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.

2 thoughts on “Six Steps to Finding a Good PR Person

  1. What a tasty post, Jules. Seriously, good information. I’d add a few more items to the list for clients in search for a good PR person:

    1. Watch the Writing. PR professionals are being asked to develop and implement effective communications strategies across varied media. We’re tweeting, texting, Facebooking, tumbling and so on and it’s easy to lose sight of the kind of writing required for specific media. If you as a client are receiving e-mails from a so-called professional dressed as texts or tweets, you might want to give them a harder look. Less expensive, as you’ve mentioned here, isn’t necessarily indicative of long-term cost savings or good value. Good writing is an essential element of any good communications strategy.

    2. Use the Data. I’ve written about this here before, Jules. It’s virtually impossible to develop an effective PR strategy without detailed audience data. Different audiences make use of and consume different media in their search for whatever product or service they need. Each audience requires the kind of analysis seasoned pros will conduct and make the best use of. If a client’s potential PR person has adopted a “throw it at the wall and see what sticks” approach to PR, that client’s probably on the way to throwing money out the window.

    3. People Have Eyes, Too. You’ve rightly given credence to the idea that a PR strategy may entail print, electronic and broadcast media. The days of the press release as the primary means through which to communicate information about client products, programs and initiatives are gone. Companies and clients looking to cut corners at the expense of an integrated PR program may find themselves given short shrift in the marketplace. While your decision to engage consumers in this fashion will depend, in part, on the data collected during the research and evaluation phase, it’s important to recognize the potential positives attending on the use of these tools.

    1. Thank you so much for adding rules. I knew there would be more.

      Yes, in terms of a small business looking for PR counsel, review of writing samples is a great idea. People have different styles and you want to make sure your pro is a match, otherwise you will spend half your time editing what they write. I tend to write very formally for business and super informally for social media. That might make a difference to clients, so if they look at a bit of my work, they can make an informed decision.

      I agree about the use of data. A small business owner should expect their PR person to conduct both internal and external research about the company, the market and relevant audiences. Armed with that data, a plan can be put into place. I would be wary of hiring a pro that just jumps in and starts with out asking a lot of questions first. Yes, I know, I am supposed to give extra credit for enthusiasm, but I don’t.

      For number three, I agree that visual elements are so important, but I want to make sure to separate the work of a graphic or digital designer and communication professional. They should both be part of your team of experts, but not the same person.

      Thanks so much for being here. I really like your feedback and detailed comments.

Comments are closed.