FOCUS: PROFESSIONAL SERVICES; How to keep the partners happy

LAWYERS: A profession which has traditionally steered clear of PR is at last beginning to recognise its value MANAGEMENT CONSULTANTS: Crossing the boundaries of business and sport in order to reach the right audience AWARENESS CAMPAIGNS: Sensitive use of PR helped mesothelioma sufferers gain support and compensation

LAWYERS: A profession which has traditionally steered clear of PR is at

last beginning to recognise its value

MANAGEMENT CONSULTANTS: Crossing the boundaries of business and sport in

order to reach the right audience

AWARENESS CAMPAIGNS: Sensitive use of PR helped mesothelioma sufferers

gain support and compensation

All professions are now under pressure to raise their profiles. Kate

Nicholas reports on the sometimes delicate process of introducing them

to the benefits of public relations

When Sue Stapely, head of public relations at The Law Society, first

unleashed the caped crusader ‘Will Power’ on an unsuspecting public

during the 1991 ‘Make a Will Week’, she started receiving hate mail from

legal practitioners about this ‘ wholly inappropriate way to publicise

professional services.’ Five years down the line, outrage has given way

to realism, and the same lawyers are eagerly scooping up Will Power

leaflets and posters having heard that firms participating in the

campaign have been writing up to 930 new wills.

The last few years have certainly seen some radical advances in

professional service firms’ approach to self-publicity. Before the

relaxation of the Publicity Code in 1984, firms couldn’t even send out

an unsolicited brochure, never mind advertise. But with the impact of

the recession, everyone from actuaries to lawyers, chartered surveyors

to accountants are feeling the pressure. The property crash had a

dramatic effect on a broad range of professional services firms and the

Courts and Legal Services Act of 1990 opened areas such as litigation,

probate and conveyancing up to outside, and often non-legally qualified,

competition - prompting campaigns such as Make a Will Week, aimed at

encouraging the public to seek services from professionals.

‘Increasingly professional services firms are finding themselves taking

part in beauty parades’, says Quentin Bell Organisation director Francis

Hallawell. ‘Lawyers and chartered surveyors are getting used to it, but

it still sends shivers down the spines of a lot of them.’

According to a recent survey of 120 law firms by the Legal Times, 55 per

cent of firms now use external PR. A significant proportion have also

brought PR expertise in-house. However, the partnership structure can be

something of a nightmare for in-house PRs and agencies alike.

‘You have this ludicrous situation where people are making critical

decisions who aren’t included in the partnership meeting,’ says

Hallawell. ‘This creates a great deal of frustration, with PR people

feeling they cannot be as effective as they would like.’

McLean Aylwin account director Melissa Kojan, who previously worked in-

house for a quantity surveyor, says that she found it quite difficult to

get her message across. There is always a dilemma when professional

services firms bring a marketing or PR person in-house, as to how they

deal with that person as a member of staff,’ she says.

Sorting out internal communications is half the PR battle, according to

Sue Ryan, head of GCI’s professional and financial services division,

(and formerly the first in-house PR to be hired by top accountancy firm

Arthur Young, now Ernst and Young). ‘You have to deal with each practice

leader as if they are a client in their own right,’ says Ryan. ‘Everyone

is a budget holder, which can be difficult if you have a corporate brief

because the needs of an individual practitioner can be at odds with what

the firm requires as a whole. You have to convince everyone to sing from

the same song sheet.’

Many agencies find they have to overcome deep-rooted suspicions about

their own profession. ‘There tends to be an anti-marketing culture in a

lot of firms,’ says Hallawell, ‘possibly because they don’t understand

marketing; perhaps because of the vestiges of old snobbery. Some of

these firms have been around for 100 years or so and they expect clients

to come to them.’

Stapely, a qualified solicitor who co-ordinates national and regional

campaigns on behalf of The Law Society says: ‘One of the biggest

stumbling blocks is that as lawyers, we are taught to analyse, criticise

and argue and people often report that law firms are difficult to work

with. Law firms tend to think that they can book airtime and conduct

press relations. Part of my job is teaching them that their expertise is

not in this area.’

Persuading professional services firms that there is no point hiring a

dog only to bark yourself, requires some swift foot work. ‘Professional

services firms tend to see a strong connection between PR and increased

income; and they want to see a one-to-one correspondence between what

they spend and the results in terms of new business,’ says Hallawell.

Much of professional services PR tends to be about generating face-to-

face meetings through intelligent mailings, seminars, conferences and

low-key hospitality; with many smaller to medium size firms looking to

PR agencies to provide a one-stop-shop for all their marketing activity.

Consultancies, such as the newly-formed Sandra Hewett Media Relations,

that specialise purely in professional services are thin on the ground,

most accounts being handled under the corporate umbrella. To be included

in The Law Society’s Directory of Consultants for Solicitors, for

example, agencies have to produce just two client referees. Sue Silvey,

marketing manager of law firm Osborne Clarke, says that ‘It has been

hard to find PR companies which are tuned into professional services

rather than goods and product selling.’ And while many firms are quite

willing to embrace concepts such as branding, simple semantic mistakes -

such as describing a potential client as a company - are enough to set

alarm bells ringing.

