Well, it happened again. A would-be client called me crying because a PR imposture had taken her money and she had nothing to show for it. I have heard this dozens of times: small business owners and entrepreneurs who are promised the moon (and possibly an Oprah appearance) for the low, low price of something not so low, plus shipping and handling.

I could have my own Oprah show just featuring those who have been faked-out by faux PR people.

I hate to say this about PR peeps, but about half of my contacts come to me after a negative PR experience. Often, these boomerang clients talked with me first, decided I was too expensive or too unenthusiastic or would take too long to get results for their company/product/service (really, who am I to tell them that an Oprah appearance is not in the cards) so they moved on to cheaper, cheerier pastures – only to find that they hired a fraud.

It takes a R.E.A.L. professional to reliably asses a company/product/service, develops and communicates a strategy, implements that strategy across all fronts, makes assessments and changes along the way, earns some results, then reports the results with some meaning.

Who is going to do all of that work, and do it well, for a few dollars an hour?

The kid at my grocery store gets paid eight bucks an hour and he doesn’t know where the organic chocolate is. If you are looking to pay the same for communications strategy, you will end up with the same results – lost, wandering the isles without any chocolate.

Here are my Jules’ Rules for deciding if your pro is R.E.A.L. – reliable, earnest, aware, legit:

  1. RELIABLE: Your pro has a website, blog or online profile that clearly details their experience. A public profile that says real estate agent/dental assistant/PR Guru should raise red flags (actually, anything with guru should make you want to run, but that’s another post.) A profile that shows a progression of real jobs or credible consulting work within PR, Marketing, Communications, Media, Journalism or Advertising is a good sign.
  2. EARNEST: They only do PR. PR professionals write, strategize, build and implement PR plans – that’s all they do. If your PR does hair, is a landscaper, sells MLM products and they ADVERTISE it, then they may not really be a PR practitioner: they are a PR dabbler, at best. (In this economy, it would not be strange for solo practitioners to moonlight; they just probably wouldn’t include it in their PR resume.)
  3. AWARE: They must have had at least 3 clients, that they are not related to, who paid them money to perform PR services (not graphic design). You will know this to be true because you will actually call and speak with the 3 references, not just take their word for it.
  4. LEGIT: Their overall fee has three or more digits and they do not guarantee results. For example, please do not hire anyone who promises PR for $99 per month. They are not really doing any work, are simply optimizing your website for online search and calling it PR, or they are so inexperienced they do not know that they are charging a ridiculously low rate.

But wait, there’s more:

BONUS RULE # 1: They have a plan and it shows a progression over time, ideally months, but maybe weeks. Someone who offers to handle all your PR needs for a few hundred dollars and bang it out in a week may not understand the long-term commitment that is good PR.

BONUS RULE # 2: They pass the Google test. Meaning, when you do an online search of their name and company you find only good PR related posts (negative reviews happen, but mostly positive is the goal.) It is a great idea to find out what has been said about the person, what they are saying online and to understand who their associates are. It also helps to check to make sure they haven’t been called out by someone like Chris Anderson or the Bad Pitch Blog.

If you follow these six steps and your PR pro passes, I cannot guarantee that all your PR dreams will come true, but they should get the job done on time, on budget, and with some results.

If you do not follow these steps, I will be expecting your call in a few weeks. Don’t worry, I have plenty of facial tissue.