For small business that doesn’t have a PR professional on staff, building a solid reputation through the media can be a nearly impossible task. Nevertheless, business owners who do invest in PR are usually well rewarded for their risk. In fact, dollar-for-dollar, PR is often more effective than many forms of marketing. Bet you didn’t know that!
So let’s say you are among the 20% of businesses – sorry, wish it were more! – out there ready to grow your brand awareness (and revenue) through proactive media outreach, then you should do some basic research before selecting a PR firm to represent your company to the media.
Here is a list of six pointers on how to find a PR firm that’s right for you:
- Industry Familiarity: while it’s not important to have a PR firm that specializes in your specific industry, it certainly helps if you work with a firm with some basic familiarity with your business and industry. It can keep the up-front education of the PR firm to a minimum. Plus, some PR firms may have a more extensive rolodex of media contacts in your industry, which can help get the results you seek. At the end of the day, however, it’s all up to the PR professional doing the work. If you picked a good one then results should be forthcoming regardless of industry knowledge.
- Track Record: make sure you ask what results the PR firm was able to accomplish for past clients. Ask for references, and don’t forget to follow up with a phone call to validate the information.
- Pricing Model: PR firms are a little like law firms in that most, if not all, require an up-front retainer to begin work. Big PR firms, it stands to reason, tend to be a lot more expensive than small PR firms. Regardless of which one you decide to go with, be sure you ask a PR firm to explain what is involved in the retainer and ask yourself if the promised services really do meet your needs (i.e., provide a measurable benefit). Sometimes PR firms bloat their retainer with services many small businesses simply don’t need, such as video recordings for “B-roll” (stock footage about your company) to submit to TV news stations.
- Skin in the Game: PR firms should not break your bottom-line. Some PR firms specialize in working with small businesses and are willing to put a little “skin in the game” by lowering the retainer and shifting cost to a performance-based PR model can help maximize your PR investment. In other words, you can peg performance directly to results. Ask PR firms you meet with if they are willing to take this approach.
- Chemistry: does your first phone call or face-to-face meeting give you a warm-and-fuzzy feeling or a cold-and-prickly one? Don’t ignore your gut instinct as red flags can lead to rough seas later on.
- Accountability: PR firms should be held accountable, regardless of the budget or size of the customer. Just because you’re small, doesn’t mean you should expect any less than the largest Fortune 500 Company. I recommend that small business owners insist on a 3-month trial period after which an honest assessment can be made. If the PR firm is delivering desired publicity results then it’s argues strongly for extending the agreement. Anything short of 100% satisfaction should generate a healthy conversation with the PR firm about what hasn’t gone according to plan and what corrective action should happen immediately to put the campaign back on course. If a firm resists this level of accountability, then it probably won’t be a good fit for your business in the long-run.
Got any pointers you want to share based on a recent experience with a PR firm? Let me know and maybe I’ll blog about it in a future post!
I am often asked why I chose to pursue pay-for-performance PR (also called Performance-Based PR) for Dave Manzer PR and Marketing over the standard retainer model that most PR firms use today.
The answer is an easy one but involves five important facts:
First, I work almost exclusively with small businesses making less than $2 million a year. That means their PR budgets tend to be limited. A sizable up-front retainer is a non-starter for most small business owners. To win them over, I offer a modest 3-month campaign with a blended price based on reduced retainers and back-end loaded bonuses tied to actual media placements.
Second, many small business owners are looking for a PR firm that is willing to partner with them, to share in the risk they take each time they write a check out for a marketing or PR activity. Performance-based PR is a way for a PR firm to show it cares enough about the success of the small business client that it is willing to defer compensation based on performance.
Third, small businesses today need to see results more quickly than ever before. Limited budgets, increased competition and economic uncertainty all require small businesses to reap the benefits of marketing and PR activities as efficiently as possible. A PR firm that is financially incentivized to deliver media placements as part of its overall compensation tends to be efficient in working toward a mutually beneficial outcome.
Fourth, PR needs to be based on goals. But not just goals, achieving goals is what is essential. While pay-for-performance PR firms like mine would love to be able to tie compensation to a small business’ ultimate goal – winning new customers – it’s simply not practical to base compensation on customer acquisition. So the next best goal is media coverage, which leads to greater brand awareness and, ultimately, customer acquisition!
Fifth and last, I am a small business owner so I get the need to see results. I would not ask a customer to pay for something I myself would not be comfortable buying. My Pay-for-Performance PR model was designed precisely for small businesses who know they need PR, and are willing to pay for it as long as they see great results.
Some PR firms might say that because a pay-for-performance PR firm like mine doesn’t take an up-front retainer that somehow it limits what the PR firm can provide. Not so. I can only speak for myself, but my clients have enjoyed tremendous local and national exposure. Multiple articles in TechCrunch, Entrepreneur, Inc., Wall Street Journal as well as many mentions in local news argue very favorably for a performance-based PR model.
At the end of the day, a small business is going to make the smart investment that minimizes risk and optimizes a desired outcome, which in the case of PR is media coverage leading to more brand awareness and revenue.
Pay-for-performance PR, performance-based PR or results-based PR – whatever you decide to call it – is the only model that truly ties performance to positive results while minimizing risk.
And it’s the single greatest reason why small businesses should work with PR firms willing to partner with them and truly share in the risk – and rewards! – that come with being a small business.
Of course, the value of (and disdain for) cold calling is long-standing. It’s one of the most immediate ways to connect with a prospect, and close a sale.
