Your 15 minutes of fame. Seeing your name in lights. The phone ringing off the hook after your industry publication ran a cover story about your business. All of your peers, competitors, and colleagues patting you on the back after a major national publication does an in-depth interview with you.
This is something every business owner dreams about and every one of us thinks, “If that happens, we’ll have it made!” So you go out, hire a PR professional or firm, and wait for the magic to happen.
And you wait. And you wait. And you wait.
With some of the best publicists, stories will appear and you’ll feel good about them. But you’ll be left wondering, “What’s next? When does the cash register begin to ring?”
When that happens there are two things going on:
- You have unrealistic expectations of what your PR professional or firm can do for you; and
- Your PR professional or firm hasn’t been honest about what you should expect.
Six Things to Consider Before You Engage in PR
Following are six things you should consider before you engage in PR.
- Know what PR is in today’s digital age. Yes, a good majority of PR firms will still pitch themselves to you as a media relations house. They’ll call themselves a PR firm, but all they’ll do for you is pitch stories on your behalf. If you hire a firm that only does media relations, you will think it’s a huge waste of time and money about six months from now. Business owners say this all the time, “Oh they were great at getting stories about us, but it didn’t really do anything. It was a waste of money.” Seeing your name in print is great for your ego, but it does not make the cash register ring. If the firms you interview don’t talk about how to integrate media relations into a larger communications (or marketing) program, you will feel like you’ve wasted your money.
- Be ready to share your business goals. And this means even in the introductory meetings. Have them sign a non-disclosure agreement, if that makes you feel better, but don’t hide your goals. A strategic PR professional will need access to your business plan, your goals, your analytics, your database, and your metrics. Without those things, it’s impossible to be successful on your behalf.
- Have realistic expectations. If the PR firm is worth its salt, you will spend some money on it and you can expect a return on your investment anywhere from two to five times what you pay them. BUT it won’t happen overnight. It won’t even happen in 90 days. It will take at least six months for you to begin seeing a return. That said, most will be able to give you metrics to track from day one that show whether or not you’re on the right path. Ask for those.
- Ask yourself if you have the time to spend with the firm. Communications does not happen in a vacuum and your involvement is necessary. You should expect someone from your organization to spend at least an hour every day on PR. Without your help and your involvement, the PR firm will only get so far. They don’t know your business as well as you do and, as it turns out, customers, prospects, journalists, and influencers would rather talk to you than some middle man. Your PR firm can create those conversations for you, but you have to have them.
- Be willing to take some risk. Technology has completely changed the way a PR professional does his or her job. Using the web—and social media, in particular—means you’re going to build your brand and gain awareness much more quickly than in the past. It also means you’ll be under some scrutiny. Make sure your PR firm has experience with crises on the web and be willing to let them get you out there. The more uncomfortable it is for you, the more likely it is to work.
- Be uncomfortable. There is nothing worse than a prospect saying they want out-of-the-box thinking, and then asking for really boring, non-sexy strategies. If the PR firm doesn’t make you a little uncomfortable when you meet with them the first few times, nothing you do together will be extraordinary. It’s the discomfort that gets us to stretch beyond what we think we can do. Let them guide you down that path.
Media Relations, Alone, Won’t Work
We still too often hear, “We don’t want you to do anything but reach out to the media and influencers.” And, while we can do that and be successful, you will not be happy.
From our experience, particularly in a B2B organization, email marketing is the very best way to drive sales or gain new donors or get people to an event. And not just sending an email that says, “Hey! Buy from us!” It’s a very strategic process that can include what people are saying about you, such as clients, media, and influencers.
If you have an active blog, it is typically the second best way to reach your business goals, which can also include contributed content, guest blogging, and interviews or stories with other influencers.
Affiliate marketing (even though many think that is a dirty word) is the third best way, but only if you’re smart about who your affiliates are and what they can say and do on your behalf.
Danny Iny is a master at this. He creates a plan, calls 10-20 of his friends who are in his industry (this is something I would do with Michael Smart, Shonali Burke, and some others), and talks them through his expectations.
For his most recent online course, the affiliate who brought him the most students won a freaking Tesla!
Media relations tends to be the fourth best way, but only if you’re targeted to specific outlets and can track people once they land on the site. When people come to your site from a story they’re read, a podcast they’ve listened to, or a video they watched, they’re still in education mode. They will not buy. You have to lead them through the education process first.
PR no longer is just about getting your name in print. You can see it’s part of a strategic and measurable marketing program.
Know exactly what you want before you hire someone to help you with it…and please don’t say it’s just media relations. You will be disappointed.