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Gini Dietrich

Seven Reasons You’re Not Ready to Hire a PR Firm

By: Gini Dietrich | April 3, 2013 | 
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Seven Reasons You're Not Ready to Hire a PR FirmWe get lots of phone calls and emails from people wanting to work with us. It’s a great position to be in and certainly helps my introverted self from having to sell in a way that makes me uncomfortable.

Sometimes the prospects are start-ups and they want to trade services for equity. While I’d love to be able to do that (Jay Baer does some angel investing and coaching), we can’t make payroll with equity. So we often turn away those opportunities.

More often than not, though, the organizations just aren’t ready for outsourced marketing and communications help.

Seven Reasons You’re Not Ready to Hire a PR Firm

Throughout the years, I’ve figured out the questions to ask to disqualify prospects (eventually I’ll take Marcus Sheridan’s advice and send them content that helps me disqualify them).

If you think you’d like to hire a PR firm, go through this list first.

  1. You don’t have solid business goals that drive the strategy and metrics. You’d think this goes without saying: Every organization should have goals. But most don’t. When I ask a prospect what they want to accomplish with a marketing communications program, they typically say, “More revenue.” Great (don’t we all?). Quantify that for me. If you don’t know how to do that, you’re not ready for professional help.
  2. You want to hire the firm that worked for your competitor. While it’s great to have a niche, it’s rare there is a cookie cutter approach to working with organizations. If you want the intellectual property of an agency that worked for your competitor, first ask yourself why they’re no longer working for them (and, if they still are, don’t dare think about stealing them away!), and what you liked about the work they did. If you can’t differentiate yourself and want them to execute the same program, you’re not yet ready for external help.
  3. You don’t have the budget. There is almost nothing worse to hear than, “I don’t have a budget. You tell me what it’s going to cost.” Guess what? You can’t afford a PR firm. When I tell you how much it costs to do everything you just described to me, you’re going to have a heart attack. Literally. You must have a budget (or at least know how much you’re willing to pay) and understand how you’ll get a return on that investment. If you think you’ll just “fit it in,” go back to the drawing board.
  4. You think PR equals getting your name in newspapers and magazines. It’s easy to relate public relations to media relations because it’s tangible; you can see a story and pass it along to your friends, family, clients, and peers. But if you are thinking about hiring a PR firm with the intention of having them only get you stories, you need a publicist, not a PR firm. Big, big difference.
  5. You think the Internet is a fad. I say that kind of in jest, but if you think your business is unique and social media or content or email marketing won’t work for you, you’re not ready to hire a PR firm.
  6. You use the word “vendor” instead of “partner. If you don’t know the difference, you’re already in trouble. A great PR firm will only work with you if you consider them a partner in your organization’s growth. They want access to your data, your analytics, team members in other departments, and even financial information. If you aren’t ready to share that or want to hire someone to do as you say, when you ask for it, you’re not ready to hire a PR firm.
  7. You’re not ready to learn. I received a really great compliment from a client a couple of months ago. She said, “I love working with you. I have learned so much!” She is the ideal client because she is not only willing to learn, she wants to learn. If you’re not willing to put aside your ego and let the experts teach you a thing or two, don’t waste your money.

Now it’s your turn. For my fellow communications professionals, what would you add to the list? And for my business leader peers, how did you know you were ready to hire external help?

About Gini Dietrich


Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, a Chicago-based integrated marketing communications firm. She is the lead blogger here at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro. She is the co-author of Marketing in the Round and co-host of Inside PR. Her second book, Spin Sucks, is available now.

116 comments
photo chris
photo chris

Choir. Preacher..Can I Get an "AMEN?!" ;-)

3HatsComm
3HatsComm

Fab list - I've got a post running soon, this will make a great addition. Now if only we can get the people who need to read these kinds of posts.. to actually read these!

You hit on one of my questions below @ginidietrich - You're not ready to WORK. If you think that signing a check and reviewing a few emails a month are all you'll have to do, you're so not ready. Outsourced does not mean hands off, set and forgotten. 

As part 2 to @Shelley Pringle good question - You're not willing to share what you are already doing in house, don't see that as part of the budget. Just wrote it - what, there's no one drawing payroll and benefits responsible for developing strategy, driving business, working w/ customers, many other communications functions? See - there's budget and staff there, somewhere. Too often they're not willing to listen, to learn, to work b/c they see you as a vendor not partner.  And sometimes frankly as competition, afraid you'll do  their job - only better, meaning you'll get the budget, the projects, etc. 

cc @i7Chris the not listening is a big one, not just in terms of your PR advice but the business in general. If you're not willing to consider the idea that your 'pet project' needs improvement, and that the PR can and should offer smart, strategic business counsel, you're not ready.  FWIW.

photo chris
photo chris

Hi Gini! It's an interesting question and the short answer to it is that I think these are excellent questions to ask before you hire a firm, a PR person, or if you are a PR person about to take a job with a company, especially if it's a totally new position to them!

