne Buchanan- Buchanan Public Relations, Ardmore Pa.

Summary: Joshua Peck’s presentation

  1. The ideal situation for a firm to achieve its PR objectives is to hire an in-house person—both from a budgetary standpoint and from a knowledge and contact standpoint. An in-house media relations person will know your lawyers and have access to them.
  2. However, an in-house person can also work successfully with an outside PR firm.
  3. Over time, you will want to use a PR firm that can "grow with you" and thus get more value from. The PR firm will begin to know your lawyers and practice areas over time and who your best speakers and media spokespersons are—so they do not need to reinvent the wheel to get an effort started.
  4. When you have a choice, hire a small PR firm, You get much better value because fewer, and yet more senior, hands will be on your work
  5. At larger PR firms, a law firm’s work is usually handled by the person who is lowest on the totem pole.
  6. Even when an agency is hired—lawyers must still invest time in the PR effort. A publicist can not do the work and bring about desired results—without the effort and assistance of lawyers. Many lawyers feel this work can be outsourced. But—they must be involved.
  7. When a lawyer has a story he wants to get out at Duane Morris, Josh explains to him/her what their day is going to look like working with him and trying to get coverage for the story. Josh starts off by saying, "I know you are giving up 2 hours of your billable time but I am going to introduce you to your next 5 clients via the work we do together."
  8. Make sure you understand who you are hiring from the PR firm and why? Who will do your work? Who will pitch to the press? Oftentimes that is someone different than the person you met with at your initial meeting with the agency. Sometimes you want the low man on the totem pole to do your work. For example, Josh said he hired a lower level person at an agency specifically to make contacts with reporters. Having someone like that helping him, Josh is free to strategize about media goals for his firm.
  9. Know who you are really hiring. The people on the PR firm letterhead will not meet with you. Make sure the person you want pitching a story for you is someone you have met and tested. Josh says he asks the person who will work for his firm to do a practice pitch for him. Josh says "I want to see how you do this job since you will be the voice of my firm."

Other key points:

  • Keep track of your PR firm’s results. At the end of the project, they should give you a summary that shows follow-up for each reporter contact (i.e. reporter wants you to write an article rather than be a source in his story.)
  • Important tools for any PR firm include Burrell’s, Dow Jones, Bacons and Lexis.
  • Look at the last 6 stories a reporter has written before you contact him or her. This will give you an indication of what they already think of the topic.
  • PR firm billing can vary from $3,000 a month to $30,000 and there are all different forms of billing arrangements.
  • Richard Levick –who runs his own law firm PR firm out of Washington, was the first to say, you give me a check, and if I do not get you success, I will return your money and do it for free. Revolutionary idea at the time.
  • Josh is against value billing because when PR firms reach the quota of stories they promised they would get you quoted in-- they stop working for you. Also, this form of billing gives the pr firm very little incentive to get to thoroughly know your lawyers and their strengths.
  • Understanding a technical subject like a legal issue is hard and your PR firm needs to invest in that.

Ann Buchanan’s talk touched on the following:

  • The law firm is just as responsible as the PR firm for getting their story out.
  • It is best for the client to know their PR budget before they begin -- a good firm can help you put a budget together if you know your goals.
  • There are many lawyers who are terrific in Philadelphia and often times they are indistinguishable.
  • PR raises the awareness and visibility of lawyers. It does not always drive customers to your door. But...when they are ready to buy, they know where your door is.
  • Hire a smart agency over one with legal experience.
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