Why Public Relations Doesnt Just Happen

By: Diane T. Creston

Public relations is a very important part of the marketing mix. A successful PR campaign provides third-party endorsement of products or services which is something no other marketing element can deliver. Many people think that once a company starts advertising, editors beat a path to your door. In some cases, that actually does happen, but it's not the norm.

Public relations is very different from advertising. One main differrence is that you can't buy media placement. The story is either newsworthy, or it's not. Paid placement is called advertising.

Both marketing elements are important, but public relations can sometimes be a slow build. Results don't happen in a few weeks or in a month, especially with the three month lead time needed for magazines print deadlines. When dealing with television, newspapers or radio, the three month lead time is not an issue, but competition is an issue.

There have been situations where we've had an instant success story. We created a museum event in Philadelphia at a small children's museum that was an incredible media success story. Every newspaper, ethnic publication and television station showed up for this event. Over the years, we've also had a number of press conferences with tons of media coverage the next day. This is expecially true if the news is sensational or the product is very popular at retail.

In one case, we generated thousands of stories for a client, but we were trying to generate an article in a major business paper. Nothing worked. The editor was interested, but he didn't understand the point we were using as the "hook" for the story. When we finally drove home the point of differrence between mass market retailers and specialty retailers, he wrote the story and it was fantastic. Our story ended up on the front page of the business section minus one column, but it took months and months of work.

Many clients don't understand the PR process. For example, when I was handling the marketing for a major children's line of licensed apparel, the client had signed the advertising contract, but not the public relations contract. He just didn't understand the entire subject and finally asked for a meeting to discuss things. Shortly into the meeting, this charming, grandfatherly gentleman looked at me with a straight face and said, "Why do I have to pay for this, doesn't it just happen?" ?

At first, I thought he was kidding, but then I could see that he simply didn't understand the process, or the discipline. After a rather lengthy discussion, he signed the contract. The campaign was a big success and so was the clothing line.?

Some clients don't have the budget for the entire marketing mix of trade advertising, consumer advertising, sales promotion, web site development and PR. Many will start with PR and trade advertising and then increase their marketing budget over time.

How To Choose An Agency

When you are ready to consider an agency, what should you look for in a PR team? For starters, the chemistry has to be there. You also need experience and media connections. Don't hesitate to ask for client references. Once you have them, pick up the phone and make some calls.

Don't assume that the new business people will service your account. If there is one account person that you feel has the expertise you need, consider requesting that this individual be the point person on your account. The agency should be willing to agree to this request in your written contract. Beware of bait and switch, where you are courted by the new business people who will never be seen again after the contract is signed.

What You Can Expect

Some points to remember:

  • Nothing kills a bad product faster than excellent PR and advertising. Customers may purchase the product once and then, that's it.

  • When products are photographed, the samples must be in perfect condition. The camera picks up and magnifies very tiny flaws. Retouching is expensive, so be careful when you select product samples for photography.

  • PR is not a tool used to force retail distribution. If you try it, the move will come back to haunt you. When an editor asks for information about the retail distribution of a product and/or service, the PR agency had better have answers or the ability to obtain the answers quickly. Reporters and editors always manage to call for this information when they are on deadline so everything is a rush. A response such as we're planning to open outlets soon in your area is not the correct answer.

Put yourself in the editor's place. He/she is interested in writing about your product and the readers expect to be able to find the item in local stores, on respected web sites, or in catalogs. If they can't do any of the above, the editor will not write about the product.

I have had consumers track me down because they wanted a specific product and could not find it at the retail store mentioned in the article because the item had sold out. One Christmas, I was practically running a mail order operation out of the agency because frantic consumers were calling for one specific product that did not have wide retail distribution.

  • Trade books usually publish one month in advance. Consumer books publish three, yes three months in advance. If you're hoping for a December magazine story, you'd better start planning in July or August.

  • If your agency is creative, it will come up with innovative "hooks" for your products or services.

PR is a wonderful marketing tool, but you must understand the basics to understand how it can work for your company. ?

Diane T. Creston


Creston & Associates, Ltd.

Business and Finance
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