Hire a PR Firm…Before You Need One
by Scott Lorenz
Westwind Communications

How can a company or individual know if it needs to hire a public relations/marketing firm?

There are many factors to weigh when considering if you need to hire outside help to obtain the public relations, media relations, marketing boost, promotional or advertising assistance needed to take your company to the next level.

If you aren’t completely certain after debating the pros and cons ask these questions:

Are we getting all the PR we deserve?

Is our competition getting more than their fair share of media coverage?

Would media coverage bring more business to the firm?

Do we have a PR strategy for continuous year round media coverage?

Is our in-house “PR person or department” overburdened with “in-house” work like the company newsletter?

First of all, let’s define a PR firm, some people interchange a PR firm with a marketing firm, or marketing agency, or even an ad agency. Basically a public relations firm handles media relations and is the interface between a company and the news media.

A public relations firm or publicist will “pitch” the media on a story idea involving a company, invention or author. A good pitch about a story that would interest the people who read, watch or listen to a particular media outlet gets coverage.

Many larger companies rely on in-house staff trained in public relations or marketing while others hire PR consultants or publicists to handle their PR campaigns.

Joe Nicassio, author of Guerrilla PR Brand Manager, says whether a company should conduct its public relations, marketing or advertising campaigns internally or externally should be determined by these factors”

Do you NEED solid, consistent media exposure week after week, or are you satisfied with “occasional” exposure?

Do you have the internal staff and expertise to commit the internal resources to your public relations, marketing, advertising efforts?

If you have the internal staff, and they understand Guerrilla PR principles, then there may be no reason to hire an outside agency. Paradoxically, the busier you get, the easier it is to parlay, or “set aside” consistent, important PR activities. Don’t get caught in that trap!

“Public Relations is a craft that requires PASSION,” adds Nicassio. “You may need PR, and you may even have the people to conduct your public relations, marketing, advertising campaigns but that’s not enough. To be truly effective, your PR campaigns must be conducted with PASSIONATE CONSISTENCY.”

Here are several reasons why I believe it makes good business sense to hire a public relations firm to market your product or service:

PR firms can get you TV and radio coverage A PR firm can get you interviewed on radio and TV. Every day thousands of interviews are conducted on TV and Radio stations across the North America and several hundred are with experts and authors. If your in house PR person is not trying to get interviewed by the producers of those shows they won’t find you because they simply don’t have time to look for you amongst the many interesting people clamoring for their attention.

PR firms have regular contact with national media outlets PR firms are in regular contact journalists, editors, writers and producers from top national magazines, newspapers and radio/TV programs. When was the last time you talked to representatives from ABC’s 20/20… Prime Time… CNN… People… Good Morning America… Newsweek… Publishers Weekly… Family Circle… Forbes… ABC Radio Network… Time Magazine… Dateline NBC… The View… Oprah’s O magazine… Fortune Small Business… Cosmopolitan… Fox News… Good Housekeeping or Newsweek? Probably not lately. And your in-house PR person probably has not either. The reason? Your in-house person has not established the relationships with these media outlets. A PR firm with several clients can pitch one, two or three stories while talking to the same reporter or producer. An in house PR department does not have this synergy which leaves your firm out of the loop.

PR firms have multiple resources such as an “experts subscription service”

Westwind Communications and other top PR firms belong to paid subscription services which provides dozens of leads everyday from media members looking for an expert to comment on a particular story. PR firms present you and your firm as an authority on a particular topic and request an interview. The media will, in nearly every case, mention your firm in the story as it establishes your credibility with the reader.

Your in-house person is not likely to know about this service or perhaps the several thousand dollars a year it costs to get the leads is not cost effective for a firm to buy this service. However a PR firm can spread this cost over several clients and glean the hundreds of daily queries looking for the one that may work for you.

