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.