COMMENT: PLATFORM; Why PR should be watching the professionals

Professionals have a poor reputation as clients among PR people but too often the agencies fail to meet their needs, says Chris Hinze

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

legal magazines.

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

trade press.

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

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