Why Deadlines Matter

Any legal PR person knows why deadlines matter and the importance of understanding deadlines come in many different forms. Just three examples of deadlines include: A reporter calling and needing a comment from a partner within three hours; The firm’s director of marketing wants a press release tomorrow; or, a draft of an article is due to a publication in a week. All of these are deadlines that need are real because the person setting the deadline has, well, set the deadline. It becomes easy for a PR person’s professional life to be defined by those deadlines.

Sometimes deadlines can seem arbitrary and senseless, but most of the time, it is not your job to point that out. Trying to debate the reasoning behind a deadline is a distraction and can subtly relay a message that you are questioning the authority, or judgment of whomever is setting the deadline. There is always some reason that the deadline was set: The reporter himself needs to meet an internal deadline for a story, the marketing director needs to have the draft reviewed by a partner who is about to get onto a plane, or as many writers have noted, in the age of on-line media a deadline can differ widely depending on the media outlet and in reality be any time of the day or night.

Because deadlines do matter that means legal PR people sometimes have to set juggle priorities among possibly conflicting deadlines. How to do this isn’t always clear or easy, but being a PR professional means you are in the service business. Balancing the needs of the various constituencies is essential. One best practice I have returned to over the years is to always prioritize a reporter. The reporters count on the promises of the PR professional, and if you let the reporter down, its like what clients do to their law firms, they just stop sending opportunities.

But, reporters’ deadlines can be especially vexing. Often, you will have three hours or less to locate a busy partner who is in a client meeting or traveling on business or on vacation. But we are professionals, and part of our job is to respond to other people’s deadlines, and make our efforts appear seamless regardless of circumstances. After all, when we do track down that elusive partner and she gives a good quote to the reporter, the reporter benefits – and so do we.

The most important thing is to know what the deadline is and to work within it. And if you can’t, be honest about it and give the reporter time to find a new source so they don’t get burned. But, for most of us who have developed trust with reporters and developed long relationships with our clients, we are never put in that situation.

But it is not a perfect world, and sometimes the best laid plans don’t pan out. As a PR blogger wrote in 2013, “If the deadline is approaching but you won’t have an answer in time, call the reporter, apologize and admit you won’t have an answer by their deadline. The earlier you alert the reporter that you won’t make the deadline, the more he/she will respect you. . . . If you wait until the last minute, you’re putting the reporter in a bad spot. They may have to go back and edit a story they already wrote, or look for another source on short notice. A reporter’s deadline is more important than your convenience.  Respecting those deadlines is a sign of respect to the reporter, and ultimately you’ll receive better, more positive coverage.”

Even if a reporter seems obnoxious, or her deadline seems arbitrary, you are doing your job well if you make her deadline your deadline.