How to Work with a PR Person
There is no shortage of people on the Web offering their services as public relations professionals. I was lucky enough to hire a PR person who did a fantastic job helping me promote the premiere of my documentary. Based on that experience I am offering some tips not only on how to work with a PR person, but what mindset you need to make the relationship work.
Tip #1 Realize What You’re Buying
When you hire a PR person, realize you are renting that person’s network. You should already be familiar with how to write press releases, ad copy and leveraging your mailing list. It’s fine is you have your PR person do those things, but what you are really paying for is the opportunity to utilize the PR person’s network to get the word out about your event. You’re paying to expand your network.
That said; don’t pay for what you don’t need. While the staple of the PR person’s network you want are their contacts in the community, influencers and decision makers, pay only for what you need. If you have your own graphic designer, do not be afraid to let your PR person know that you already have someone to do that and you will not need the services of the graphic designer in their network. Likewise, if you need a printer, do not be afraid to ask for a recommendation. Good PR people know the good printers in the area and have relationships with the printers that consistently deliver the goods.
Tip #2 Nail Down the Proposal
As much as you might want to jump right in and get rolling, get a proposal in writing and revise that proposal until it lays out in detail what the PR person is going to do. The proposal should also outline what you are responsible for (artwork, ad copy, video/audio clips, headshots, etc.). The more time you spend hammering out the details of the proposal, the less confusion down the road. Besides specific tasks, a good proposal should have a timeline for implementation, a fee schedule, and a mechanism to terminate the agreement.\
Tip #3 The Bad News
The bad news that if you think you can hire a PR person, write a check, then just sit back and watch the magic happen, you’re in for rude awakening. While the PR person certainly will take care of some tasks for you during the campaign, you still have your work cut out for you. Besides monitoring what the PR person’s work, you also have to make sure what is being done is having the desired effect. If response to the latest email blast was not optimal, you have to make the call to adjust strategy. Making the relationship works means realizing you and the PR person have to work together, not that the PR person works for you.
Tip #4 YOU are the Expert!
Even if you hire the best PR person in your area of expertise, never forget that YOU are the expert on your product. Whether it’s a film, a book, a CD, etc., you know your product better than anyone does. Because you are the expert on your product, you’re also the expert on the market for that product. The PR person can make suggestions on how to market your product, when it comes to your product’s demographic, you are the expert. If you’re not, you have not done your homework. In the run up to my film’s premiere, the original proposal was heavy email blasts. Knowing a great deal of the film’s demographic either did not use the web or did not rely on it as a primary source of information, I worked with the PR person to revise the proposal to include direct mailing, wider print church bulletin exposure.
Tip #5 The PR Person is Your ‘Man on the Ground’
For this campaign, the premiere was in one city and I lived four hours away. In this case, the PR person was also my personal representative. Part of the duties as assigned was to visit the venue, make contact with owner and work out the details for the event. This also brings up another thing you are ‘buying’ when you hire a PR person; you’re renting their local expertise. If your campaign is not local for you, the PR person represents you, so choose wisely. Your PR person is your ‘first impression.’
Tip #6 Constant Communications
The internet is wonderful. It allows us to communicate with people far away 24/7. All of this is true, but regularly scheduled meetings are mandatory. Emails are not read or in end up in bounceback limbo. (Earlier this week I got an email from the newspaper ad salesperson that he sent three weeks ago!) Phone messages are erased or ignored. Regularly scheduled meetings (or phone conferences) keep you and the PR person on track. Even though geographically separated, the PR person and I had weekly phone conferences. Those meetings were a time to review the previous week’s activities and plan for the week ahead. Of course, once I got into town, the first meeting I had was with the PR person. We met daily in the days leading up to the premiere.
Tip #7 Do Your Part
Do whatever you agree to in the proposal. Meet the deadlines for deliverables like ad copy, artwork, pictures, review copies, etc. Be on time and prepared for interviews the PR person sets up. Do your part to keep the campaign on schedule. All this should be understood, but I have to say it because it is so important.
The second part of “Do Your Part” is doing things on your own to advance the campaign. Of course, these things shouldn’t conflict with the plan laid out, but if there are things you can do on your own that complement the campaign, you should do them. Whether it is pulsing your personal email list with a call to action or parallel efforts related to the campaign, do not be shy about implementing them. One of the first things we axed from the original proposal (by mutual agreement) was having an art show of paintings used in the film at a local gallery. Mid-way through the campaign, I sent press kits for the film and complimentary tickets to several art galleries near the venue, inviting them to the premiere and asking them to collaborate on an art show in the future. After the premiere, I got a call from an art gallery that wanted to have a show using the paintings and wanted to screen the film in their spaces.
Tip #8 Stay Flexible
Plans are a security blanket. We make plans for the future, when the reality is we don’t know what will happen in the future. Plans are the framework that allows us the freedom to make adjustments as soon as we realize the plans of the future don’t support the reality of the present. Because the PR person and I continually communicated, we were able to adjustment the plan on the fly. We adjusted newspaper buys, press release and email blast timing based on what we were seeing (ticket sales, phone queries, social media metrics and feedback from the venue owner). Had we decided to stick strictly to the plan, we would have missed opportunities and in some cases, wasted money.
Tip #9 Trust, but Verify!
You are paying for expertise and connections when you hire a PR person. The PR person represents you, but you are ultimately responsible. Make sure you double crucial facts the PR person provides. Not that you do not trust them, but without accurate facts, you could make a devastating miscalculation. In preparing for the premiere of the film, the PR person assured me the capacity for the venue was 300 people, so we printed tickets using that number as a guide. Two days before the premiere, as the PR person and I were touring the facility, I asked the owner what the capacity was. He told us the lower level held 350 people and when you added in the balcony seating, capacity was a little over 500. Needless to say, we had to prepare more tickets. We sold out the venue and if we had not brought the extra tickets, the premiere would have been a disaster.
Tip #10 Experience is the Best Teacher
Finally, your mileage may vary. I offer these tips not as an expert, but as what I learned through personal experience. I am sure there will be PR professionals who will not agree with things I have written here and that is to be expected. Every PR professional is different, every campaign, location, venue and product is different. My goal is not to offer detailed instruction, but to get the people who hire them to shift their thinking about the relationship so they can get the most for their money.