Cold calls (especially ones made from another country) also annoy the HELL out of most people these days. In fact, I polled a bunch of business owners a few years ago about what, if anything, they had purchased as a result of a cold call they received in the last 12 months. The overwhelming majority said nothing at all!
So what about PR? Does it have any magical qualities that drive people to a business like moths dive-bombing a street lamp? I argue that PR does have a secret hold on our psyches, opening us up to suggestions that we otherwise might not have considered entertaining.
A visit from Guy Fieri from the show “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives” to a local cafe. A TV interview of a day spa manager the week before Mother’s Day. A product review of a new iPhone right before Christmas. Any one of these PR coups can create a ton of positive buzz and have a huge impact on the cash register.
So while PR is a longer sales proposition and can’t match the immediacy of a cold call, it has the potential to create a lasting impression on the buyer’s mind.
And given the hyper-connected world of social media and desire for visual brand messaging it has spawned, it’s a lot easier to share media results from a PR campaign. In other words, folks (trying for Joe Biden here), it’s hard to imagine a cold call going viral.
Happy PR campaigning to you all!
Are you in Austin (or anywhere else in the world) and want to reach out to me about a PR consulting topic near and dear to your heart? Please leave a comment below or feel free to email me at dave(@)davemanzer.com.
The immortal words from Cool Hand Luke, starring Paul Newman, come to mind: “What we got here is a failure to communicate.” Only what “we got here” is sometimes not the failure to communicate but rather communicating the wrong message to the media.
The reasons a PR firm fails to obtain results for clients can vary widely but most often come down to:
- Message lacks substance: If you are not announcing something substantial – if it’s simply marketing fluff recycled as PR – then you are not likely to get news coverage, and your PR firm is likely to fail.
- Timing: Stories definitely do better when pitched in close proximity to major trend. For instance, a company that specializes in renting limos may have better luck getting media coverage during prom season than over Thanksgiving – unless, of course, the limo service does something wacky like offer a Thanksgiving meal served in a limo for a special holiday road trip.
- Junior Help: Sometimes PR firms delegate work to junior associates – many right out of college – who may not be as experienced with developing pitches and talking to media. It’s a sad reality that some PR firms don’t assign their top-shelf PR talent to smaller businesses paying (you guessed it) small retainers.
- Failure to Communicate: If the famous line from Cool Hand Luke (“What we got here is a failure to communicate”) tells us anything, it’s that communication can be a challenge between two parties – inside or outside of the penitentiary. Sometimes the PR firm doesn’t get all possible story ideas from its client; sometimes the client neglects to keep the PR firm informed of new happenings. Whatever the case may be, it is a situation that can easily be rectified with regular meetings or phone calls to make sure each side is communicating.
- Over / Under: Sometimes, in their zeal to win new clients, PR firms over-promise on media placements and under-deliver the results. I truly don’t think that most firms do this intentionally, at least not a lot of them. As humans, we are wired to “help” others. Our brains actually release more dopamine, a hormone that reinforces our urge to do things that feel good. I think some PR firms may over-promise because they truly WANT to help make a positive change for their clients.
- Great Expectations: Clients may also be partly to blame when a PR firm fails to deliver. Help yourself by doing a little research about PR campaigns for companies in your industry before deciding that getting into the Wall Street Journal or interviewed on Dr. Oz is the immediate goal.
- Technical Difficulty: If a client isn’t on the high dive trying something risky, then the judges won’t be very impressed. They don’t give out medals for mediocrity.
Have you experienced any other reasons small PR firms sometimes don’t meet the results? Leave them in the replies along with any tips!
Pay-for-Performance Public Relations (also known as Performance-Based PR) is a radical idea in the world of creative PR and branding. Why? Because most PR agencies charge hefty up-front retainers — many starting at $5,000 to $10,000 per month — to work with clients. Pay-for-Performance PR firms, on the other hand, tie compensation in part to actual media placements they make for clients.
Retainers in and of themselves are not a bad thing. The problem is that many smaller businesses like tech, food and consumer product goods startups simply cannot afford a large PR budget that does not deliver a significant amount of publicity, website clicks and new customer inquiries.
Most Pay-for-Performance PR agencies cut up-front retainers by as much as 50-75% of the typical PR retainer. In some extreme cases, the retainer is completely eliminated.
With traditional PR agencies you pay 100% of the fee without any guarantee of getting media coverage, which is ultimate the goal of PR. With Performance-Based PR, however, you pay for a blended retainer and media placement bonuses system that ties effort to success.
There are many reasons you should consider a Pay-for-Performance model over the traditional PR approach practiced by most other PR and creative firms:
- Compensation is directly tied to performance!
- Risk is shared between customer and PR / creative agency!
- Everything we do is focused on delivering media placements — the Holy Grail of PR!
- Smaller up-front investment is friendly to small businesses, emerging companies and startups!
- PR investments never outweigh the value delivered!
- Several Pay-for-Performance plans can meet differing PR needs including local, regional and national media outreach!
Pay-for-Performance is not for every company. Some companies, typically larger enterprises (Fortune 1000 companies), have a broad array of PR goals and branding requirements that a are better served by a flat-fee retainer model. For many small and medium-sized companies, however, a Pay-for-Performance model is an effective way to match limited resources to definable PR and branding objectives.
Are you curious to learn more about how Pay-for-Performance PR works or whether your company is a suitable candidate for it? Please feel free to call me at 512.963.9924 or send an email to Dave(at)DaveManzer.com.