Law Firms’ Public Relations Agencies Should Act Like eHarmony

Can you remember what a phone book looks like? Could you underline the names of the people who are worth over a million dollars? Not likely, since the wealth of each person is not listed. That’s one of the big jokes with many public relations professionals. Public relations agencies subscribe to media databases (phone books) and randomly send out generic emails messages that clog reporters in boxes or get lost in spam land. The true goal of the public relations professional is to use the data to establish a relationship between the media contacts and the agency’s clients, and it’s hardly done through emails or a generic phone pitch left on a voicemail.

I think a great way to think about this concept is with trial lawyers. Yes, the attorneys must prepare the court documents in a professional fashion. However, when you’re dealing with a jury, at some point the attorneys on both sides need to quickly establish a relationship with the jurors. And that’s accomplished through interpersonal communications that no court document can ever capture.

But back to the point of this post. 

Our agency uses a media “phone book” from a company called Cision. It’s a great database that allows our account executives to research media contacts based on location, topics of interest, and their contact information. MOST of these contacts say that their preferred mention of communication is email. Fair enough. You want to honor someone’s request. However, emails rarely create a relationship. (FYI, I met my wife through Eharmony, so I believe in online communications. However, without that first in-person date, we would not be at the point we are at now with expecting our second child.)

Too often public relations agencies think they are doing their media contacts and clients a favor by following this “rule” of email-only communications. Yet, when an agency is doing their job, they are truly servicing their clients and the media contacts when they send the email to ONLY those people where a “first date” on the phone or in-person is likely (by the way Eharmony had me answer about 500 questions, not something I ask our account executives to do for each media contact). It’s important to remember it’s media “relations” not “target marketing” email campaigns. After my wife and I learned about each other through our online Eharmony profiles, we had to eventually learn more about each other and that required personal interaction. The right “blend” between online communications and interpersonal communications is what is what great public relations professionals are able to create.

Law firms need their public relations agencies to blend their “court documents”  (read “emails”) with interpersonal communications (read “looking the jurors in their eyes when making a case”). If your public relations agency can’t do that, fire them.

In fairness to myself, I’ve landed our clients some awesome media coverage strictly through email communications when there was a tight deadline and I had the perfect client the media contact needed to talk to within hours. So razor sharp targeted emails do work. However, if it was such a great fit with a tight deadline, you can be sure that I backed up the email with a phone call too.

So, when should law firms fire their public relations agency or love them like an eHarmony connection? Well, ultimately it is about getting the results that matter most to the client. No results, no contract renewal with the agency.  And in the process, the public relations agency should be the go between to create a relationship between their law firm clients and the media contacts. A relationship that is firmly established with the best blend of online and personal communications.


Interns BTI (Before the Internet)

Our agency just had its fourth intern finish her program with TC Public Relations. Jessica’s leaving was bittersweet. Bitter because our interns do very important work that helps the account executives get the job done and sweet because we celebrated her time here with an ice cream cake.

I remember my first internship. I was finishing a degree in audio-visual communications (read slide shows, not PowerPoint, and 3/4 inch video decks, not Flip cameras) with an internship at the local ABC television station in Rochester, New York. One of my jobs as a production assistant was to carry around a video deck that must have weighed about 35 pounds (or about 50% more the current weight of my 16 month old daughter). Part of that job was to guide the camera person when walking backwards for walking interviews. Often I had to make sure the camera person did no step into a pile of dog poop. These dog poop avoiding skills have helped throughout my career.

So what does this have to do with public relations interns of the 21st Century? While the sugar buzz from the ice cream cake is still with me, let me share the connections:
  • Interns still need to do heavy lifting: While our interns may only know Flip and Web cameras, they need to wade through tons and tons of social media opportunities (think YouTube as the second largest online search outlet) for our clients to find just the right connection points between our clients and their future customers.
  • Interns still need to follow (and lead) the people who have the experience: I’ve been in public relations for more than 20 years, so I know that when I take the time to mentor the interns, I can give them valuable insights into the business world that transcends technology and share life experiences that they can take to their next job. In exchange, the interns that grew up in a digital world can lead me and help me learn what it’s like to have a life that is more centered on social media than the society pages of a print newspaper.
  • Interns Still Need to Dodge the Poop: Yes, I know the public relations industry is changing rapidly, and yes, I know that much of the economy is still on life support, but so what? One of the last things I shared with the intern before she left was the quote “These are the best of times, these are the worst of times.” And despite the media’s year-long obsession with the 10% unemployment rate, 90% of people ARE working! So I want good interns (we’ve always had the best thanks to our internship coordinator) to know that when they do a good job at TC Public Relations they should be able to pursue the 90% opportunity not the 10% of poop.

While I am still learning what public relations 2.0 or 5.0 should look like for our agency, the value of interns that meet the demands of the times are priceless. Now, let’s see if any ice cream cake is left to fuel me through another blog post.