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How to get the best out of your PR advisers

Anecdotal evidence suggests that the average legal PR agency-client relationship lasts as long as a dolphin’s gestation period. About eighteen months.

Comment by Isobel Williams*

Anecdotal evidence suggests that the average legal PR agency-client relationship lasts as long as a dolphin’s gestation period. About eighteen months.

That’s six months for the client to admit disappointment, six months to schedule an internal meeting to work out what to do, and six months to abandon the baby dolphin.

You will then flounder around in the open sea for a while before hiring another agency.

This is tiresome. How can you improve things?

We all know that clients would like to be able to order a yard and a half of press coverage then just have it delivered, wrapped in satin ribbon. But it doesn’t work like that. You, the client, have to do something.

Ask yourself what you really feel about your agency. And tell them. It would at least clear the air, even if it doesn’t lead to severance or improved service.

Then ask your agency to say what they think of you as a client. They might be so startled that they actually tell you. Unlikely, I know. But it’s possible that you are hindering them in their work.

Nobody’s perfect

Are you withholding information from your agency? Not confidential stuff, obviously, but newsworthy material – preferably before it’s due to take effect? “Ooh, there was this interesting judgment three weeks ago” doesn’t help.

The fastest people win races. After a judgment (and it can be a case you’re not involved with, remember), get commenting before the other guy.

Let’s talk about your competitor down the corridor. Or in the same room. The one getting better press coverage than yours. You’re not paranoid. It’s happening. Tell your agency you want some of the action. They may not know about your capability.

Social media. Oh dear.

You tweeted that? You put up that photo? If you have a wonderful lifestyle, talented children and loyalty to a football team, do your clients (who are funding that lifestyle) really want to hear about it? And if you tend to rehash what you receive from news services, without further comment or information, your followers will learn to glide over your output, maybe missing your rare gems.

Too much information

Agencies charge a lot for having to take evasive action. Don’t force them to take it.

So. Why did that journalist quote you when you told her it was off the record?

She quoted you because you said it. So why take the gigantic risk of speaking off the record at all?

I fear the answer may have something to do with courtship display. Were you trying to impress?

And while we’re on this territory, take any advice you’re given. If you’re involved in something heavy and being doorstepped by a clued-up tabloid journalist who’s ahead of the pack, don’t invite him in for tea and a chat.

You think I’m making that up, don’t you. I’m not. Panic can wreck people’s judgment. So if in doubt make sure you’re with someone more sensible under pressure than you are. Such as your hamster.

They’re only doing their jobs

Don’t despise the journalist because he doesn’t know what you know. He’s not paid to know what you’re paid to know. He’s paid to find out stuff from people like you and to turn it into something other people will read. The journalist is like the client because he could lead you to money. So treat him as such.

But be careful. He whispers things in your ear: “It’s OK, just tell me about how you took those speeding points for your husband. It’ll be fine. Here, have a tissue.”

He is professional. In his own way. Which is not your way. He is looking to beat his colleagues to a front page story. He may well inhabit a completely different moral landscape from yours.

If you don’t like the outcome, don’t complain to the journalist or to the journalist’s boss. Take advice on how to extract something of value, such as a bit of decent coverage, rather than a teensy apology which no one will spot.

Your deathless prose

Why did you agree, without consulting anyone else, to buy a page of advertorial – you pay to get your article published – under the mistaken belief that it was editorial, an article published for free? Bang. That’s five grand out of your marketing budget. Canny advertising sales people bypass marketing staff (who are wise to their ploys) and cold-call a lawyer if they can.

If you’ve been asked to write an article (a real one), meet the deadline. Or give warning that you can’t, to allow substitution. Before the deadline.

Don’t write an article and expect your agency to place it unless a journalist has commissioned you to write it first. You need to know what the editor’s requirements are before you write anything.

And what if your article is printed in garbled or truncated form? That’s because you didn’t follow the editorial brief. Your agency shouldn’t have allowed it to go to the editor in that state – but maybe they didn’t have the expertise to make your article oven-ready. So your words were rehashed or cut at speed by a journalist who knows nothing about your subject. Editors don’t have to give you a proof. They may not have the staff, or the time.


Watch your agency like a hawk. The minute an agency wins a client like you they have an orgy of mutual congratulation then direct their energies to looking for another client like you.

And use your time wisely.  Don’t get bogged down in reading too much guff about marketing. Don’t read articles like this.

There is no magic bullet.

Good luck.


* Isobel Williams is a PR consultant, artist and blogger as seen on + also at &


One reply on “How to get the best out of your PR advisers”

Couldn’t agree with you more, Isobel. “How do I get on the front page of the New York Times?” You’re a Legal IT vendor. The only way that’s going to happen is if you go up on top of your building – in New York – and start shooting.

Reasonable expectations is what it’s all about, and working closely with your PR folks doesn’t hurt, either!

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