An author contacted me this week to find out if I had written anything about what you can expect from a publicist, because she is disillusioned with her firm and isn’t sure if her feelings are justified. Initially I responded that it is difficult to gauge because some of it depends on what is being promoted; the experience level of the person or firm handling the campaign; what you specifically have hired the firm to do; and how much you are paying for the service. Upon thinking about these things I thought expanding them as much as I can in a blog may be helpful and if anyone has a question about it, you can just ask me (firstname.lastname@example.org).
What are you promoting?
As an executive in the publicity world and having nearly twenty years of experience I can say honestly that what you are selling does make a major difference. You can’t pretend something is what it is not–that backfires tremendously–and you can’t manufacture credentials or a person’s background to raise their platform. Either you have the goods to work with or you don’t.
Now there are some gray areas in that we are all trained to “spin”, which for me means turning everything we have to work with into an advantage whether through messaging or opportunities. So for example, a person who isn’t a Ph.D. but who has a great concept can still be successful out there with the right promotional package and by hitting the right target audience.
Experience of the person or firm
When I first started doing publicity I had no idea of what I was doing or what it really meant. My mentor started me out with a press release and a list and said start pitching this list. My goal was to get the top TV, radio, and print in every market and as much national media as I could secure. I got on the phone and methodically went down the line, marking comments on my list, and bookings into my schedules. Was that all there was to it?
In my second job, my boss enlightened me to the fact that there was strategy involved in media and that you could shift directions if one way wasn’t working. I thought huh? Strategy? Anyway, I think you get my point as after many jobs and my own company later, I am a very, very good PR strategist.
What have you hired a publicist to do?
There are many ways to structure the contract you make with your publicist. Some people charge a monthly retainer; some a project fee; some hourly; some a la carte; etc. You need to keep in mind a couple of things about what a publicist does and how this all works, in my article Do You Know What a Book Publicist Does?
It all comes down to hours in a day, and the job of a publicist is very labor intensive. When you retain a person or firm you need to explain what you want to have done and if you aren’t sure of what’s possible, that person should be able to give you an idea based on his/her experience. Here is a quick list of some things you can/can not expect from your publicist:
1. You CAN NOT expect a set number of quantifiable results. You can’t purchase five feature stories from a publicist. That would be considered advertising, and it would cost you a heck of a lot more money.
2. You CAN secure a radio satellite company to book radio for you and they may be able to say they will get “x” number of interviews, but you CAN NOT expect they will all be national or on good stations. In some cases companies will not be able to book what they quoted and they may give you a refund for part of your contract.
3. You CAN NOT expect your publicist to be on call 24/7 unless you are a celebrity; it’s a matter of national security; or you are on tour at his/her discretion and your cab dumps you off in the middle of the desert at 2:00AM (hope there is cell service out there).
4. You CAN ask for regular written updates of his/her activities and outcomes as well as an accounting of where things stand with different parts of the campaign.
5. You CAN NOT expect your publicist to know everything so it’s okay if you have some ideas that he/she hasn’t thought of yet. You CAN collaborate which can lead to greater success.
6. You absolutely CAN expect that your publicist will be the expert who can guide you and explain what is likely and what is unlikely. You should be able to expect honesty from the person you are hiring.
Money, money, money
I have an earlier blog post about how much it costs to hire a publicist. I will be trite here, but the old adage “you get what you pay for” still stands. I have a rule when I buy something I consider major (like an appliance). I never buy the cheapest one and I never buy the most expensive. You have to figure if you call five people and they are all more expensive than one, the one is charging too little for what the job truly entails and you will not be happy. Do you have to hire the $50,000 firm in the big city? No. But do be practical and do consider that we are all trying to earn a living and experience, resources, and track record do play a part in what it is going to cost you.
Have I answered your question JH? I hope I have come close. Again, public relations and publicity is a tough industry where a firm may devote many hours and get few immediate results. In general, if you don’t feel comfortable with the person/firm you are working with you should try to have a candid conversation about your concerns. If you don’t think you are the right fit for each other, you may want to part ways.