Chief Strategist at Falk Communications and Research
Website Address: https://janetlfalk.com
How did Falk Communications come to be?
Falk Communications and Research was founded in 1990 when I unhappily had the rug pulled out from under me at my first public relations agency as an employee. And over the intervening years, this is now 30 years, I have from time to time raised the flag and re-posted my shingle working as a solo entrepreneur. As you know, many people think that marketing and public relations are an expense. You and I know that they are an investment. So from time to time when I find myself on the sidelines because of market downturn, budget cuts, employee reorganization, loss of business, then I hang up my shingle and work as an independent consultant. And now, after the financial crisis of 2008, I found that there were no jobs to be had. And since I have a few gray hairs and I’m over 50, I decided it was time to permanently work for myself. There you have it.
What changes have you seen within public relations and how has Falk Communications adapted to that?
Let’s talk a little bit about what public relations is. Public relations is the strategic communications process by which an organization builds mutually beneficial relationships with its publics. Now thinking about who those publics might be, they are current customers and prospective customers but they also are employees, vendors to your company, competitors in your industry, elected officials, regulators of your industry, even members of the community in which you operate. So you have to think all of these people have their own agendas and their own bias. And in building a mutually beneficial relationship, you have to speak to what are their concerns. And they are looking in different places for information and resources. So some of that is the news media, and people think that that is the larger part of the work that I do, and in fact news media is a large part of what I do, but I also work with internal communications, newsletters to employees, newsletters to customers, and keeping in touch with a variety of audiences through outreach programs, webinars, and so on. All of this calls into play both written material and digital material. I think the biggest change of the last few years has been, of course, the rise of social media and also the use of video. And that’s going to continue. I would caution, however, that whatever is posted by the organization itself or by other so-called authorities has to be taken with a grain of salt. You have to consider is this a reliable source or not. And a lot of things that I find on social media are not necessarily authoritative and reliable sources. I think this is something that the public needs to keep in mind when they are consuming information. That which comes from the media has been analyzed, dissected, and edited whereas a lot of things that are posted elsewhere on social media and through video may not have gone through the same scrupulous fact checking process.
Can you talk to me about the process of legal PR and what you guys do?
Certainly. So the first thing you have to consider is one, is it in the client’s best interest for an attorney to be talking to the media about a cause or about a case and then, once you have determined that, you have to get the client’s permission. A lawyer has to be very careful in what they say to the press because there are rules of conduct: the rules of professional conduct and also the model rules that govern what a lawyer can and cannot say to the press. You always have to keep in mind that anything that’s circulating in the news or on social media might later have a consequential impact on the judicial proceedings. So I think those are things that you have to keep in mind uppermost: is it in the client’s best interest, does the client agree that being in touch with the media or posting on social media is going to be in their best interest, and keep in mind the potential boomerang effect of having something appear in public that could potentially affect the judicial proceeding.
I don’t think people realize how powerful public relations is and the effect that it can have. It really can bring about great change. I think you actually have a very interesting story on that. So why don’t you go ahead and share that with everybody.
Susan, I’m happy to do that. I once represented an employment attorney who had a sexual harassment case and the case was filed in court in the morning. I issued a press release, with of course the client’s permission, which had a link to the court document around 11:00 and then I followed up with reporters at specific industry publications to make sure that they had seen the press release and were aware of the matter. And at 1:00 that same day, a news story appeared on an industry website newsletter, and by the end of the day, my client had called me and said, “Janet, I just got off the phone with defense counsel and we’re proceeding to settlement talks.” Now imagine you filed the case in the morning and before the end of the day, opposing counsel had called him and said, “we have to talk about a settlement.” And how did that phone call happen? It was because people who were sponsors of advertising on the network, that was one of the defendants in the case, were very dismayed and upset to learn that there were allegations of sexual harassment at the network and they threatened, I imagine, to pull their advertising dollars from the show. Faced with this potential loss of revenue, the network decided that they had to settle the case out of court. So how did that phone call to prompt a settlement happen? It happened because of the news story that generated the calls from the sponsors who advertised on the show and then the call came down to internal general counsel, “Make this situation go away.” That’s the power of a news story.
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