PR FirmBy Gini Dietrich

Fifteen minutes of fame. Seeing your name in lights (and in print). The phone ringing off the hook.

These are things every business owner dreams about; and many, in an effort to turn the dream into reality, go out, hire a PR team and wait for the magic to happen.

And wait. And wait. And wait.

With some of the best publicists, stories will appear in print or online, 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 you tie fame to fortune, and expect both to come from hiring a PR firm, you risk being disappointed. Not necessarily because your PR firm didn’t do their job, though maybe they weren’t as honest and upfront with you about what they could deliver, but because you had unrealistic expectations of what it meant to hire a PR firm in the first place.

PR is no longer just about getting your name in print. It’s a strategic and measurable part of an overall marketing program. You’ll get the most from your PR efforts if you know exactly what you want before you hire someone to help you with it.

Six Things to Know Before You Hire a PR Firm

Know the difference between media relations and public relations. A good majority of PR firms will pitch themselves as “media relations” firms. What that means is that they’ll pitch stories on your behalf. Seeing your name in print is great for your ego, but it doesn’t translate into sales. Make sure the firms you interview talk about how to integrate media relations into a larger communications (or marketing) program; otherwise, you’re going to feel like you’ve wasted your money.

Be ready to share your business goals. For a PR professional to do his or her job, you need to be upfront and honest about your business—every aspect of it—right from the beginning. (If you’re uncomfortable, have them sign a nondisclosure agreement). 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 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.

Make sure 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 middleman. Your PR firm can create those conversations for you, but you have to participate.

Embrace social media. 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, then be willing to let them get you out there.

Be uncomfortable. Too many business owners think they want out-of-the-box thinking, but then ask for boring, non-sexy strategies—usually because they’re uncomfortable. 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.

A version of this first appeared on OPENForum.

Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder, CEO, and author of Spin Sucks, host of the Spin Sucks podcast, and author of Spin Sucks (the book). She is the creator of the PESO Model and has crafted a certification for it in partnership with Syracuse University. She has run and grown an agency for the past 15 years. She is co-author of Marketing in the Round, co-host of Inside PR, and co-host of The Agency Leadership podcast.

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