There’s no doubt about it—your business will benefit from well timed and placed media exposure in outlets that your clients trust and follow. If you’ve come to the realization that you want fast, effective action and you lack the time and the connections necessary to generate the kind of publicity that will raise your profile, then it’s time to hire a professional.
Buying advertising is usually a good move, but PR looks more objective and hence, is more credible in the eyes of many. But what should you expect from a PR firm? How do you make sure they do what you pay them to do?
Unfortunately, many PR specialists are experts in taking client money and little else. You must do your homework and interview 3-4 firms before signing a contract. Contracts usually run for 6 months, with a review at 3 months that will allow you to cancel if not satisfied.
Your objectives and budget
First, consider what you would like to achieve in your PR campaign. Are you launching a new product/service, selling a book, seeking lucrative or prestigious speaking engagements, positioning to land important clients, enhancing your page placement on search engines or communicating your brand? Plan to spend from $500 – $2000 /month for an average small business campaign.
Which firm for you?
You’ll have the choice of hiring a large firm, small firm or Freelancer, an industry specific firm or generalist. Each option carries advantages and disadvantages. I recommend that Freelancers and small business owners avoid big PR firms because they are not designed for us. Big firms cost more money and may not give appropriate attention to smaller clients. Smaller firms and Freelancers are likely to be within your budget and more sensitive to your needs (in theory, at least).
Industry specific PR specialists are known by the media players in that industry and are more likely to have calls returned and requests for clients reviewed. The downside is, they may simultaneously work for your competitors. They may also run a one size fits all, cookie cutter promotional campaign.
When interviewing PR agencies, ask to speak with the person who will work on your account. That will not necessarily be the same person who shows up for the meeting. Make sure that your agency contact will give your account the personal attention that you will pay for.
In the interview, highlights of a strategy that was devised for a client similar to you in budget and needs should be presented. Be very clear about your objectives and listen well, take notes, ask questions and get specific answers. Do not be fooled by anyone who promises you x number of exposures per month or quarter. That is the promise of a scam artist.
References and results
When an interview goes well, ask to speak with 2-3 clients like yourself, who are willing to discuss their experience with the firm. What kind of media placements and exposure were achieved for clients with a similar profile and objectives? How long was the campaign, how long to achieve the desired results, which agent managed the account, what would they change about the process if done again, which additional services or quality controls might be written into the contract?
You will speak only with the firm’s most satisfied customers, but the conversations will help you to form expectations and learn what it’s like to work with a PR specialist. You will also confirm whether you should launch a campaign at this time.
Once you’ve signed on, adequate time should be devoted to learning more about you and your business, so that story angles can be perfected and a strategy developed. This is the REAL reason to hire a PR specialist. Your story might focus on personal or business challenges you overcame, your exceptional or innovative products /services/expertise, or your tenure and activity in a community that is meaningful to your clients. You do not hire a PR specialist to merely blast press releases all over the place. You can do that yourself.
A star is born
Events you might sponsor, awards and special recognition for you to receive, community and charity events you would be wise to attend, television and radio appearances and articles in blogs, magazines and newspapers are all potentially part of a promotional strategy that can be developed for you, at a price. Whatever it takes to position you well and generate interest, confidence and excitement in you and your business should be done, limited only by your budget.
Finally, you must understand how your PR firm demonstrates the work done for your account. Make sure that you receive weekly or monthly activity reports. Which organizations or media outlets were contacted, for what purpose and what was the outcome? Compare the achievements of your PR specialist to your objectives and make sure there is alignment. You are paying for results and not excuses.
Thanks for reading,