Sometimes the terms “public relations” and “media relations” are used interchangeably, as if the sole purpose of the profession is to serve as a mediator between press and source.
In professional services, where I’ve spent my career, that’s just not true. Public relations in professional services, be they law firms or consultancies, accountants or auditors, requires a deeper understanding of an organisation’s purpose and goals. The most important work is done beyond the headlines.
Don’t just sell thyself – know thyself
Professional services firms love what they do. That’s fantastic, but it can mean they fall into the trap of doing no marketing activity beyond simply boasting of their credentials. That may sound strange, but it’s fair to say that nowadays audiences expect a lot more. They want companies to address relevant issues that affect them, and offer advice and insight into how to overcome them.
Journalists will never include overtly promotional material in their articles. Firstly because it’s not an advertorial slot, but more importantly because their readers rarely find much value from such messages. Here is where a PR strategy can come into play. A good PR professional will help craft and hone pertinent external messages that are less self-serving and more relevant to potential buyers.
Adapt to survive. Darwin said “the species that survives is the one that is able best to adapt and adjust to the changing environment in which it finds itself.” Effective PR is about connecting what a business does to the challenges its audience faces now. This approach can help professional services firms demonstrate expert knowledge and develop a core set of values that are built on and around trust.
PR can build brand identity
A brand’s strength and longevity is not just a logo, the colour scheme, or even the product. A company’s identity shouldn’t be attached to members of the C-suite or leadership team. Nor should it be solely preoccupied with sales messages and jargon that nobody outside of the business necessarily understands or cares about.
A strong brand identity is created by actively placing the values of the business at its core. The extra layer is when a PR strategy takes (and uses) those values to create external messages which are relevant to the audience. This is when the magic happens. Brand connections are made and relationships are forged. The best PR campaign strategies are ones that focus on giving the audience something of value – these are the ones that stand the test of time.
Ahead of the biggest change to tax legislation in a generation, awareness and uptake rates among SMEs was low. Intuit QuickBooks, a champion of small business owners, sought to help businesses through the process and stand as a trusted software partner in a fiercely competitive market.
From some audience research, QuickBooks found that four out of five business owners feared doing their taxes more than jumping out of a plane. It was from this market insight that a creative campaign was born. It took a dry topic and made it interesting, generating talkability and viewability.
Still not convinced?
Here are some common gripes from journalists and clients of professional services firms (who have been kept anonymous).
“Some of the language in press releases is awful. Indecipherable business jargon dutifully sent out by a PR to please a client or spokesperson who clearly has no consideration for the end reader or recipient.”
“There are some firms that get it right. I receive clear, useful and pertinent ideas and comments that I can use for my articles. Others are more focused on self-promotion, disinterested in facilitating information that anyone, not working in their organisation, cares about.”
“I’ve lost count of the times after a call or meeting with a spokesperson where I’ve thought – nice person but he/she spent too much time talking about their company and its products, and I can’t use any of it. The worst thing is nobody wins in this situation. The spokesperson is cross because I haven’t written about them. The PR hounds me asking when I’ll write something. And my editor is annoyed because I don’t have a story.”
“I like our law firm but I don’t like the amount of self-promoting material I receive.”
“The advice I get from a firm is important but it does come down to trust. Trusting someone who understands my business and the pressures I’m under is key to developing meaningful relationships.”
Angelina Haynes is an associate director based in London