It is precisely the level of indepth research required to get it right

that attracts a lot of practitioners to professional service PR. ‘They

are very interesting accounts to work on,’ says Hallawell. ‘You need to

get under the skin of the discipline in order to understand what the

firm is offering.’

But PRs aren’t the only ones with something to learn. According to

Sandra Hewett, founder of Sandra Hewett Media Relations, there is a real

need for firms to think more strategically. Kojan says she often has to

take clients back to the fundamentals of their marketing strategy before

they can even start thinking about PR.

As Hallawell points out: ‘In an FMCG or industrial situation a client

already has some expectations of marketing. But with professional

services firms there is a lot of hand holding and patience required.’

And while an increasing number of professional services firms are all

too painfully aware of the need to raise their profile, this knowledge

is counterbalanced by the need for discretion.

‘You have to exercise a particular sensitivity in introducing PR

practice into a law firm,’ says Fishburn Hedges director Andrew Boys.

People go to a lawyer because they can be relied upon to be discreet and

confidential - so there is a tension there and a good adviser recognises

that tension and the difficulties the lawyers face.’

Case study: Touche Ross cashes in on soccer’s numbers

Chartered accountants and management consultants, Touche Ross, took

advantage of an annual survey of football club accounts to promote the

organisation as the premier adviser to clubs in the English Premiership

and football league (divisions one, two and three). Touche Ross claims

to be the only firm to carry out detailed analyses of accounts of all 92

English league clubs.

Touche Ross’s north-west public relations manager Richard Boyd co-

ordinated a campaign to promote the survey and its findings to the

‘quality’ national and regional media. The media campaign kicked off

just prior to the start of the football season, ensuring that the

subject was topical. Using the key findings from the survey, Boyd

flagged up the fact that, despite record amounts of money coming into

the game, the financial plight of many clubs was worsening.

‘Overall this survey is our biggest profile-raising exercise of the

year, ‘ says Boyd. ‘It crosses the boundaries of business and sport and

it isn’t difficult to sell to the media.’

However, the level of international, national and regional coverage took

even Touche Ross by surprise. The Financial Times ran an exclusive on 31

July, the day of the launch; the survey was covered in the Telegraph,

Guardian, Daily Express, Mirror, Mail and Today as well as many of the

key regionals. TV coverage included Sky News, BBC 2’s Working Lunch,

European Business News plus extensive radio coverage.

As a result of the coverage, Gerry Boon, chairman of the Touche Ross

Football industry team, was asked in his capacity as an industry

authority to appear live on Channel 4, the BBC’s Nine O’Clock News, and

Radio 4.

‘There is inestimable value for Touche Ross from the PR coverage it got

from the survey,’ says Boon.

Case study: Pure PR’s asbestos battle

Pure PR were hired by high-profile personal injury law firm Irwin

Mitchell in the run up to mesothelioma sufferer June Hancock’s test case

against J W Roberts Limited. June Hancock set out to prove that J W

Robertsknew of the harmful effects of asbestos dust escaping from its

Armley factory in the period up to 1951, when Hancock and many other

children played in the streets nearby.

‘Irwin Mitchell knew that there would be huge press interest in the

case,’ says Pure PR partner Andy Evans. ‘So our role was to make sure

that the media reported the financial, medical and legal aspects of the

case accurately, while making sure that Mrs. Hancock wasn’t disturbed by

intrusive press enquires.’

At the same time, the consultancy had to make sure that Irwin Mitchell

was seen as the source of all media information.

In an unusual scenario, Pure PR was given direct access to the

plaintiff, Mrs Hancock, who wanted her own case to be seen as part of a

wider problem. ‘She knew that she wasn’t the only person affected,’ says

Evans, ‘and we worked with her on a one-to-one basis, harnessing the

success of the case to her wishes for a nationwide awareness campaign.

In this instance it was the client who wanted to have a media campaign

and the solicitor wanted to make sure that she responded in the right


Well aware of Mrs Hancock’s fragile health, Pure PR effectively acted as

her mouthpiece, setting up an Irwin Mitchell press office in its office

to handle all media enquiries.

‘It was an unusual case in terms of the particular sensitivities and the

level of resources we had to involve,’ says Irwin Mitchell marketing

director Tim Percival. ‘We needed to get the message across about our

specialisation in a way that would help the plaintiff’s campaign.’

On 27 October June Hancock was awarded pounds 65,000 damages but is left

with a crippling and terminal disease. Mr. Justice Holland ruled that J

W Roberts knew of the harmful effects of asbestos as early as 1933, and

so should have protected people who lived in the area from that date.

As a result of the judgement, many of those people exposed to asbestos

in Armley between 1933 and 1958 and who have developed identifiable

asbestos-related diseases may be entitled to claim compensation.

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