MEDIA: PROFESSIONAL SERVICES PR - Media Roundup. Lawyers andaccountants make excellent experts

Think it's hard representing a client whose business is hard to

explain? Even worse, just imagine what it's like to represent a law firm

that can't talk publicly about what it's doing. David Ward looks at the

ins and outs of doing PR for professional service companies.

Professional services companies - such as law firms, accountants, and

business consultants - often face a dilemma when looking for press


Not only is it a business segment that tends to be spread out among

different reporting beats, but the firms often act as the "quiet right

hand" of high-profile companies, hindering their ability to seek

publicity for their work.

"One thing you have to realize about professional services firms is that

generally the story isn't all about them," says Roger Ardan, SVP of

legal marketing with Edelman Public Relations Worldwide.

But that doesn't mean that the media is unaware of the work of these

consultants. While many professional services firms discourage PR

campaigns aimed at raising their profile, they are still sought out by

reporters simply because of their positioning in the business


Among the leading journalists covering all or some aspects of

professional services are George Stein of Bloomberg News, Louis Lavelle

of Business Week, Tom Herman of The Wall Street Journal, Kerry Dolan of

Forbes, and Associated Press business writer Michael White.

"We've found that journalists are very interested in these people," says

Chris Kircher, senior managing director with Hill & Knowlton, which

lists Ernst & Young among its clients. "There are some misperceptions

about the accounting industry. In Ernst & Young's case, they're doing

way more than just providing traditional tax advice and auditing. They

just announced they've got a corporate finance unit. They do counseling

in the area of privacy and security in terms of information technology.

They are involved in a lot of different businesses."

Most professional service firms view discretion as the better part of

valor - especially when the story is about one of their clients. "They

can't be out in front of the media talking about specific strategies or

the business operations of their clients," says Matthew Doering, SVP at

Fleishman-Hillard New York, which counts KPMG and executive recruiter

Heidrick & Struggles among its clients. "But what they can do is be the

analysts or thought leaders in a particular area. By the nature of their

work, they know about trends ahead of time."

Edelman's Ardan adds, "It's generally getting somebody quoted in a

bigger story about some industry trend or what's happening in the

overall economy." The expert ends up being one of the many sources

providing information.

Economic trouble all around

While professional service firms, especially the large global

operations, tend to be solid performers in both good times and bad, that

doesn't mean they haven't been touched by the recent economic turmoil.

Several of the major accounting firms, as well as a few consultants and

law offices, have been linked in the press to failing dot-coms. In some

cases, it's a shareholder lawsuit, while in others it's a disagreement

between the consultancy and its client (e.g., the spat between

Excite@Home and Ernst & Young has been a long-running story).

When a professional services firm is dragged into one of these public

spats, H&K's Kircher advises reaching out to reporters as soon as

possible. "Whether it's with a full statement or a partial reply, the

trick is to get on top of the situation quickly," he says. "You don't

want to allow rumors to build."

Simply because of their expertise, professional service executives are

often on the treadmill of commentators invited to appear on business

television shows, along with analysts and brokers. "Heidrick & Struggles

has been successful on CNBC with some of its people offering insight

after major mergers on what the implications for the human capital are

going to be, and how cultures are going to work together," says

Fleishman's Doering.

Richard Wolff, Northeast region managing director with Golin/Harris

International, says, "It's a bit more of a challenge to get professional

services firms profiled than it is to position their individual

professionals as experts. When you do the latter, you are really doing a

favor in some way for the journalist simply because they need sources

and they need a perspective."

Fields merge along with companies

But journalists who ignore the actual business of professional services

may be missing a fascinating story. Not only have mergers reduced the

traditional big eight accounting firms to five, but the lines between

accounting, law, and business consulting are blurring as the practices

encroach on each other's domains.

Ernst & Young, for example, not only has its own legal department, but

has spun off its business consulting practice into a completely separate

company that's now owned by French company Cap Gemini.

This can present some branding challenges, says Marilyn Castaldi, senior

partner and healthcare practice director for Fleishman (which represents

Cap Gemini Ernst & Young's healthcare consulting practice).

Castaldi says that for the most part, she's had more success getting Cap

Gemini Ernst & Young into vertical outlets covering healthcare and

hospitals. However, she says that reaching out to the general business

media can be a bit harder. "You have to convince reporters and their

editors that there is an aspect that's important to the world at large,"

she says.

"It may be pitching The Philadelphia Inquirer or Baltimore Sun that

because of these business consultants working with a hospital, a medical

facility that was in financial trouble is now able to continue

functioning and open satellite offices. The end beneficiary is the


Wolff points out that stories need to have a consumer angle and not be a

simple business-to-business item. "The business pages over the last 10

years have become much more consumer focused with the rise of individual

ownership of stock," he says.

Paul Jensen, EVP with Magnet Communications, says the only way to

overcome some of the obstacles facing professional services PR is

patience. Magnet represented law firm Morrison & Foerster, and claims

that it took nearly 18 months to place a profile in the New York Law

Journal in part because of the reluctance by both the firm and its

clients to provide the examples the reporter was looking for. "We were

able to tell a story about the comeback of Morrison & Foerster as a

technology-oriented law firm," says Jensen. "We then took it to The Wall

Street Journal, and turned it into a B 1 story. The difference was that

it wasn't the same story. We found an angle that would appeal to a

general business audience: how in the old days only partners brought in

the business, but in the new economy even associates are going to Cyber

Suds events and bringing in new business."



The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, Los

Angeles Times, San Jose Mercury News


Forbes, Fortune, Business Week, Red Herring, Time, Newsweek


National Law Journal, Accounting Today, Legal Times, New York Law

Journal, Inside Consulting, Executive Search Review, Executive Search



Bloomberg News, CNNfn, CNBC, National Public Radio, Associated Press,


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