There were so many things that struck me as just plain wrong when it comes to PR 101 and reputation at the Republican National Convention that I thought law firm leaders can learn from when trying to convey a critical message about their firm, their clients or an important legal/business/community issue.
So here are five reminders for law firm leaders from PR mistakes made by the Republican National Committee:
1– Be consistent with words and policies. Paul Ryan, in same speech, railed against government in favor of the individual — but also told Americans that if they are feeling down, it’s not their fault, it’s their leaders’ fault. Which is it? And Ann Romney spent much time talking about her” love” for women, yet the new GOP platform would disallow an abortion even if a woman is brutally raped.
2 — Show compassion when people are hurting. As Isaac marched into Louisiana and Mississippi, after doing damage in Florida, Mitt Romney didn’t mention the hurricane/tropical storm even ONCE in his speech. He then mocked President Obama’s concern for environmental issues like rising oceans. Today, Romney is touring New Orleans yet his silence on Isaac last night makes it look opportunistic more than compassionate.
3– Talk about your audience more than yourself. Governor Susana Martinez of New Mexico went on and on about HER story instead of talking about Romney and the issues. If she was on the ticket, it would have made perfect sense. But few watching at home wanted to learn more about her..they wanted to learn about Romney and Ryan. Whether your audience is a group of prospective clients, law firm employees, or the media, make the story and prose about THEM.
4 – Speakers’ roles need to be defined and the content of each speech needs to be different. How many more Convention speakers did we need to hear talk about how they raised themselves up from their bootstraps? I expected former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, a respected stateswoman, to talk about Romney’s foreign policy credentials. It didn’t happen even though she talked about the dangers in the world. When organizing a law firm event or meeting that involves multiple speakers before an internal or external audience, make sure that the content of their speech/remarks truly match their credentials. For example, the head of human resources can talk to new attorneys about firm benefits while the head of information technology talks about data protection and the head of PR/marketing instructs about the firm’s media relations policies. If you lead a small firm, then consider using expert consultants to talk about specialty areas on your behalf.
5– Everything you say can be fact checked and recorded with a mobile device. At so many points at the Convention, things were said that were deemed inaccurate by the media and beyond. It took seconds for those watching at home to look up an old media story or voting record to call GOP out on facts — and then a few more seconds to Tweet about it. Law firm leaders can sometimes get too comfortable with an audience and say things that are either inaccurate, offensive or both. It can happen at the podium, in law firm memos and in emails. And just one slip up can damage a firm’s reputation if that questionable content ends up on an influential legal blog or in other media. Managing partners and other law firm leaders should treat speeches, meetings or interviews with the media the same way: accuracy above of all else.
Note: We’ll also be critiquing the Democratic National Convention when it concludes.