Media and Journalism, Small Law Firms, Social Media, Social Networking Websites

The Practice: Are Public Relations Firms Still Relevant?


Now you can go back to work, or your Xbox, or continue reading. Whatever makes your precious self happy.

After I was solo for five years, I started Tannebaum Weiss — new office space, business cards, stationery, phone number, all the bells and whistles. I know in today’s world you may wonder, “Why didn’t you just get a new laptop?,” but back then, it was okay for lawyers to operate like professionals and interact with other human beings in office buildings.

I also hired a public relations firm. I wanted to get the word out about our practice and thought this was the best way. We didn’t have Facebook or Twitter, and the media was still interested in reporting about things other than, well, what was on Facebook and Twitter. It was important to be at events where potential relationships could be started, as we couldn’t just hire some kid to tweet all day about how awesome we are. We wanted to establish the firm in the community and couldn’t do it with a Facebook Fan Page.

We retained the PR firm for one year. It was expensive. We couldn’t really afford it, but I thought it was important and that it would somehow pay for itself. Of course, this was also back in the day when investing in your law firm meant more than just finding an outlet at the local Starbucks and hoping it all worked out without having to invest a dime. It was a learning experience — from the initial interviews (we interviewed two firms) to the working relationship….

The first thing to know is that PR is not marketing. Both have elements of each other, but marketing is closer to advertising. Public relations is closer to relationship building. Public relations requires the clients to participate. As you know from my prior posts, marketing can require as little as a check and a kid with a keyboard.

The first firm we interviewed was well known. Every time a hotel, restaurant, or club opened up, they seemed to be behind the promotion. Their agents were mini-celebrities and it appeared that working with them was going to get us noticed in the community, so we brought them in for an interview.

At the outset, the owner said: “We would love to work with you, but we don’t have experience with lawyers.”

I asked why that mattered. We were looking to be promoted, this firm seemed to do a great job with promotion, we had some money, let’s go.

“We would first need to learn about your practice, who you are looking to meet, what events you would want to be involved with, and what your ‘message’ would be.”

So lesson one, if you’re looking for a PR firm, they’re like law firms — all are not created equal. Some firms have particular divisions, while others concentrate on a certain segment of the business community.

The second interview went something like this: “We only represent professional firms, government bodies, and corporate entities. We’ve read up on your practice and think we can put you together with some of our other clients and introduce you to some of our media contacts that would be interested in speaking with you about stories they are writing.”

I asked about press releases, as at that time this was my perception of PR firms — they spent their days sending out press releases and waiting for a bite. “We can send out press releases, but we’d rather set up meetings with our media contacts so that when they are doing a story, they know someone to call.”

With the onslaught of social media, you may believe that your best move is to invest in a “digital marketing firm.” I hate to break it to you, but many of those are former traditional marketers that now want you to believe they have the secrets to the internet because no one wants them to produce a brochure anymore. I get it: everyone wants to be found on the internet, and there is no question that lawyers need to have some internet presence. Unfortunately, developing relationships that will provide good clients over the long term is not something worth waiting for as much anymore. We want our clients to buy us like they buy a pair of shoes — point, click, overnight shipping, done.

While I understand that everyone needs to make a living, there is still room for traditional public relations services. What a good PR agent does well is to put you together with the right people and events, and keep you away from the wrong ones. This may mean a one-on-one meeting, a sponsorship at a key event, or making you available to the media (and I’m not talking about those pathetic emails about how so-and-so lawyer is available to comment on the latest court opinion, or verdict, or tragic news story).

While every lawyer in town is running to the so called “digital marketing firms,” consider a public relations firm. You may find it better to actually meet the people that can help you build your business, rather than hope they are pointing and clicking their way to your bank account.

Brian Tannebaum will never “get on board” at the advice of failed lawyers who were never a part of the past but claim to know “the future of law.” He represents clients, every day, in criminal and lawyer discipline cases without the assistance of an Apple device, and usually gets to work (in an office, not a coffee shop) by 9 a.m. No client has ever asked if he’s on Twitter. He can be reached at

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