Tom Ciesielka is President of TC Public Relations (www.tcpr.net). Tom has over 25 years of marketing and public relations experience, working with individual lawyers and midsize law firms. He is also a former board member of the Legal Marketing Association in Chicago and has spoken at Chicago Bar Associations CLE programs. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
When a public relations staff and attorneys work together, conflict can arise. This is because the public relations expert wants to get the best information out as soon as possible, especially in a crisis communications situation. However, attorneys do not want anything to be released without their approval and may end up saying nothing in order to protect their clients. Both sides care about doing a good job, but they have to make sure that they can work together successfully.
Here are three principles that will help attorneys and their public relations staff avoid problems:
- Make decisions before a crisis. The public relations professional should know who will be involved in public image decisions, long before those decisions are made. Before a crisis hits, set up a protocol of how information will be processed.
- Be creative with your message. In a crowded media message marketplace, it’s important to communicate to the public in a way that clears through the clutter. Think about the two ways to describe what McDonald’s sells: they sell either 100 percent beef hamburgers or ground up cows on a bun. It’s the same message, but one creates a linguistic liability.
- Be careful about public information. The public relations expert should know what to communicate during pre-trial publicity. However, the attorneys should think carefully about what information is publicly distributed, because it can affect a company several years later in court, even when the media has moved on to the next big story.
These are just a few tips to get you started. You can work with your public relations staff to create more guidelines that fit your particular situation.