Treat Your Communications Counselors Like Your Lawyers

This is a guest post by Solo PR Pro Premium member Tara McDonagh 

Have you ever asked your lawyer to guarantee the outcome of a legal proceeding? Timing of that legal proceeding? I’m guessing no because you pay your lawyer to provide legal advice and represent you as a trusted and experienced counselor, but you know that the judge is really the decision-maker.  

So why ask your PR team to guarantee media results? To guarantee timing of a bylined article placement or published article after an interview?  (Ahem, by the way, that's against our code of ethics.)

Have you ever asked your lawyer to tell the judge to just disregard something you said while on the stand? Maybe that lawyer did ask, but the judge ultimately decided if it was dismissed or allowed into the record.  

So why expect your PR person to talk with a reporter and tell them to not print that statement you made to them in an interview? Like the judge, the reporter/editor ultimately makes that decision based on what was said.  

I think we’ve established a lawyer can’t make guarantees. Neither can a communications counselor.  

Communications professionals are valuable resources

That noted, you wouldn’t go into trial representing yourself. You still find value in the lawyer and trust them to give you the right advice and to represent you appropriately in legal proceedings.  

Consider looking at your communications and public relations counselors this same way. They have knowledge, experience and skill in something specific that can help support your business. They are your partners and brand representatives, working to achieve your business goals.  

The comparisons between lawyers and communications professionals are endless.  

  • In the case of the law, it’s the judge that’s the decision-maker; in media relations, it’s the reporter/editor.  
  • In the case of lawyers, you pay more for someone with 20 years of experience and solid results; in communications and PR, it’s the same. 
  • You might pay more for a giant law firm and get little time with a partner, but lots of time with the junior team. Or you may choose a small boutique or solo-shop lawyer who built her experience at a big firm before going out on her own where she spends one-on-one time with clients. The same comparison is true of a big PR/Communications agency vs a boutique or solo practitioner.  
  • In the case of a lawyer, you pay for their time. In PR it’s the same.  

Identify the strong communications professionals from the weak 

Now, don’t mistake me. This isn’t an excuse for any ambulance-chasing PR people to put off getting results – to simply collect a fee based on random “work” that’s similar to throwing darts blindfolded hoping something hits the board. 

A strong communications counselor can explain how a specific strategy connects to your business goals and generally de-mystify the process. 

 That doesn’t mean just anyone can do it, it takes skill and experience. There’s an art and a science to it.  But it does mean that your expert should be able to explain to you why they are doing what they’re doing and what the expected result will be. If it’s about earned media, then it might be about how pitching your position on a specific trend is unique and powerful and can draw additional attention.  

Here are some questions you can ask to help understand whether what your pro is doing makes sense and will support your goals: 

  • How does this tactic (messaging exercise, award submission, internal communications audit, media pitch, submitted article, news release, other) connect to our business goals?  
  • Why are you approaching this as (a pitch, a news release, a social media post, etc.) instead of another tactic?  
  • How can I help you achieve our goals?  
  • What are we hoping to achieve by this activity, or what’s the end result expected?  
  • Can you explain the timing it might take for this (media interview, article submission, messaging exercise etc.) to turn into a result? 
  • Are there other ways we should be preparing to use this result?  
  • What other strategies have you considered but decided against for whatever reason? 

Hold your communications counselors accountable, but remember, good pros treat client relationships as a partnership. When it comes to PR and communications, the “customer is always right” does not apply.  

If your PR person is more like a waiter taking orders than a lawyer advising strategy and taking thoughtful execution, it’s time to take another look. Worse, if you’re treating your PR person like a waiter rather than a lawyer, it’s time for you to take another look at your own approach. Sorry if that hurt a little. Authenticity is one of my values, so I’m committed to telling it to you straight.  

This post has been republished with permission from the author. It originally appeared on Tara McDonagh's LinkedIn

Tara McDonagh is President and Founder of Tara McDonagh Communications LLC where she helps clients in the green energy, technology and healthcare industries advance their business goals through thoughtful and creative communications planning and execution. With more than 20 years of B2B communications experience in both agency and corporate communications, public relations, internal communications, and crisis communications, her clients benefit from strong counsel and exceptional execution for communications with business impact. 

Photo via 123rf.com | Copyright : Aleksandr Davydov