Leveraging Your Reputation: 2 tips for avoiding strain

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 Association CLE programs. Reach him at tc@tcpr.net.

Even though I’ve been doing public relations for several years, I still see a couple things that happen again and again that could damage a firm or attorney’s reputation and even strain their relationship with their publicist. If you’re going to develop a public relations plan, keep these two things in mind:

Make sure that you create a press release that really is newsworthy.

Recently, a firm wanted media attention for something that seemed on the surface to be controversial, which usually would get coverage. However, when I looked more closely at the situation, I realized that it would have resulted in manipulation of the media, which would have negatively affected the firm’s reputation for a long time. There was no news, but they wanted to twist an event to make it appear that way, just to get attention. This is dangerous because if the media scratches the surface and sees there’s nothing there, you will not get access to them in the future, and people will eventually think that you’re a phony. So make sure your news is real, solid, and is truly something that the media is interested in.

For instance, if you’re based in Chicago and want to get some publicity in New York, then personnel changes in your Chicago office is not going to be news, no matter how you think you’re spicing up your press release. It should be relevant to the market and something that people would really care about.

If you’re working with a publicist, don’t send gifts or letters to the media behind the publicist’s back.

Giving a gift to the media to garner positive and more substantial coverage is unethical and unprofessional. Members of the media choose what they will cover, and you have to earn the space that they give you in their stories and reports. A gift will damage your reputation, and the media might even see you as sleazy for attempting to convince them with something that seems like a bribe. So while it’s wrong to give a gift, doing it without the publicist’s knowledge makes the situation even worse because it shows that you don’t trust whom you’ve hired.

Sending a letter may seem more benign than a gift, but it can also strain your relationship with both the media and your publicist. First of all, you might irritate the media if the publicist has already contacted them, and you could end up confusing the message that you want to communicate. Plus, the publicist will be frustrated because there’s a public relations plan that does include you, but usually at a later stage. Just let the publicist do his or her job, and relax until you get a call for an interview.

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