As the owner of a professional services firm, I decided late last year that we needed to do a better job of promoting our services. I know other firms similar to ours that receive quite a bit of attention in the media, and they seem to be expanding at a faster pace than we are, so it definitely seemed like the thing to do. We interviewed several firms – small, medium and large – and chose the largest firm because it seemed to have the most to offer. They touted their contacts at The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal and gave us every indication that we would be featured in those national newspapers. Unfortunately, after six months our total media coverage has been a small feature in a local business publication. We are very disappointed and have decided to end our public relations program entirely. Is this a common occurrence? Why did this happen?
In answer to your direct question: This is not a common occurrence, but it does happen all too often. Unfortunately, it usually happens to business owners who have never before used any type of public relations service. If your knowledge of public relations and what it can accomplish comes from what you see on television or in the movies, you may think that PR people can pick up the phone and news people will come running. If only it were that easy!
It is rare that a small firm or a startup gets covered in major national newspapers, and for a public relations firm to dangle that idea in front of you was very misleading. If, in fact, they promised you editorial coverage, they are in violation of the requirement to “accurately define what public relations activities can accomplish,” as listed in the code of ethics of the Public Relations Society of America, the professional membership organization for PR professionals.
Rather than giving up on having a public relations program, why not think about what you really want to gain from it? You seem to want to expand your business. By that, do you mean simply to have more clients? Or do you have a specific type of client that you would like to work with? Once you have determined the type of client you want to reach, you will need to have your PR firm work with you to design the right kinds of messages and media outlets to effectively reach them. At that point, you should expect to see some kind of Action Plan with tactics, activities and timetables.
Your public relations program – whether undertaken internally or by an outside firm – should be viewed as an ongoing enterprise. It’s all about reputation building and reputation maintenance, and that takes time.
Should you hire an outside firm, or go the DIY route? Here are a some guidelines.