by Daniel McDougall
27 May 2022
When you sell a house, you find a real estate agent. Most people get an accountant to do their tax. But you’d be amazed how many people think they can do PR themselves. If only it was as simple as “I’ll just write it and the media will run it.”
Sure, there’s self interest in play, so of course PR people would say they could do a much better job.
But here’s why you should use PR with open arms.
Just like the real estate or accountant, wouldn’t you want someone who has seen it and done it? Someone who can do so calmly and make it appear effortless even though it isn’t and bring their experience to the table?
Often PR people have been journalists so they have an added bonus that they know what the media want. They know when to call the media and when not to, what sort of stories journalists may be looking for, how to pitch to them, and the type of questions you may be asked and how to respond to them, with up to the minute background on what is in the news.
There’s a simple formula for what makes news. It’s the ‘what,’ ‘when,” ‘who,’ ‘where,’ ‘why’ and ‘how.’ Provide those elements in what you are trying to get across and it will matter to the media, your audience and key stakeholders. Next time you consume news, listen out for the 5 W’s and 1 H being covered on radio, TV, in print and online.
A good PR person shouldn’t take on a media project they can’t really sell. Personally, I’d rather not take a job on in those circumstances than take a fee. But the news agenda and what is published isn’t determined by how great any of us think a ‘story’ is. There is no guarantee of coverage and PR needs to be paid for in good faith. Luck and timing go into it, and relationships. What helps is consistency. Take a knock back politely (a PR can do this for you without anger), and build up a bank of content and stories, so you can try again.
A good PR person will sometimes have to both aim for the stars but also lower expectations. We all have our favourite TV programs and presenters. But loving a show or an interviewer (“I would just love you it if you got me on The Project”) and wanting to be on it may be admirable but not always achievable.
The high wire balance for PR is to be frank with clients and not promise what can’t be delivered. Sometimes we need to remember that your news is your news, but others will judge its newsworthiness. They just may not be that into you. That doesn’t mean it’s wasted effort; it may mean in practice it’s a nice piece of content for a website or newsletter but not for the front page or breaking news section. And sometimes the tail wags the dog, often a website piece or social media post may lead to media coverage later on.
Like the real estate agent and accountant, the PR is a professional who will charge a fee for service. While those fees may vary from big PR firm to mid-size or sole trader, there’s sometimes a lack of understanding about the cost of doing business. It’s unclear why.
Both PRs and potential clients have a role to play in being better at this, by being as transparent as they can about requirements and costs. To be fair, often an introductory conversation helps flesh out the key ask, allowing for a better proposal to be prepared that reflects the true commitment required to do the work and clients are very receptive of this.
To give you an idea of PR costs, check out the Rachel’s List pay rates report.
PR’s can come in all shapes and sizes. Some are large agencies with a broad remit, others are more specialised. Some are sole traders. There’s a place for everyone and it often depends on the problem, the project or the perception about your business that you are trying to address. That will often inform they type of skill you need. Look carefully at the experience people have and whether it meets your requirements. Regardless of who you choose, there is a huge benefit in having an external voice who can operate “outside of your organisation but advocate strongly for it” and offer independent and at times frank advice when desperately needed. You can drag down the rate you want to pay, but like other industries you will get what you pay for.
Most of all have fun with PR. Don’t expect results overnight but do invest and reinvest. Of course PR people will say that, but it’s true. Only through careful and patient, sustained and resilient advocacy can you hope to succeed.
What a PR can do for you is really a ‘how long is a piece of string’ question – but we’d love to hear your experiences in the comments. Are you a PR who was nodding enthusiastically along to this piece, or a person who’s used a PR and learned something?