Is media relations really that easy?

The money spent on a PR firm is well worth it over time, but a client organization should know what to expect, including its role in monitoring coverage.


Geoffrey James’s article “How To Do Your Own PR” on Inc.com leads off with this question: “Why pay big money to a PR firm when it’s so easy to get media coverage?”

He goes further, stating “PR—getting positive media coverage—isn’t all that difficult.”

OK, Mr. James. You’ve got my attention. I’m a PR person. Though I’ll grant that some services we provide are things that our clients could do on their own (write and edit press releases, for example) but simply don’t have the time to do efficiently, I’d truly be remiss in calling media relations easy. Am I missing something?

Having read the complete article—1,000-plus words—I am pretty sure that most businesses don’t have the time or the expertise to do what James is suggesting. And he doesn’t convincingly support his claim that PR is easy.

A $10,000 boondoggle?

Assuming most businesses will continue to seek out PR counsel, James would better serve his readers by addressing another, much more startling, issue in detail. James states: “I know people who are paying as much $10,000 a month to a PR firm and getting very little out of it.”

Excuse me? If your business is paying $10,000 a month for PR services and is not getting anything out of it, please call me immediately. If you’re wondering whether you’re getting what you should out of your PR retainer, consider the list below.

For $10,000 a month in PR services, here are four things you absolutely should expect:

1. Media coverage. If your primary goal in hiring a PR firm is media coverage and you stated that goal clearly up front, then your PR firm should be finding a way to get you some. Period. I’m not saying to fire your PR firm if you’re not on the “Today” show after a week. But if, as James suggests, you’re getting “very little” or nothing out of the relationship, something is probably wrong.

2. Messaging and storyline development. Is your PR firm working hard to tease stories from your company and find new ways to position your expertise? James calls this “devising a story worth writing about.” He’s right that reporters are always on the lookout for stories that would appeal to their audiences. A good PR firm will help you identify stories that work for reporters. (The trick is that these stories may not be the same ones that work for you or your sales team.)

3. Proactive outreach. Your PR team should be leading the charge on how to position you to the media. By the way, that doesn’t always mean churning out press releases. A “pitch” is among the most valuable tools your PR counsel brings to the table. James offers some tips on pitching, but it’s really about relationships. You should expect your PR firm to have those relationships and use them to pitch your stories regularly.

4. Reporting. Media coverage doesn’t always come on a timeline we can control, so even a great PR firm might need a little time to place your story. That said, as a client you are entitled to know who is being pitched and when, what storylines are being pursued, and what the response from media is like—in other words, how is that retainer being spent. As far as I’m concerned, you also own the media list, so don’t be shy about asking to see it.

Frankly, you should expect these things no matter what your retainer is. But $10,000 a month is a pretty healthy retainer for PR anywhere in the U.S. We’re in Richmond, but we work all over the country, including top media markets such as New York.

I assure you that any PR firm would welcome $10,000 a month. So, if you’re not getting at least these four things, don’t try to do it yourself. Find a PR firm that does these things well, and you’ll get results worth 10 times what you pay.

Caroline Platt works at The Hodges Partnership, an agency that specializes in media relations.

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Topics: PR

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