July 22, 2022 • By Dennis Beaver
“My husband, ‘Dean,’ is looking into starting his own market research company structured very much like part-time jobs he had while in college: phoning people and asking questions about products or services. He would hire college students who are either speech or theater majors, in addition to retired people needing to supplement their income.
“He will train them to not just recite from memory, or sound sing-songy and irritating – rather, to show that they care about the topic and engage with respondents.
“He ran the idea by people he called at random, and by chance, one happens to own a small PR agency, thought the idea was a sure money-maker, met with us and proposed an expensive – thousands of dollars a month – publicity campaign and assured us of articles in major business publications as well as television interviews about Dean’s idea.
“It sounded convincing but was high pressure and we were turned off by the guy’s refusal to put us in contact with his clients. As you have so many sources of sound advice, we would appreciate your opinion. Do we really need to hire a PR company? What are the red flags? Thanks, ‘Holly.’”
Hiring a Publicist is Often Not Well Understood
I ran the couple’s question by Nicole Wool who is a friend of this column, and in addition to being a publicist, is also an attorney. Her advice? “Run from this guy!”
“People often do not understand what publicity is, why they feel their business needs it, and are led to believe that its purpose is to generate sales. While that may be a by-product, it is not what PR does. That’s marketing. If you hire a publicist because you are trying to increase sales, you are in the wrong arena.
“With advertising you can calculate how much it costs to acquire a client or make a sale. But PR isn’t truly quantifiable. So, if your goal is to increase sales, then dedicate resources to advertising. That is one of the issues why there is a frequent disconnect between what PR clients want and why they feel they are not getting the desired results.”
What is PR? – Wrong Assumptions Clients Make
So, what is the function of PR? Wool explains that a PR firm or a publicist:
“Manages how information about an individual or company is given to the public, improves a brand’s credibility and general awareness and responds to negative events in a way that will hopefully minimize their impact. Success depends upon establishing and maintaining good relations with journalists, issuing well-written press releases, social media posts and other venues that keeps the public or a specific audience current about what the client is doing.”
But, Dave only has an idea – does he need a publicist?
Wool’s answer? No!
“This is where it is easy to be scammed as there are a lot of people who would take the couple’s money and get no results. A publicist works with something in existence – a product, a book, a film in production – something concrete which hopefully has some unique quality that will make it stand out.”
Additionally, she outlined assumptions and behaviors which lead to disappointment:
(1) Thinking of a publicist as a magician and miracle worker.
We can’t pull rabbits out of a hat at the last minute and suddenly get a front page story in a major media outlet or national TV show. If the media has never heard of you or your brand, it takes time for them to decide if they want to cover you. It does not happen overnight.
(2) Expect to pay on a piecemeal basis. Tell the publicist, “We will pay you by the hit.”
It doesn’t work that way! You are asking a publicist to work for free. Reputable PR people will typically require a 4-6 month contract, are paid on a monthly retainer basis and results are never guaranteed.
The fly by night PR scammers will agree with whatever you propose! They will charge much less than a well-established company as they are not well known. You get what you pay for.
(3) Don’t micro-manage!
Engaging in micro-managing behavior, especially in crisis situations, is frustrating and leaves the publicist feeling badly treated. If there is no emergency do not treat the publicist like the house is on fire.
(4) Thinking that bigger is always better. Failing to realize that competent PR isn’t cheap.
Believing that only a large agency can get you needed press exposure is flawed reasoning. While large firms can and often do good work, to a small publicist, each client usually means more than to a larger PR firm which may have many clients at a time.
PR done correctly is a significant expense and runs into the thousands of dollars a month. Run from anyone charging $1,000 a month!
Wool listed six red flags which mean, “Steer clear of these people.”
1 – They make lots of promises of fantastic media coverage at the outset.
2 – They are willing to work for little money.
3 – They refuse to provide references or proof of past campaigns.
4 – They refuse to allow you to speak with a former client if you ask.
5 – If they say, “I will tell them that if this newspaper or press outlet doesn’t cover you I will not give them access to my other, big name clients.”
Concluding our interview, Wool cautioned, “Legitimate publicists will never leverage one client for another. It is unethical and simply bad business.”
Dennis Beaver practices law in Bakersfield and enjoys hearing from his readers. Contact Dennis Beaver.