Public relations is a very powerful business tool. Some well-written articles can generate more enquiries than adverts, although their format and content are completely different.
Like a number of professionals, I work on both sides: as a journalist and as a PR. I find this very useful for reminding myself what not to do as much as what is best practice.
Too often, with my journalist’s hat on, I receive press releases distributed by PR agencies and consultants that lack basic details or contain errors, requiring a phone call for clarification or correction. Sometimes the subject matter just isn’t relevant. I ask myself whether the clients paying for these are receiving good value. Let me add that some agents are on the ball and do provide good value.
So should you use a professional PR service or is it better to do your own PR? It depends.
PR is much like many other business processes: not rocket science. We could all do our own accounts, but there comes a point when our understanding of tax allowances fails or we simply don’t have time to do them ourselves. That’s why we employ an accountant.
It’s similar with PR. Many people can write effective press releases, take attention-grabbing photos and even liaise with relevant media contacts, but don’t always have the time. Others don’t know where to start and want someone to do it all for them.
So what should you look for when you want to pay for PR services?
What are your business objectives? A supplier should understand these and come up with ways of using PR to help achieve them. Formalising these in a plan will create a programme that works towards your aims.
Monthly retainer or ad hoc services? Is paying a monthly retainer benefiting you or your supplier more? What are they going to do for you each month? Would paying for ad hoc or fixed rate services be better for you?
Media liaison is important and relationships with journalists are valuable. Does your PR supplier have established relationships or are they capable of developing the ones you need? Do they send out press releases to anyone or target them at relevant journalists? If there are only two or three relevant publications you need to reach, could you do it yourself?
Can your PR supplier tell your story in a way that will excite journalists? It’s a good thing to see examples of press releases/articles they have written to see if they seem interesting. Do they tell the whole story or are you left asking questions? How would a journalist respond?
How will you measure their success? By number of mentions in the media? By more enquiries? By specific responses?
A good supplier should help you make the most of PR by identifying opportunities, suggesting how you can take advantage of them, producing effective material, interesting journalists in your business, meeting deadlines and providing everything a journalist wants. You could do it all yourself, but having someone do it for you will free you up to run your business.