Is Your Publicist Worth It?

679 words – Less than 3 minutes to read

Everybody knows that a good P.R. specialist can generate exposure for your company that’s more cost-effective, authoritative and even seven times more credible. But what do P.R. specialists do for you, and how do you know if yours is a seedy spin-doctor or a professional who’s integral to your team? I sat down with Susan Morrow, publicist extraordinaire and my partner for 8 years to uncover the mysteries of the P.R. world. I want to know why she thinks she can do that better than the business itself. I mean, aren’t insiders better able to relay that story than an outsider? Not necessarily, says she. There are benefits to having an outsider tell the tale. There are several strengths a good P.R. specialist will bring to the table: they communicate your story, know the people and know the industry.

“Every company has a story to tell.” I’m on the phone with Susan, whose voice–despite the long day and the late hour–speeds up with enthusiasm. “My job is to communicate that story.” While it’s true that many publicists don’t follow the client’s marketing strategy in their work (who hasn’t heard of the clichéd uneasy relationship between publicity and marketing), the best ones do. P.R., according to Susan, should function as one piece of the reputation-making whole. She says that without the roadmap of a marketing strategy, P.R. efforts are often inconsistent and lacking in credibility. Make sure your publicist works with your strategy, or find someone who will.

Many companies (and press release “farms”, for that matter) create a press release and send it to every news outlet they can think of. These companies often purchase huge contact lists and send reams of faxes and buckets of emails indiscriminately. The problem? It just doesn’t work. Faxes end up in the trash with the others from thousands of other companies doing the exact same thing and most of the emails end up in journalists’ spam folders. And those contact lists? Most are obsolete, incorrect and overpriced. If a P.R. specialist recommends these “buckshot” approaches, she isn’t worth the money you’re paying her.

It turns out that the old maxim is true. It really is who you know. Susan explains why. To get any attention, your pitch has to be targeted to an interested party. It might take you days of researching to find the name of a journalist who once wrote on the topic, then to find an angle they might be interested in, then to get them to take your call, then to find out that they’ve moved to sports or obituaries or a different organization altogether. You’re back at square one—rinse and repeat. A publicist worth her salt knows the best publications for your story, has a rolodex big enough to anchor the QE2, and is a couple of phone calls away from just the right journalist. If your publicist is a stellar one, she has long-nurtured relationships with many journalists who trust her and her leads. And because she’s a third-party (not you), the information she gives the journalist is automatically more trustworthy than if you pitched it yourself.

News outlets exists in a strange world. Their demand for stories is constant, but supply is overabundant one week and slow the next. They appreciate story ideas, but refuse to be a pawn. They prefer a proven, dependable source over one they’ve never worked with. They don’t have time for under-prepared or unprofessional pitches. They use jargon and key words, and need to see the hook up front. They can use your story, but only if the angle is right. Navigating all these (and more) unwritten rules can be baffling. To get your money’s worth, find a P.R. specialist who is a veteran industry-insider who already knows how to play the game, speak the language, and supply stories that meet the journalist’s demands.

If you find your publicist is failing to delivering any of these advantages, its time to move on.


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