If You Rely on Public Relations As Your Saving Grace, Think Again

One of the biggest misconceptions many people seem to have of public relations is that it is a guaranteed source of revenue. However, this is not the case. In fact, it is more valuable than that. A well-executed PR campaign is actually an investment for the long-term prosperity and success of a business, brand or individual. The only thing that one needs to have is patience.

A few years ago, a client recommended our firm to two friends who were about to introduce a semi-autobiographical, off-Broadway show to theatergoers in New York. The show would be opening in three months, with an indefinite run at the theatre, depending on its success.

Following a very successful meeting, our clear understanding was that they understood that publicity would only be used to build awareness of the show, but would be used in conjunction with other methods of exposure, such as advertising and marketing efforts.

Soon after, we hit the ground running and quickly acquired them a substantial amount of national press exposure, including everything from cover stories in magazines to blurbs to feature articles. But as the premiere of the show drew closer, the client’s expectations started to shift. What first started out as wanting any press, overnight changed to the expectation that we would need to score the show exposure in only top-tier media outlets. And to add, they had terminated their arrangement with their marketing and advertising firm with efforts ceasing before they began. And then the show opened, and the reviews were not kind.

We immediately went to Plan B. We made the recommendation to the client that we should start steering the focus away from reviews back to more feature-oriented press. But they didn’t agree. And shortly thereafter, the seats got emptier and emptier, and within only a couple of weeks, the show was playing to an empty theatre.

That is when we learned that they were clearly no longer on the same page. In fact, they had poured all of their finances, including their own home, into this show. And they were expecting us to fill the seats only with PR efforts. All of the pressure was immediately put solely on the PR firm, with the expectation that we would be in charge of driving ticket sales. And when that didn’t happen, the blame was irresponsibly pointed at us.

Shortly thereafter, we decided to terminate the relationship with them. But in this, we also learned a valuable lesson — one that we are faced with every so often — that all clients come bearing different expectations of publicity services.

Some expect PR to do exactly what it is intended to do, which is to generate awareness; some expect it to change a misguided perception of their product or service; some think it will immediately generate sales; and some think it will cause them to become an overnight celebrity.

There are five things you must bear in mind when thinking about hiring a publicist or a PR firm.

  • First – Even though press coverage produced by Public Relations efforts does generally end up indirectly yielding sales, PR is not meant as a means to do so. Instead, it is primarily intended to only raise awareness of a brand or individual, and to generate industry credibility. Consistency is the key.
  • Second – Do not rely solely on a Public Relations campaign to make your brand succeed. While very valuable, it is not a miracle drug. As with any business, there must be many different factors at work. For example, if you do not have a proper distribution strategy, consumers will have a harder time locating your products, so any press coverage produced will not work to its maximum potential. Also, if you do not implement a full marketing approach, including marketing and advertising efforts, you will limit the impact created by your Public Relations strategy. A true Public Relations campaign needs to work in tandem with all other aspects of the marketing “tree.” This would be similar to trying to drive a car with an engine and no transmission, or trying to ride a bike with only a drivetrain and no steering.
  • Third – Although it is difficult, albeit almost impossible to monetize Public Relations efforts, one of the most widely used methods of determining whether or not you have made your investment back is in measuring the cost of your PR services by the amount of ad equivalency value you have received. For example, if you spend $5,000/per-month to retain a PR firm, and they score you a cover story in a magazine, and the cost to purchase an advertisement of the same size in that publication normally costs $10,000, you have already recouped your investment. Now, think about that in terms of a year. In a year, your PR firm might generate over $1 million in ad equivalency value, when you only had to pay them $60,000. And that’s a conservative estimate.
  • Fourth – Once you commence a Public Relations campaign with your firm, do not consistently change your expectations or goals on them. If you start the campaign with the expectation that you would only like local or regionalized press coverage, don’t up the bar on your publicity team every time that coverage isn’t yielding the results you were originally hoping for. Doing so not only tells your PR firm and the public-at-large that you do not understand your own message, but it also creates a stop/start momentum that can be detrimental to your PR campaign, and your PR firm will constantly need to re-focus its strategy every time.
  • Fifth – Even though you might believe you have the best product on the market, not everyone will agree. Your product or service may be the best thing since sliced bread for one media outlet, and not to another. If you are expecting to get on Oprah or Ellen, but do not have the story to back it up, you may want to scale back your expectations.

Remember, if you start your PR campaign with an open mind and provide clear-cut goals and expectations to your PR firm, you will almost always come out a winner.