Think You’re Ready for PR? Tips from Those Who Know

By Jennifer Fleming, President, TallGrass Public Relations

Whether you’re a newly formed start-up or a well-established brand or thought leader, you’ve probably thought about or dabbled in public relations.

No matter how great your marketing strategies are, there is nothing more credible than an effective PR campaign. So if you’re at the stage where you really want to build your business brand, then it’s time to start seriously considering hiring professional assistance.  

The TallGrass team consults with hundreds of clients each year in various phases of their marketing and PR strategy and programs. Some are at square one; others have worked with firms in their past or current companies.

But in order to make PR work, it boils down to three things: definitive goals, managed expectations and the right experts.

Know your goals and your bandwidth

Every new client at TallGrass participates in a strategic planning session – we won’t work with a client unless we do. Your PR firm should spend the time to understand your business. From your product roll-out schedule to growth opportunities, revenue models to target markets, asking the questions and understanding your business is critical to create messaging and stories that resonate. It drives the strategy to achieve your goals.

If you’re unclear about your goals, your mission and your 118/elevator pitch, get clear – fast. Without these guideposts, your PR team can’t begin to understand the parameters of what you’re trying to accomplish (and neither can your company!). A great firm should be able to ask the right questions, form a strategy and guide you in the right direction.

Not only do you need to be clear on your goals, but also your company needs to make PR an organizational commitment. Today, PR professionals outnumber journalists three to one. Requests for contributed content – content originated from your company or a “hired gun” content writer – are more and more common. PR will take time – yours and your firm’s. Are you prepared to drop everything for an interview or draft a thousand-word article?

“Make sure you know what to do with the results,” says Deane Barker, partner at Blend Interactive. “If you get a ton of speaking opportunities, can you fulfill them? How will you vet them? If sales leads come pouring in, do you have a process to manage them? Can you do anything with them? What results from PR is a raw asset that needs to be refined to have business value. Can you do this?”

If you want to be in the NYT, sleep with Paris Hilton

I’m kidding, sort of. Managing the expectations of our clients with the appropriate media outlets and journalists is an important part of what we do. Who wouldn’t love a placement in a major publication? But being everywhere is just as important. Having an arsenal of great coverage provides credibility and establishes you as a thought leader.

“It’s always nice to get a major media hit or article placement in a major national publication like USA Today. However, the real value is all of the smaller placements in industry magazines (print and digital) that focus on a target-specific audience,” says Shep Hyken, customer service expert, author and speaker. “While getting a spot on the ‘Today Show’ was great for my ego, the interviews and article placements in the industry publications were great for my business.”

Equally challenging and important in managing expectations is how to measure your ROI. Having a baseline of coverage from which to measure is great and can be helpful to define “we want X number of placements.” But PR is just part of the overall marketing mix.

“Don’t look at the ROI, it’s hard to measure and nearly impossible to see direct revenue,” says Mitchell Levy, Thought Leader Architect of THiNKaha. “What you are looking for is increased awareness leading to more opportunities for you and your team to engage with your future advocates. Those opportunities, if handled properly, will lead to significantly increased revenue.”

You’re hiring an expert for a reason

Companies can dabble with DIY public relations. But “it’s difficult to be consistent with pitching your business while you’re trying to run your company, too,” says Susan Solovic, small business expert, entrepreneur and author.

Just as you know your business inside and out, a PR professional can find the gems of your value proposition, messaging, product, service and company to tell your story.

But you have to be working with the right people. The ability to have open dialogue and to try a variety of tactics, to be flexible and agile creates a winning strategy.

“What worked in the past may not work in the future, and you want to be working with folks that you like, trust and are willing to try a number of techniques to be able to deliver the results you’re looking for,” Levy says.

A client once said to me, “Great PR is the ability to take chicken shit and make chicken salad.” Well said! You’ve hired an expert for a reason – now let them take the lead and let them do what they do best.

Jennifer Fleming is President of TallGrass PR, a global B2B public relations firm. She’s been known to follow shiny objects. Follow her at @jkfleming.