Public Relations are always a hot button topic with small businesses. Getting those big magazine and celebrity placements for your product or business often seems like the holy grail, the sign you've "made it". PR can seem like a big mystery and often small businesses turn to PR professionals for help. PR pros can be very very expensive, especially in relation to the typical small business budget. I've had my own experiences with DIY PR for Peggy Li Creations jewelry as well as with many different professional services, so I read with interest this article by PR pro Sabina Ptacin (one of Preneur's founders).
Help Me Help You: Publicists Reveal How Small Biz Clients Can Improve Chances for Press & Their Working Relationship
Reading the comments from PR pros affirmed for me that there is often an inherent tension in a client/PR relationship -- as a client, I am relying on a pro to secure placements I feel are vital to my business. These placements, however, may or may not actually drive sales or achieve my goals (but the PR pro is getting paid regardless).
So here is my response to the PR pro article.. Don't be surprised to find that we as clients have the same sentiments!
Help Me Help You: a Small Business Owner Speaks to PR Pros and Press
Give me all the information I need to fill your request. If you don't have all the details yet, let me know so I will wait for a second email instead of starting the back and forth of email strings. What is the shipping address? Is there a shipping number? Do you want your images in a specific format or resolution? Is there a deadline and if so, when?
You ask me to be transparent -- be transparent for me. There is value for a brand to share their brand story -- inspirations, experiences, latest news (although as one pro said, they are not there for idle chit-chat or to be our therapist). So if I ask for a little transparency on your part, like wanting to see the language of a post, pitch or the pitch list, I think that is within the realm of the professional relationship. Especially in the beginning of a working relationship, when you are (hopefully) building trust with a client, it is not enough to say "just leave it to us, we're the pros." I want to see how you are representing my brand and perhaps even more interesting to me, I want to see my brand through your lens.
Yes, sometimes I cop an "artist" attitude. I know intellectually that taking a brand to the next level can be boosted by taking advice from pros and those with more experience. And in the case of PR pros, I am usually paying for that advice. But yeah, sometimes I'm not emotionally ready for that "tough love"! If you believe in our small biz product and brand, it's just as much your job to find a way to reach us, educate us and work with us as it is for us to open our minds. If there is an impasse, then I am probably not getting the info I need, and neither of us will grow.
If you don't have a strength in an area I need, don't pretend you do. Marketing and PR is an ever-changing industry. If I want more social media and you traditionally work with print and don't feel comfortable taking on that work, say so. And then don't be surprised if I go to other sources to achieve those goals.
Explain it to me, please. The answer can't always be, "Editors don't like X", because inevitably the next month I'll see a fashion spread featuring X!
Surprise! I'm busy too. Timing can be crucial to PR -- often samples are needed overnight, and the time pressure can be enormous. As a small business owner, often solo, I'm well aware of the pressure of not having enough time . As much as I want to drop everything for that "fabulous-AH-MAZING-major!" opportunity, sometimes I have orders to fill or other projects that I also have on my plate. So forgive me for not jumping for joy every time I have to drop everything and rush to the FedEx office before it closes.
It all comes down to communication -- and chemistry. I equate hiring a PR professional to finding a good date -- you want someone who fills your needs (has the right expertise, level of service, etc) but you also need to be able to get along. A good client/PR relationship should be built on mutual respect, trust and that spark of excitement that is created when someone truly believes in your product and business vision.
Bottom line is, we are all working hard here, all trying to be successful. Only by taking the time to educate each other on our businesses and business needs will we be able to work well together. Part of the work as a client is to help define your goals for both yourself and your PR pros. Are you looking for a return on this investment? How would you measure it? You are spending lots of money, do you expect to see a return in sales? Or is it up to you or the PR pro to further spin the PR you may get into other business opportunities (PR begets more PR)? While it is tempting to think hiring PR takes work off your plate, it can introduce a whole slew of new tasks. Help Me Help You, indeed.