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Public Relations Basics: How Badly Do You Want That New Client?

After spending exactly zero dollars on public relations since its inception, my company is finally contemplating hiring a public relations firm. While we’re getting plenty of print publicity — and publicity that has translated into sales — we’re having trouble getting our analysts on television. I’ve talked to about 10 different public relations firms over the past two weeks. And what I’ve learned has been very disheartening.

Interestingly, my company had never discussed hiring a public relations firm until a few weeks ago when one contacted us out of the blue. The email was your standard pitch ripped from a template and probably one of a dozen the firm had sent out that day. Regardless, I decided to make contact.

My conversation with this public relations firm intrigued me enough to pitch the idea of going out of house for PR services for the first time. We wanted to hire a firm that specialized in television and that we had little interest in drumming up additional print publicity, which we felt would pick up following television appearances. With that simple mandate in mind, I began calling around to various PR firms to see what they could do for us. It turned out to be a frustrating experience. Here are some of the things I encountered while checking out public relations firms:

— A representative from one firm twice cancelled phone calls with me with little advance notice and then did not bother to apologize for the inconvenience when we finally spoke. This unprofessional behavior suggested the firm does not treat its clients very well.

— After explaining to one public relations firm that we were only interested in getting on television, its representative proceeded to outline a print-related strategy. That’s like asking for a wine list and being given the dessert menu.

— One public relations firm’s representative took offense at me asking for pricing for a three-month trial contract. “We don’t do anything less than six months,” I was told. Fine by me, I said, because my company was not going to sign a contract for anything longer than three months to start.

— I asked one firm if it would guarantee in writing at least one television appearance on a certain network during a trial contract. The firm said it would give me an oral guarantee. “Words are cheap,” I replied.

— A few public relations firms spent the majority of our calls talking about themselves but asking little about my company and its needs. One firm pitched me on ideas that would have made sense if I was trying to sell jeans to teenagers instead of a data and analytics service to hedge fund managers.

— One public relations firm did not actually return my calls for over a week. When it did, its attitude was, “What is it that you want?”

— I asked one firm about its experience working with financial services clients. The representative began telling me about its work with an enterprise software company and online media company.

The last time I actually hired a public relations firm was way back in 2000. The experience was likewise unpleasant. The firm did not deliver on various promises, the publicity my company received was scant, and the relationship ended badly. One reason for the disaster was lack of due diligence on our part; we hired the firm because its office was across the hall, and we were friendly with the employees.

Now I’m taking my time. I want to find a public relations firm that understands and can help fulfill my company’s very specific needs. I’m off to a rocky start, but I’m hopeful that the next round of vetting will go better. Keep some of these examples of poor PR in mind the next time you receive a call from a prospective client.

This article, written by Ben Silverman, originally appeared in PR Fuel (http://www.ereleases.com/prfuel), a free weekly newsletter from eReleases (http://www.ereleases.com), the online leader in affordable press release distribution. To subscribe to PR Fuel, visit: http://www.ereleases.com/prfuel/subscribe/.

3 Responses

  1. Natalie says:

    Having worked at both an PR agency and as a freelance publicist, there is nothing worse than being approached by a client who “is only interested in TV.” Firstly, because it is the hardest to guarantee and secondly because most clients believe their story is more interesting than what it actually is.

    When looking for an agency, listen to what they have to say. After all they are the experts.

    Being confronted with unrealistic expectations is the biggest turn off.

  2. You are right to be disappointed and concerned by your experience in seeking a PR firm. Having served as the Director of Public Relations for a large healthcare organization and owning my own PR firm, I greatly understand how important it is to position your brand as the leading expert in your industry and garnering television appearances is a great way to do that. While I understand a PR firms reluctance to guarantee a television appearance during a small block of time, what concerns me more is their lack of interest in your story. A good PR firm should dig deeper and ask you questions about your business, your goals and what makes you uniquely and wonderfully you. They should be strategizing with you on finding the newsworthy angles to pitch to your local networks and should offer you a free initial consult to discuss your needs. During that time, they can gain insights into your brand and offer suggestions on how you can achieve your communications goals. This consult should also give them the intel they need to determine if your communications strategy will peak the interest of producers and news desks.

  3. PR Fuel says:

    Thanks April!

    This is probably one of the most thoughtful blog posts in some time.

    Best,

    Mickie

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