Make Sure You're Ready, Don't Expect Miracles
I was a journalism/public relations major in college. As a result, when I launched my first business, I knew that I had to incorporate media outreach as a part of my marketing strategy. Yet, the first time I hired a public relations firm, I was terrified.
The fee of $250 a month was huge for my small business at the time. I had to pay it on the first of the month, whether or not I had been featured in even the tiniest media outlet the month before. Over the years, I've had the opportunity to work with many publicists, and interviewed many on Indie Business Radio. (Check the Resources at the end of this post to stream or download those interviews.)
Here's what some of my favorite media professionals told me I needed to share with you about using their services to get media attention for your small business.
Make Sure You're Ready
Everyone I interviewed emphasized that your "readiness" for media attention plays a crucial role in a good PR relationship. Sabrina Bouyahi of Push The Envelope PR in New Jersey highlights the importance of a fresh, clean website, professional high resolution photos and a good looking logo.
Andrea Kane of The Organic Beauty Expert Blog agrees, stressing that website and brochure product photos must be clear and professional or they will be disregarded, no matter how good the product is. "Even if a product is great, I will disregard it because of poor quality photos. Good product photos are at least as important to my blog as the information about the products," she says.
Clearly, if your website is in shambles or your product photos are grainy, unclear and poorly lit, you should fix those problems before hiring a publicist.
Set Realistic Goals
According to the professionals, you must know what your goals are before hiring a PR firm. You may think that an appearance on a weekday morning talk show, Oprah or NPR reflect maximum success, but that may not be the case for your specific business. How realistic is it anyway, especially if you're just starting out?
"Be realistic," says Sabrina. "Most publications have a long lead time and it takes time for editors to put your products in the cue."
Don't overlook media outlets in your own back yard either. My first editorial feature in a small community newspaper included a several-paragraph story and a large photo of me in my store. It took about two weeks from the time I was interviewed to the time the newspaper was published. Ask your publicist to reach out to your local radio and television stations, newspapers and magazines.
Sabrina warns against becoming discouraged if you don't see immediate results. In other words, patience is a virtue when it comes to PR.
I learned this lesson in a big way a few months after I hired my first "real" publicist, Katherine Hutt of Nautilus Communications in Virginia. I once asked Katherine how many times she had told anyone in the media about my business (that is, how many times she had "pitched" my business for a story), and how many people had responded. Her exact reply is seared into my memory. She said, "If I told you how many times I pitched you, and how many times I got a reply, your feelings would be really hurt."
Look For Chemistry
Katherine also emphasizes the importance of chemistry to a successful publicist/client relationship. She feels strongly that if there's no chemistry, it will be impossible to work toward common goals.
"Whether you hire a PR firm or an independent PR professional, one of the most important factors is the chemistry between you and your service provider. That person should feel like an extension of your team and should share your vision and your excitement for the future of your company," says Katherine.
Having worked with Katherine myself for an extended period of time several years ago, I can vouch for her observation. Katherine and I made a good team. We shared common interests and understood and respected each other as professionals. The wonderful synergy that we developed as business colleagues has lasted far beyond the termination of our business relationship, and today, Katherine is a treasured friend.
If you "click" with someone, chances are good it will be a win/win for both of you.
Get An Exclusive
According to Shannon Cherry of Cherry Communications in Albany, New York, you should try to have exclusivity in your field in terms of your publicist's clients. Shannon says, "Clients should have exclusivity in their field when it comes to the PR firm they use. For example, if you are an organizing expert, don't hire a publicist that represents other organizing experts. Otherwise, when a reporter calls your publicist looking for an organizing expert, who is s/he going to pitch? How will a choice be made? You don't want to compete with other companies at your own PR firm."
Do Your Homework
It's also important to be diligent when selecting a PR professional. Don't just hire someone on a whim or because you feel like you need some PR help "now." Marla Russo of Bella PR in New York City says, "Make sure you feel confident that the firm or person you are hiring is good at what they do. Ask to see recent press releases they've created for other clients, and even call some of them to get references and specific information about what the publicist has done for their business."
Be of Service and Be in Touch
Michelle Tennant of Wasabi Publicity emphasizes the importance of choosing a publicist who can help you build relationships with media contacts who cover your particular industry. "A good professional knows what the media representative needs and helps you get it for them," she says.
Michelle emphasizes that it's never a matter of sending out bunches of unsolicited product samples. "The last thing a magazine editor or talk show producer needs is another unsolicited package filling up their office space. What you can send is articles on topics of interest to them with your comments added, or send them trends you are seeing on the "front lines" as you do business," says Michelle.
Like Sabrina, Michelle also stresses the importance of patience. "You may have to contact a media representative numerous times before your product and/or expertise lands you in one of their articles or show segments," she says.
What About You?
Are you a publicist with some tips to help small business owners hire firms like yours? Are you a small business owner with a PR success story to share? Disaster story? Or maybe you've had success doing your own PR!? Post your experiences, opinions and insights in the comments section below.
7 Questions to Ask When Choosing a PR/Marketing Firm by Shannon Cherry (PDF)
My interview with Sabrina Bouyahi on media outreach as a regular marketing activity
My interview with Shannon Cherry on getting radio interviews
My interview with Melissa LaTour on using the media to get the word out
My interview with Christine Hohlbaum on delivering clear messages to the media
My interview with Marcia Yudkin on getting free publicity
Guide to Hiring a PR Firm (download from the Council for Public Relations Agencies)
Wasabi Publicity's Wasabi Club free monthly teleseminars