PR firms can provide media training Regardless of your experience most executives need media training. PR firms use media trainers to prep their clients. When you use a PR firm they have access to the best ones in the business. Why do you need one? Just watch the interview talk shows you can tell when an inexperienced executive is being interviewed. A good trainer will show you how to “plug” your company, product or service without sounding like an overbearing salesperson. The training helps you capitalize on every interview and maximize each opportunity to the fullest.

A PR firm can get your press release to the top of the heap.

For your story to compete for attention in the “hard news” slot it must be compelling and people need to care about it. On a tour of the Detroit News a couple of years ago I asked to be taken to the mailroom. There I saw 20 giant four-foot tall mailbags that come into the mailroom every day. All I could think of was how many thousands of press releases were in that pile, and how the odds of any one of them seeing the light of day were not good. If your press release is in that pile, you want your story to get to the top of the heap and a PR firm can improve your odds dramatically. Furthermore, since most story ideas are emailed these days, its even more unlikely your press release will be opened by a reporter since SPAM is out of control. Public relations professionals also have built up contacts in the media, who trust them for story ideas, and will know where, who and when to pitch a certain type of story.

As for fees, most PR firms operate on a monthly retainer basis and a minimum time commitment ranging from a few months to a multiple years. The level of the fee depends upon the scope of the project. Will it take five people, one person? Is the firm interested in local, state, regional, national or international public relations? Is the firm public or private? If its public there are more SEC required reports that need filling as well as other government regulations. All of this will affect the rate quoted.

So it’s best to determine what you want and then work with the firm that has a track record of accomplishments and media placement. Good PR is more than hot air, it requires continuous implementation of a well thought out strategy to get results.

The following checklist is suggested by Nicassio to “size up” any public relations firm you are considering to hire:

Do you get along with the members of the firm? Hiring a PR agency is a collaboration that you can benefit from, month after month, year after year. Quality rapport is an essential ingredient.

Are they realistic, in terms of managing your expectations, or do they promise “pie in the sky”? It’s one thing for a PR firm to promise results; it’s another thing to promise “specific” results. Maybe you’d like to get on Oprah Winfrey from the start…so would everyone else. But be prepared to take advantage of several secondary media opportunities before you get to the top tier. Several base hits can score you more runs than going for the grand slam every time.

Is the PR firm creative? Creative PR people will come up with more “angles” to test.

Do they understand how to pitch your story? A progressive PR firm will be effective AND efficient at telling your story — yielding you more media coverage.

Do they listen to what you say? Let’s face it…your PR needs are constantly evolving. Your PR firm should listen and respond to your unique, evolving needs.

Are they using a “hard sell” to get you to sign? A good PR firm is a busy PR firm. They don’t need to sell you. Their track record will allow you to decide based on the evidence.

Do they have local, regional, national media contacts? When you go to a great PR firm, they have cultivated several strategic media relationships, over many years of time. Do they have the contacts to place your story in front of the appropriate media?

Did they outline a campaign game plan for you? You can predict the effectiveness of a PR firm by the soundness of their overall strategic approach.

Have you seen samples of their work? Track record comes in the form of QUALITY of exposure, in addition to the QUANTITY of exposure.

Do you feel that they will carry out your PR campaign with consistent PASSION?

Do you should feel comfortable with the fee and the contract? Getting good PR is a process. It requires well thought out plans, implemented with passion, and a focus on results in the form of getting your story told to the world.

So whether you conduct your public relations efforts from within or whether you hire an outside PR firm, if media exposure is valuable to you than you must commit to public relations as an ongoing, systematic part of your marketing mix.

About Scott Lorenz
Scott Lorenz is President of Westwind Communications, a public relations and marketing firm that specializes in book marketing and author publicity. His clients have been featured by Good Morning America, FOX & Friends, CNN, ABC Nightly News, ESPN, The New York Times, Nightline, TIME, PBS, NPR, USA Today, Woman’s World, & Howard Stern to name a few. To discuss how Westwind Communications helps its clients get all the publicity they deserve and more visit:www.westwindcos.com, call 734-667-2090 or email scottlorenz@westwindcos.com