However, I'm not sure I'm the person to ask. I should probably explain my job a bit more- I'm the Relationship Marketing Manager for a wedding photographer studio. My primary responsibility is to build relationships with people who are in a position to refer us to brides and grooms- mainly the catering and sales teams at  hotels, restaurants (somewhat) and country clubs. 

So while technically not THE  PR person (we don't have the title anywhere in the co.), I consistently advocate (bang my head against the wall), that content marketing and consistent contact are key not only to this position's success, but will help the company as a whole, from selling couples, to building word or mouth, to establishing ourselves as experts in the field , to commanding a higher price for the work we do and to attracting a higher end client and on an on. And I can't even get started on our head-in-the-sand approach to yelp. Let's just say I forward on your posts at LEAST once a week to back a point I've made. 

I think small companies who are looking to make PR a FT position need to be educated about what PR is and isn't, preferable BY a PR firm, and that they should use a a firm to establish a realistic job description and goals . Perhaps you could add that on to your services :-) You know, in addition to everything else you do!


Jake Meador
Jake Meador

Cost is a big one for us too. We had one company recently tell us that they wanted marketing help but "We're already spending (amount) and we really don't want to spend more than that." The amount they quoted was a fraction of what most companies in their field spend on marketing. Instant deal killer right there. We love helping communities, but there is a cost to doing that and if you aren't willing to pay it, we really can't do anything for you.

Another that relates to the lack of goals is that we meet a lot of companies who think because they have average occupancy or average rental rates, they don't need help--even if those five vacant units are costing them three grand a month (which they usually are). So it's not so much that they don't have goals, as that they have really crappy goals, IE "I'm at 95% occupancy, so it's totally fine that I'm leaving $36,000 a year on the table as a result of my 5% vacancy." 

Shelley Pringle
Shelley Pringle

Hi Gini, that's a great list. I would add: you haven't considered an in-house solution. Many big organizations have in-house communications departments. But hiring staff to handle communications is a big commitment for small- to medium-sized businesses. Nevertheless, it sometimes doesn't make sense to outsource. But the only way to find out is by looking at your requirements and comparing the cost of hiring with outsourcing. 

In terms of the former, companies who are concerned about sharing proprietary information won't be comfortable with an outside agency. But if a company has a seasonal business with lots of peaks and valleys, outsourcing makes all kinds of sense.

And in terms of the cost, if you're going to hire you need to consider not only salary and benefits, but the time required to interview, train and manage the successful candidate.

 As always, thanks for sharing. Enjoyed the post.

i7Chris
i7Chris

I'd add "Are you ready to listen?" There are clients who like the "idea" of having an agency, but sometimes are just not ready to listen to new ideas, ideas outside their comfort zone or to hear conflicting opinions. A good agency will (perhaps kindly, politely and/or gently) suggest that a client's pet idea "could be improved upon" or "may be a better fit once these building blocks are in place" or explain why a tactic might work better in a different industry or for a different company.  Be willing to learn and to hear new ideas. The client is the expert at his or her business and/or the expert at his or her industry; but the agency you're hiring is an expert at PR/Mkt/Comm etc.  Work together to win.

stevenmcoyle
stevenmcoyle

8. You want to create a popular internet meme. 

Karen_C_Wilson
Karen_C_Wilson

I'm still at a stage in my business where I'm leery of saying these things "out loud", but I think them every time I get that email that puts strict parameters on what a potential client will or will not do. That's not even getting in to all the issues of certain people who want to believe they know  better than I do (which may be quite true about many things, but then why hire me?) Those are the prospects that fizzle out or proceed with work that they never follow-through on and then wonder why nothing I did worked. Sigh.

photo chris
photo chris

I must add that I find it extremely helpful that you, as "pro PR people" struggle against these things as well. When I bang my head against the wall for the tenth time in a week I will stop before the 11th time, take a breath, and  remember that this is, seemingly, typical of working with a CEO- especially of a small business.

Of course, that's depressing as well, lol.

NewspaperGrl
NewspaperGrl

I'd love some follow up posts, such as 

Things to do before you hire a PR firm that talks about how to know you're ready and tips to knowing you are.

The difference between media relations, publicists, PR firms, branding expert, etc. and the average costs/things they can do for you.

