Article - Why so many Public Relations Firms do not understand professionals (and How to Choose a PR Firm


Ask the expert …
Why so many Public Relations Firms do not understand professionals (and How to Choose a PR Firm) pdf version

By Kevin W. Brown, M.B.A.

Q. We are currently using a PR firm but find that often they just don’t “get  it.”  We’re a fairly conservative firm and our PR agency often writes very flip copy with which the attorneys are very uncomfortable.  This is our second PR  firm and with both firms, the experiences were remarkably similar.  

A. Believe it or not, I’ve heard that same comment for over 20 years, as new clients came to Kevin Brown Marketing & Consulting after experiencing similar frustrations. 

Personally, when I was in-house at Deloitte as the Director of Marketing at the Orange County office, we faced the same problems.  We needed to supplement our internal staff with outside assistance in PR and advertising.  Despite numerous interviews with PR firms of all sizes and with supposedly great reputations, we found that most lacked any understanding of professional services marketing, much less CPA marketing. 

We ended up hiring the best of the bunch, which happened to be the biggest PR firm in town — but they weren’t nearly what we had hoped to get.  They were basically order-takers, not strategists, and I spent an incredible amount of time guiding them and reworking their efforts.

This experience helped me to decide that when I went out on my own (in 1991), I would focus solely on what was a huge hole in the local marketplace — a marketing firm with expertise in serving professional services firms.

How To Choose a PR Firm
If you find that your PR firm doesn’t understand your practice or the culture in your firm, you’ll likely be very frustrated.  At some point in time, you’ll find yourself asking “Why do I always end up substantially changing their work?  Why do I have to teach them so much about our business?”

The reason is that most PR firms have very little, if any, experience working with professional services firms, much less attorneys in particular.  They may have a great reputation in other industries but are very challenged when it comes to effectively representing a service-oriented business such as a law firm.  Many are basically order-takers, not strategists, and you can spent an incredible amount of time guiding them and reworking their efforts.  For example, if you need a story idea pitched to a reporter, the PR professional needs to convincingly portray the issue and your firm’s expertise.  If he/she barely understands the basics of your practice area, how successful do you think the person will be?  You’ll also be paying for their learning curve, each step along the way. 

If you are interviewing PR firms, ask questions such as:

•          What is your degree(s) in?  If it is only in journalism, you will find that the person likely lacks an understanding of how businesses (and professional services firms) are run.

•          What do you know about our industry?  What is your experience with serving similar firms?  If they don’t understand enough, you’ll end up paying for it, one way or the other.

•          What specific services do you offer? You may be surprised to find out that their services are very limited — or they offer services (such as Marketing Plans) that they are unqualified to effectively provide.

•          How will your work mesh with our other marketing programs?  Many PR people lack an understanding and education of the full breadth of marketing, so you’ll find that your overall marketing efforts may lack cohesion.

•          Who will we work with from your firm?  Are you going to get a lower-end person when you were sold on the campaign by a partner?  This all goes into the value proposition.  Some PR firms spend so much on their overhead that clients foot the bill vs. getting quality, high level professionals.

•          How much do you charge for your services?  What is your hourly rate?  What is the length of the contract?  Many PR firms ask for a long contract so that they can learn more about your industry and get up to speed.  Don’t pay for that – just pay for their actual efforts working on your firm’s behalf.

If you need outside PR assistance, only hire someone who has worked in public relations campaigns for professionals. You’ll save yourself lots of time, money and headaches. 

About the author: Kevin W. Brown, M.B.A. has worked with professional services firms for over 20 years, offer.  His firm, Kevin Brown Marketing & Consulting, provides full-service marketing services, including Public Relations, Advertising, Graphic Design, Strategic Planning, Business Development Training, Targeted Marketing and many other services.  The firm  specializes in serving professional services firms in Southern California and selected clients around the nation.