For all the discussion on what public relations can do for your bottom line, I think it’s helpful to put to rest some notions that PR is a cure-all for getting the word out about your business. So in the spirit of ruthless honesty, PR is not:
1) A replacement for a well-conceived Marketing and Advertising program; PR should support the initiatives of the marketing plan, not replace it. The very nature of PR is that it is “earned” media, therefore coverage is never guaranteed. Media Relations (just one part of your PR arsenal) for a company who has never made it a priority is a process that can take weeks, if not months to establish. Ad buys do not carry that third party stamp of approval, but you’re obviously guaranteed the space.
2) A way to become rich and famous overnight; certainly there are celebrity publicists who may have the cache to call in a few favors, but those contacts are rare, few and far between. Unless you have (or you are) a product that the can really get some air time or ink, the publicist can not afford to use those contacts up simply for a fee. Make sure your business has already achieved some important benchmarks (or is breaking new ground in an already established business) before hiring a PR representative.
3) Something to take lightly; Once you send out a press release, it can never be recalled. With that said, many businesses still go one of two ways when dealing with this fact. 1) They obsessively revise, review, edit and put through the grinder a perfectly simple, straightforward press release. I’ve experienced situations where up to fifteen people had to “sign off” on a release. After that, it was a mere shadow of itself… and that’s before it even got to the legal department. 2) They ignore this fact altogether and just want to “get it out”. There is a happy medium here. Let your PR person carefully craft the release. Provide honest and insightful feedback that can be incorporated. If you’re a public company or dealing with sensitive material, have your legal representative review it before it goes out. No big deal.
4) Not going to “save” your business; businesses who are pooling their resources to scrape together a fee in order to afford PR help gave bigger problems than their lack of PR. Don’t let your business become so cash poor that PR becomes a last ditch effort to save it. Invest in PR right off the bat. For independent filmmakers, this is especially important. Make sure to build in a PR budget in your line items. I’ve seen too many brilliant small films gasp for air when the director realizes there’s no money left to promote the project. And, by the way, any publicist who is willing to defer payment either is trying to build a portfolio and has very little experience, or simply doesn’t have clients– which could be for a variety of reasons. Just something to think about.
5) A made-up business that anyone can instantly do; Yes, public relations is an actual profession. We have the Public Relations Society of America, we sign an ethics oath, and we even have an advanced certification program (though this is growing, the certified APR practitioners are on the rise). When you’re dealing with a PR person, allow them the same courtesy you would an accountant, an attorney, a physician. You certainly have the right to ask questions, even question methodologies. But, no, reading the Dummies Guide to PR would be like reading How to Represent Yourself in Court or The ABCs of Mending Your Broken Arm. Enthusiastically ask questions, but let the pro do their job. Should be fine.