I'm unique in that I just write press releases and sometimes the stories are so good that my clients have ended up on the front page of a newspaper or on TV. I have to explain I'm not a full service PR firm and that they likely couldn't afford or wouldn't get very good results if they did. What I think they are asking for is how to improve their sales and business. Laying the foundation for your business is hard long work and its expensive, but you have to do it before you're ready for the next step. 

Thanks for the post. 

Blog On

Janet

MarcGirolimetti
MarcGirolimetti

I know EXACTLY what I want from AD, but I can't afford you, at all, and thus I slink away to a corner and sob, BUT I do my best to keep our relationship strong, should the day come when we can. I know we need to do some of these things ourselves, in order to reach the next stage of our business evolution.

Robb Wexler
Robb Wexler

Can I hire you if I promise NOT to give you equity in my company?

photo chris
photo chris

Heck- I'm the INTERNAL help and I fights against all seven of these regularly! hrmmmmm....

DickCarlson
DickCarlson

When I was younger, I used to try to "help" potential clients who weren't ready to hire me.  I'd teach them how to write goals, I'd educate them on how to purchase services, I'd spend time with them to show them the pitfalls of taking shortcuts and going with the lowest bidder.


And then, most of the time, they'd leave me for someone who operated like a real business when they were ready to pay money.

StorytellerGal
StorytellerGal

8. You want to get on Instagram/Twitter/G+ because you keep hearing about how popular it/they are with no real business reason for doing so. 

9. You don't have a segmented email list. Heck you don't even have an up-to-date prospect list.

10. You don't think bloggers count as valid "media".

maryhruth
maryhruth

Might need to link to this from my sales pages!


susancellura
susancellura

These are the type of items one deals with internally as well, especially if the marketing communications role is relatively new to the company. Of course, we already have the job, so to speak, but they want to see fast results while not understanding what actually has to happen. Brand awareness? What's that?  LOL.

jessica ann
jessica ann

they say things like "just take over my Facebook or post to my Pinterest" without any clear strategy. if you don't have a strategy (or goals, as you mention), hire an intern - not a PR firm <bangs head on desk>  

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@3HatsComm I'm going to start sending these kinds of posts to prospects (which is why I'm writing them). It'll help me qualify leads and allow me to spend more time with those who are ready.

Latest blog post: The Three Things, Edition 27

i7Chris
i7Chris

@Jake Meador You are SO right. In the hotel industry for example, alot of firms will say "oh 100% of our rooms are booked - so we're great." hmmmm not so fast. How much did you have to mark down those rooms to get to  100%  occupancy?  

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@Shelley Pringle Really great add! We recently had a client ask us if we thought they should hire someone internally. Even though we don't want to lose the business, I was pretty open about helping them write a job description to include all of the things we do. When they realized they couldn't get someone like that for less than $200K a year, they opted to stay with us.

TaraGeissinger
TaraGeissinger

@DickCarlson I am a total sucker for helping potential clients too. :) As I've been in business longer, I've realized that taking on clients who require THAT much maintenance simply means that I won't have time to dedicate to clients who have the budget *and* the goals.

photo chris
photo chris

@DickCarlson I make this "helpful" mistake in the (thankfully small) sales portion of my position all the time. Mind you- I'm talking about a COMPLETELY different sale- photography services, but, the "real" sales people in the office outsell me by easily 20% a month,  I don't get it.

3HatsComm
3HatsComm

@ginidietrich I've got a list I use now - but it's more strategy, goals. Something like this would be a much better screener, so it's time to update.

photo chris
photo chris

@i7Chris @Jake Meador Ahh, that's because rooms are the bargaining chips to booking weddings and corporate events. Brides won't even blink at a hotel who won't do something for them on that side.

i7Chris
i7Chris

@ginidietrich @i7Chris  LOL as if!  Would you hie someone to work in your company and think that? Hiring - whether it's a new employee - or an agency - requires managerial skills and leadership. The "work" involved changes (ie: you might not be writing those press releases yourself now -> now you are proof reading and providing feedback.)

JoeCardillo
JoeCardillo

@TaraGeissinger @DickCarlson Yeah a totally related thread is, know your value, be able to communicate it, and don't work with someone who doesn't care about those two things. 

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  1. [...] was a very good post up on SpinSucks a few days ago called Seven Reasons You’re Not Ready to Hire a PR Firm. Many clients have hired me in my career and I’ve also hired a few PR agencies. When a [...]

  2. [...] factor in the cost of doing PR and as Gini Dietrich, founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich writes on SpinSucks, “[i]f you think you’ll just “fit it in,” go back to the drawing [...]