Getting Started with a Media Relations Consultant: 8 Simple Rules
After a rigorous selection process, a law firm has finally selected and hired a media relations consultant to assist the marketing director and work with the partners on obtaining favorable press coverage that will support the firm’s business development efforts. What should the marketing director expect next, in terms of the process for getting started?
A marketing director should consider the media relations consultant as an extension of the marketing team in the office. The consultant’s expertise is meant to add to the value of the Firm’s internal marketing team. Include the consultant in marketing meetings as appropriate, and be prepared to set aside time regularly for a meeting with the consultant to check on progress. Discussing needs and expectations with the consultant will ensure that individual efforts complement each other, and that everyone is working towards achieving the same goals for the Firm.
These “8 Simple Rules” provide a general guide for best practices to helping the law firm and the consultant get to know each other at the beginning of the relationship, and moving forward.
Identify. The marketing director should identify the attorneys and/or practice areas that will be involved in the media relations initiative, and provide detailed bios and written practice descriptions to the consultant. The marketing director should also introduce the attorneys to the consultant, via an email that sets forth the consultant’s bio, his or her specific expertise in law firm marketing, contact information, and an explanation that the consultant will schedule individual meetings in order to jumpstart the media relations program.
Meet. This initial meeting between the attorney and the consultant is critical for assessing the attorneys' PR aptitude and experiences, personalities, industry trade preferences, geographical interests, current clients and cases, and other matters relevant to media relations. Meetings should happen within the first two weeks of engaging the consultant. Setting aside one full day, with more time as needed, should be sufficient for the consultant to visit the office and conduct individual or small group meetings.
Ask. While some attorneys are more PR-savvy than others, most do not know what to expect, nor is there a complete understanding of how working with a consultant can benefit them. Their first meeting is a time for questions from both sides. The consultant should be prepared with a list of questions, which can be provided in advance of the meeting. The attorneys should arrive with questions in mind, too, and think about what aspects of their practices might be considered newsworthy. The marketing director and consultant should present some information as a team, so that the attorneys see that the consultant is working with and included as a member of the internal marketing team.
Plan. The consultant should write a plan that will provides the foundation for media relations in the coming months. Here is where a red flag often is raised: the marketing director might expect a plan that will encompass a full year (or however the length of the contract), but the reality is that the consultant has enough information from meeting the attorneys to instead focus on the next few months, knowing that the plan will change and evolve and that further meetings will take place. A very broad plan can be provided, but truthfully, a media relations plan works best if it remains fluid, with updates expected over the course of the year as different attorneys get involved and new projects develop.
Train. In general, most attorneys do not have a great deal of experience with the media, unless a noteworthy case has brought them into the limelight. A media training session, whether conducted before a group or one-to-one, will help the consultant understand the attorney’s level of experience with the press, and educate the attorneys as to what makes news, how to work within the time parameters of a journalist, and the role of the consultant regarding story development, interviews and follow up.
Participate. The marketing director and/or consultant should ask to attend practice group meetings often, to understand what new developments, cases, trends or other information can be used for marketing. If attorneys are uncomfortable with that level of participation, the consultant should at least speak with the chair after the practice group meetings for important updates.
Visit. The consultant should arrange for regular visits to the Firm, on a schedule that works best for the attorneys. Often, they get busy with their work and don’t have a habit of keeping the consultant and marketing director informed of developments that should be considered for marketing and PR. Arrange a meeting room for the consultant to set up camp, and coordinate times for attorneys to stop by, or walk the halls together to allow for impromptu brainstorming discussions with attorneys.
Expect. The marketing director should also have these minimum expectations from the consultant; that she will:
Be prepared. For meetings, phone calls, and questions.
Be respectful. Of everyone’s time, by returning calls promptly, of budget limits, and through attitude.
Be smart. By keeping up on current events, daily news, key industry news, Firm mentions in the press, and by reviewing the Firm’s web site for updates.
Be in touch. By informing and updating the marketing director, and others as needed, when working on a particular project with an attorney, via email, with meetings or phone discussions as necessary.
Be responsible. Report on efforts and successes, including those opportunities that were turned down and why.
Be successful. After all, why else is she the consultant?
Understanding these basic rules and expectations will ensure a smooth transition for the new consultant as well as set up a successful ongoing relationship.
Vivian Hood is Vice President, Media Relations at Jaffe Associates, Inc. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 904-220-1915.