Not every public relations firm is created equal. That’s why when deciding which firm to hire, it’s imperative that you do your homework. The first thing any company needs to understand when hiring a public relations firm is that bigger (and usually more expensive) isn’t always better. By the same token, just because a PR firm is small that doesn’t mean it can’t offer quality and personalized service. The firm you hire needs to be big enough to be able to meet your needs, but not so big that you are just another retainer fee to them.
Before signing on the dotted line, it’s best to meet the publicist with whom you will be working. Often senior publicists are the ones who go out and meet with potential clients. But once the contract is signed PR efforts are handed over to younger and less experienced publicists with some senior publicist oversight.
Meeting the person who will handle your PR is important because you will want to make sure that you feel comfortable working with that person and that they understand exactly what you expect of them.
Public relations today means many things to many people; so be clear what efforts you are expecting and what results you want to achieve. That doesn’t necessarily mean that all goals will be met immediately, but if you are not on the same page as your publicist with regard to expectations, then you may be disappointed.
For example, if your goal is to be quoted in a trade publication designed to reach your target audience, but your PR firm continues to get you quoted in non-trade publications, then you may feel as if your time is being wasted. Make it clear who your target audience is.
Some public relations professionals take the “throw it up on the wall and see if it sticks” approach. During my many years as a journalist I saw this approach taken by several PR folks. If you have a business that sells widgets and your PR firm is pitching your story to a reporter who has never written about, nor would ever write about widgets, then he or she is wasting their time and your money.
While most publicists are not going to share their media contact list, you can ask them to make sure that the publications on their list match your target goals. Ask them if they have created a targeted media list customized for your needs. If there are publications that you read and that you know your target audience reads, then tell your publicist to add them to their list.
Many people who hire publicists are under the impression that all a PR firm needs to do is get the word out about their company and the media will come running – not so. You might believe that your company is the greatest at what it does, has the most innovative product, or some of the most unbelievable leaders, but that doesn’t make it so. You have to have a compelling story to tell – one that makes you or your firm stand out from the rest. It can be as simple as a unique product, a new twist on an existing service, or even a feature article about an interesting person who works with or for you. A good public relations person will be able to determine what will be of interest to others.
Before signing a contract make sure you are not locked in for an extended period of time. While PR efforts take time to develop it’s not unusual for PR firms to offer an option to get out of the contract if they do not deliver within 90 days. Most PR pros work on a retainer, so expect to pay for the first month upfront to get started.
Also make sure that you understand what is included in that retainer. For example, the writing and distribution of a press release to the media may be included, but there may be an additional fee if you want it placed on a paid wire service. Some firms will include other costs such as copies, mileage, media training and social media in their retainer, others may not. Be clear about what is, and is not, included.
Finally, and this may be one of the more important things to consider when hiring a PR firm: Public relations is a two-way street and publicists can’t do their job without help from the client. Yes, we can write press releases, draft blogs and pitch stories, but we need our clients to be available to approve those releases or take calls from the media when opportunities arise. Without your assistance your PR efforts are doomed to fail.
Susan R. Miller is founder of Garton-Miller Media, a full-service, South Florida-based public relations firm. Susan is a former journalist with more than 30 years of experience. She has written for local, state and national publications. Her clients include attorneys, non-profit organizations and healthcare professionals.
Garton-Miller Media is a full-service, South Florida-based public relations firm. Founder Susan R. Miller has 30 years of experience as a writer, journalist and PR professional.