Professionals have a poor reputation as clients among PR people but too
often the agencies fail to meet their needs, says Chris Hinze
The litany of complaints seem to go on forever: indecisive,
bureaucratic, obsessive, defensive, naive and just too much to bother
with. Who? Professionals - lawyers, accountants, management consultants
and various other people that sell their time and skills for a living.
For some reason professionals appear to have a poor reputation as
clients among PR consultancies and within the marketing and
communications industries generally.
In my opinion PR for a professional service organisation can be the most
intellectually demanding and challenging of any industry sector. You
find yourself working with well-educated people who understand how to
construct an argument and are willing to express an opinion but who are
also willing to listen to and follow advice when necessary.
A survey carried out last year by the Legal Times identified that 71 per
cent of firms felt that PR consultancies were excellent or good at
achieving the goals set them by the lawyers. Good news on the surface.
However, though most law firms were happy with the service and felt they
got value for money, many felt that the use of consultancies was a case
of ‘like it or lump it’ rather than genuine enthusiasm for the service.
Everything comes down to deliverables and fitting in with the business
development objectives of the firm. The Legal Times research discovered
some of the ways law firms felt PR consultancies could improve - in the
areas of differentiating their client from other lawyers and ensuring
that PR was used to encourage better communication rather than publicity
for its own sake.
It was also felt that the trade press of the law firm’s clients should
be targetted rather than just the legal pages of national newspapers or
David Maister, a former Harvard Business School professor, has made a
number of studies of professional services marketing and has identified
marketing tactics which have the greatest potential for developing new
clients. These have a natural match to services which would be provided
by a skilled PR consultant. In fact, they are equally applicable to how
PR consultancies should market themselves.
Maister identifies the following tactics as being the most effective in
terms of demonstrating to potential clients the skills of the
professional: commissioning and commenting on proprietary research;
hosting small scale seminars on a ‘hot topic’ for the industry; speaking
at client industry meetings or conferences and writing for the client’s
Maister argues that until a professional services organisation gets
these running smoothly, then there is little point in pursuing other
tactics. The problem though is that most professional organisations fail
to follow this approach instead they scattergun their activities. They
then fall victim of the ‘raspberry jam’ rule of marketing - the wider
you spread it, the thinner it gets.
Maybe there is a need for PR consultancies to take a much more
disciplined approach in handling their professional services clients. I
do not believe that many consultancies are aware of Maister’s work.
Perhaps they should be, if only to market themselves more effectively.
Failure to do so could well mean surrendering the market to the
management consultants after all.
Chris Hinze is public relations manager for law firm Nabarro Nathanson