Academic journal article Public Relations Journal

Making Professional Services Grow: Practitioners Help Firms Polish Images, Build New Business

Academic journal article Public Relations Journal

Making Professional Services Grow: Practitioners Help Firms Polish Images, Build New Business

Article excerpt

One fertfle new ground for pubfic relations practice involves professional services-firms that provide legal, accounting, architecture and management consulting expertise, to name a few. As such firms place greater emphasis on pubhc relations, practitioners within these organizations are increasingly involved in strategic planning, issues management and sophisticated marketing programs.

At the nations professional services firms, public relations is increasing in influence and sophistication. In accounting and auditing, architecture and design, law, and management consulting, in-house public relations practitioners are creating and implementing programs that are similar to communications efforts at major corporations.

In professional services, practitioner's job titles and day-to-day functions vary by the type of firm and discipline. But, in a majority of positions, public relations is closely aligned with marketing. A pubfic relations practitioner in a service firm is expected to develop consistent messages targeted to the firm's goals. Marketing communications, media relations, image building, business development, crisis communications and employee relations are areas of practice highest in demand.

Called "newest frontier"

Professional services has been called the "newest frontier" for public relations practice. In the past five years, there's been a major upswing in the use of public relations at professional services firms, although public relations has been an accepted part of doing business at some management consulting and architectural firms for decades.

A landmark Supreme Court decision in 1977 provided a major impetus for stepped up public relations in all professional services. In its decision regarding Bates and O'steen v. State Bar of Arizona, the high court declared unconstitutional Arizona's sweeping ban on advertising by law firms. In attacking the notion that advertising by lawyers is inherently unprofessional, the court opened the way for broad promotion of professional services, including wider use of public relations techniques.

The Society for Marketing Professional Services (SMPS), representing the architectural and engineering fields, was organized informally in 1973 but experienced its greatest growth during the '80s. SMPS now numbers 3,500 members, according to Gaye Lucy, editor of the association's official publication, Marketer.

Law firms are the latest to hire in-house public relations specialists. Membership in the National Association of Law Firm Marketing Administrators (NALFMA) has grown from 12 in 1985 to almost 1,000 today. "All our members have responsibility for public relations to one degree or another," reported Ellen G. LoCurto, executive director.

And in just 15 months, PRSA's Professional Services Section has attracted some 200 members nationwide. "Our expansion has been explosive," stated Daniel E. Orsborn, chairman of the section and head of The Orsborn Group, San Francisco, CA. Professional services is probably one of the fastest-growing employment opportunities in the national public relations marketplace today."

To explore the role of public relations specialists and gain an inside view of working in the "trenches" in professional services, Public Relations Journal interviewed practitioners and principals at firms in four disciplines: accounting and auditing, architecture and engineering, law, and management consulting. Those contacted were asked to comment not only on matters specific to their practice but also on how they deal with broader issues like crisis communications and international marketing.

Seek "ground-floor" opportunity

What attracts pubfic relations professionals to the classic professions? To Gary Gerard, director of corporate communications, The Boston Consulting Group, management consultants, Boston, MA, a prime advantage is "the experience of being on the ground floor when professional services firms are beginning to see the advantages for the first time of approaches like marketing communications"

"Professional services are where it's at if you want to be part of an emerging practice and feel you have a future," agreed Susan Beer Leeder, assistant director, communications & public relations, Deloitte & Touche, New York City, one of the Big 6 accounting and auditing firms. …

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