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Dear MAM: We are putting together a marketing plan and budget for next year. How important is public relations in the overall scheme of things? Sincerely, Monica S., Arlington, VA

Dear Monica: I have preached for many years that PR is one of the most underutilized and valuable components in any business development arsenal. Now, I have a slight bias in that I started my professional career as a public relations person–long before law school came calling. However, I’ve always argued that a strong PR effort will have a greater impact than any advertising or promotion–be it print, electronic, speaking or otherwise.

While good PR still ends up costing some coin, in the long-term it allows for some level of ROI (i.e. is our firm getting play? Did a press matter generate a lead?) for evaluating whether your effort is successful. The flip side is that truly good PR takes some time. The company that offers quick hits is usually more “fly by night” than those that put training, strategy, preparation and proper placement into play.

A PR program is always integral to any of my marketing plans and programs. However, when a firm wants a serious, dedicated effort, I often encourage putting out a decent amount of money and line item “PR”. Most large law firm marketing departments provide little to no true PR. They hire one of a number of good companies to handle public and media relations for them.

The best PR program I’ve seen in many years took place at the ABA Annual Meeting in Atlanta. It featured a fantastic panel including Nicholas Gaffney, who with Jamie Diaferia, run Infinite PR. They are both lawyers and former journalists. Bobbie Batista, the former CNN Newsie that runs Atamira Communications. Bob Weiss, a former journalist, who runs Alyn-Weiss public relations and marketing in Denver. And the very impressive GC of USAirways, Elizabeth Lanier. They addressed everything from relationships with the media to crisis & litigation publicity, ethical considerations, and ways to both generate story interest and handle the media when they come a’ calling. As chair of the ABA Law Practice Management marketing core group, I am hoping to have the program re-run at least once more in the next year. It was a great two-hour course for those with little to moderate experience with public relations in the legal sector. Sincerely yours, THE MARKETING ATTORNEY

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