Four Common Misconceptions about PR

The year is still young, and you may not have decided what to do to improve your company’s marketing for the coming year. You think PR may be the answer, and no doubt you would benefit from it.  But it’s a good idea to know what you want to accomplish with public relations – one of the most misunderstood of business functions.

Before you call a firm or hire a PR specialist, let’s dispel some common misconceptions about the practice.

  1. PR is about writing and sending news releases.  Think of a news release as the bread and butter that accompanies the meal.  It’s not the whole meal or even the main course.  Every business or nonprofit organization needs to begin any public relations program with a strategic plan – one that incorporates their overall goal, short-term objectives, target audiences, strategy, tactics and how success will be measured.  A news release is one of many tactics that may be used in carrying out the plan.
  2. PR is “free advertising.”  First of all, public relations and advertising messages are entirely different.  You can overtly promote your organization in an ad, while to obtain “earned” media coverage (coverage you don’t have to pay for), you must have a story – one that makes a worthwhile contribution to the editorial content of a media outlet.  Second, public relations work is not free; whether you are using in-house staff or an outside firm, you will pay for the time and talent that it takes to get recognition for your business.
  3. When interviewing a PR specialist, the first thing to ask is how our business would be promoted.   Every business or nonprofit organization is unique in some way, and no one PR plan will be right for each one. Ask that question of a PR firm, and you will probably get a series of questions in return or a request to meet and talk with you in person.  That’s because the answer to your question depends on all of the factors that will go into your company’s strategic PR plan (see #1, above).
  4. We need good PR to quickly counteract recent bad publicity.  Hiring a PR firm to put a positive spin on bad acts by your company is pretty much useless.  The truth has a way of coming out, and in today’s media climate it can be devastating to your business, as online and social media can reach millions of people before you can do anything about it.  The best way – perhaps the only way – to counter negative media coverage is to apologize immediately for any wrongdoing and begin a long-term program to repair the damage to your reputation.  And that PR program has to be based on good acts, or it won’t succeed.

Posted by Margot Dimond


Forming a Productive Relationship with Your PR Firm

Branding Brand Trademark Commercial Identity Marketing ConceptMost public relations firms that have been in business for a while have established relationships with long-term clients.  That’s no accident.  Lasting client/PR firm relationships are built on mutual trust and respect.  The client knows that the PR firm has its best interests at heart, will keep confidential information confidential, and can design and communicate strategic messages effectively.  The PR firm appreciates being part of the team – respected for its contribution to the organization.

How that relationship begins is the key to its success. Every PR firm has a responsibility upfront to explain their process for coming up with a strategy and implementing it, especially for a business or nonprofit organization that has never worked with a PR firm before.  Successful PR-client relationships begin with an understanding of what PR can do and how it can achieve the organization’s goals.

The client also has some responsibility for making the relationship a mutually beneficial one.  Here are three tips for clients who want to establish a positive, long-term relationship with their PR firm:

  • Let them show what they can do. Bring the PR firm in at the beginning of the relationship to inform them of your business goals so they can develop an effective communication strategy to achieve them. Expecting a PR firm to handle a series of communication tactics – news releases, brochures, ads – without allowing them to design the strategy behind them rarely works out well.  An outside PR counselor is trained to look for the “WIIFM” factor – the news significance or marketing message that you may not see as an insider.
  • Communicate. It may take some time to develop trust with a new PR firm, but if a firm has been in business for several years and has a good reputation and established long-term client relationships, that firm is probably trustworthy.  So share as much information as possible about your business, its successes and its failures. PR firms specialize in finding solutions to problems. Give them a chance to do so.
  • Be responsive. Too many great PR plans have been thrown off track by a client’s delayed response to a PR firm.  Timeliness in response to events, news, or a media interview request can mean the difference between gaining positive attention for your organization and missing out on a really great opportunity.

Posted by Margot Dimond.


Pay-Per-Placement PR: Where is the Love?

Whatever happened to the “Pay-Per-Placement PR” debate?  A few years ago, when Pay-Per-Placement (PPP) made its big debut as a serious PR alternative, a discussion of its Pros and Cons raged on – whether it was more cost-effective to use PPP, which is essentially a “commission sales” type of public relations, or traditional “retainer-based” public relations.

PPP sounds great to some prospective clients, especially small business owners who want an inexpensive way to publicize themselves.  After all, isn’t publicity the goal here?  Why not just pay for coverage when you get it?  That seems like the smart choice, doesn’t it?

While there are still plenty of PPP firms operating, you don’t hear as much about them anymore.  It turns out that there are some drawbacks to this approach, and they mostly relate to the services PR firms provide – and client expectations.

What PR Firms Do.    Public relations is more than publicity.  Retainer-based PR firms offer strategic planning that focuses on the client’s long-term goals, its short-term objectives, target audiences, audience-directed messaging, and the tactics (including, but not limited to, traditional media coverage) that can be used to effectively reach the targeted audiences.  PR firms also offer training for spokespersons and counseling in times of crisis.

Traditional PR Firm-Client Relationship.  When it comes to publicity, a retainer-based PR firm works hard to design and write releases, articles and pitches that will generate valuable media coverage for their clients – i.e., media coverage that will clients reach their goals.  They often develop a strong bond with, and loyalty to, their clients and spend hours researching media outlets and journalists who would be receptive to their approach and whose coverage would serve the best interests of their clients.

The Value of Strategic PR.  If you were working on commission, where you would get paid only if you sold a product, you probably wouldn’t be too picky about who bought the product.  Consider PPP in that light.  If you are being paid per interview or press clipping, you are going to be tempted to seek out the easiest placements to get, regardless of whether or not it benefits the client.  This can lead to disjointed and scattershot editorial coverage, with no strategy behind it.

Is PPP Really Cheaper? You may think that paying a PR firm for performance is the cheapest way to go.  After all, if they don’t get an placements for you, they won’t get paid.  But let’s take a look at some numbers.  Let’s say a retainer-based PR firm charges you a fee of $5,000 per month, while a PPP firm charges you a range of fees based on categories of coverage, such as these sample fees from a PPP pricing list:  For publications with limited circulation (e.g., a small town newspaper), costs for a feature story would be $1800; for focus coverage (where you are the main one quoted in a survey story), $1,450; and for a mention, $800.  For large circulation publications, a feature story would be $5,000; focus coverage, $4,500; and a mention, $3,400.

Here’s a recent example of what our firm generated recently with a simple news release:  two mentions and one large circulation publication feature story.  The PPP price for that would be $6,600.  The previous month, a front page feature story for the same client was generated by an exclusive pitch to the right journalist.  The PPP price would have been $5,000 – or maybe more, since front page positive features are rare.  (This does not include the Web URL for the feature, which would add $700 to the PPP costs, according to that pricing structure.)

Another reality check:  It is not unusual to get at least 10 mentions from a news release or a pitch.  For the PPP prices listed above, that would cost at least $8,000.

Where are the savings?

To Be Fair…There are some good PPP firms available, and there are retainer-based PR firms that will do PPP pricing for some projects.  Depending on your business, the PPP publicity model may be right for you.  It just may not turn out to be as inexpensive as you initially thought.