Successful PR is one of the most authentic and effective ways for lawyers and law firms to raise their profiles. But what is PR? Public relations professionals work every day to get their clients in the news. They are agents who try to get lawyers and firms in the spotlight, whether as the subject of the news itself, or as sources who are quoted in news articles.

Mentions in the media build credibility — but negative mentions can hurt it. Let’s go one step further and break down the two basic forms of PR: proactive and reactive efforts. 

Proactive PR

As one might expect, proactive PR encompasses any planned and executed effort that generates publicity and media traction, such as interviews, articles, podcasts or profile opportunities. Proactive PR requires forethought and intentionality. It starts with voluntary outreach to a target audience with an end goal in mind. These efforts generally start with a press release or well-crafted and strategic media pitch based on one or a combination of the following:

  • New lateral hire
  • Practice group launch
  • New office opening
  • Event, such as a webinar or industry presentation 
  • Litigation win
  • Successful deal closing
  • Release of new thought leadership, such as an industry trends report
  • Community involvement and impact
  • Award or ranking success
  • Breaking news, such as a highly anticipated Supreme Court decision, new regulation or legal impact of a current event

Ideally, successful proactive PR efforts will result in timely on-the-record or background interview opportunities; coverage in your local business publication; a byline article placement; a feature Q&A; or other happenings that help to elevate the profile of your firm, attorneys, practices, or community and pro bono endeavors.

But what is the key to successful proactive PR? It’s all about the communication itself. As a communicator, I firmly believe that every single word counts. What story are you trying to tell? What skills are you hoping to highlight? What problem has been solved that is worth sharing? Before any proactive PR outreach, it’s helpful to identify the end goal and what makes your outreach worthwhile.

Editors, reporters and podcasters receive reams of pitches and press releases per day. If your proactive outreach is not customized and streamlined, it will likely get you nowhere.

Am Law Litigation Daily Editor Ross Todd published a column that was widely circulated here at Jaffe because of the many comical reminders it provided about that very point. He writes about litigation, but digging through his inbox from a random week, he found pitches about a cannabis tasting and gardening.

He mused that certain pitches from PR pros are “great for a distraction and a laugh with colleagues, but they’re part of a greater wave of email traffic that can pull me away from the sort of deep thinking and concentration it takes to bring you a column each morning.”

Mic. Dropped. Todd starts each demanding day with dedication to his craft and an intent to serve his audience and/or client — just like you and I do. As PR and marketing professionals, intentionality and commitment to quality in our proactive outreach is crucial.

Reactive PR

The other side of the coin is reactive PR, also known as “crisis communications” — the deployment of PR to clean up a snafu.

For this, let’s call on some recent real world examples of reactive communications.

  • Blake Lively apologizes for a “silly post” referencing to a Princess Kate “‘photoshop fails frenzy” after news of the Princess of Wales’s cancer diagnosis goes public.
  • After a horrific mid-air fuselage mishap, Boeing issues a statement over the wire conveying that safety is a “top priority” and they “deeply regret the impact this event has had on our customers and their passengers.”
  • Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce, after a heated sideline interaction with Chiefs coach Andy Reid during Super Bowl LVIII, admits he crossed a line and the scuffle, although due to his “passion,” was “unacceptable.”

I am sure you can get a clear picture of what reactive PR entails. As it relates to the legal industry, external statements may involve a practice group disbanding, high-profile lateral departures, a misbehaving managing partner or a complicated client representation.

However, here’s the secret about reactive PR: It is actually more proactive than one might think! Reactive PR, at its base, is about being prepared for the crises and the mishaps and the foot-in-mouth moments before they happen. It is expecting the need for damage control. It is crisis comms 101. As my colleague, Lisa Altman, details in her blog, “Facing a crisis? Follow this step-by-step guide,” having a plan — or at the very least, a few general holding statements that can be tailored as needed — in place is the best use of reactive PR to ensure preparedness amid what could feel like a sea of unknowns in today’s legal industry.

Perhaps the writing is on the wall and you have the foresight to prepare a holding statement in advance of XYZ worst case scenario. Perhaps you have all of 6 minutes to prepare a comment before reporters are calling or emailing with questions. Whatever the case may be, every word still matters. That is the common denominator in every PR endeavor.

If you are contemplating your own firm’s approach to proactive PR, reactive PR or both, please do not hesitate to reach out to me, Bethany Chieffallo, at At Jaffe, we thrive on strategy, wordsmithing and advance planning — both proactive and reactive.