How to Get a Return on Your PR Investment

By John Hellerman and John Ford

You’ve probably heard it said that “life is a journey, not a destination.” The source of this wisdom isn’t clear. Some attribute it to Ralph Waldo Emerson, although the Transcendentalist poet does not seem to have used the precise phrase in any of his works. We can say for certain that by 1993, Steven Tyler and Richie Supa had written it into the lyrics of the Aerosmith tune “Amazing.”  Whatever the origin, most agree on the sentiment—that when it comes to getting the most out of life, it’s wise to savor the moment in front of us rather than anticipating whatever distant goal we are pointing toward. It truly is a beautiful thought.

And when it comes to public relations, you should throw that thought right out of the window.

Any law firm that devotes energy to public relations is spending resources on it, in the form of labor and, frequently, money. At large global firms, that expenditure, spread across revenues of hundreds or thousands of lawyers, may not have a significant impact on the bottom line. Although it is not the best approach, these firms can afford to “do PR” simply because it feels like a motion they should be going through. They can enjoy the process without worrying too much of what comes of it, like Aerosmith urges.

Mid-size firms, boutiques, and solo practitioners, however, don’t have the luxury of adopting such an attitude. If they are investing time and money into something, it’s their own time and money; if they don’t see a return, everyone is going to feel it. When these firms are making the decision to invest in public relations, they need to be focused on the result—the destination.

Unfortunately, when it comes to public relations, there is a common misperception about what the real destination is—a fact that dooms many PR campaigns from the start. For any public relations effort to succeed, therefore, it must first be clear about what the destination is. With that knowledge in place, there are two additional actions that all firms should take with respect to their PR investments, which will greatly enhance the chance of seeing a return.

Know the destination: If you ask 10 attorneys what the goal of their PR efforts are, you would get 10 different answers. One might want to see their own name in The New York Times. Another might want a speaking slot at a conference in the industry they serve. Another might want to gain a reputation as a thought leader in a particular area of law. But ultimately, there is just one correct answer: the ultimate goal of virtually any public relations campaign should be building business. It is only the result that, when achieved, provides a return on a firm’s investment in public relations. Everything else is a means to that end.

Move toward the destination: Having the destination—building business—in mind will help firms greatly in setting, and staying, their course. Every aspect of a firm’s PR efforts should be undertaken for the strategic purpose of getting it closer to that destination. If an attorney’s primary motivation for wanting to be quoted in The New York Times is vanity, they wouldn’t be the first. If the placement won’t get the firm closer to new business, however, it shouldn’t be part of the PR plan. Sometimes, the smallest efforts are the most effective. One of our savvier clients, for instance, knew that a significant client prospect would be viewing his website bio in the coming days; he thus edited his bio with that specific client in mind, highlighting his most relevant experience. It was a highly strategic maneuver, advancing him directly toward his destination. Other decisions—such as whether to seek that speaking slot, or write that article—should be assessed in terms of whether they move the firm closer to new business.

Don’t stop halfway: When you know that your destination is new business, you also know that the job isn’t done when your PR campaign generates content. That New York Times quote is wonderful, but it’s not the end game. For every piece of content that a PR campaign produces, the firm should have an “after-placement plan” (APP) in place. Rather than relying on the distributive power of the publication in which an attorney appears, the firm should create a plan to ensure the content reaches its most important audience. Firm blogs, newsletters, and social media accounts can and should be part of a solid APP (i.e., before generating a piece of content, ask yourself, “Do we have an APP for that?”). For specific targets, such as the general counsel of a prospective client, attorneys should also reach out with emails, bringing the campaign-generated content to their attention and using it as an opportunity to deepen their relationship. Going forward, the firm should continue to leverage the content that its campaign has earned for maximum effect. A bylined article, for instance, could become the basis for a client presentation.

Know your destination, point yourself toward it, and don’t stop halfway there. Ralph Waldo Emerson might not approve of that prescription for life, but it’s hard to beat for a good PR campaign.

John Hellerman is the co-founder of Hellerman Baretz Communications, an award-winning corporate communications agency specializing in content development, reputation management, and revenue growth.

John Ford is a Vice President of Hellerman Baretz Communications.

This article is provided to you by Hellerman Baretz Communications, sponsor of the 2015 LMA Annual Conference.


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