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Monday, May 29, 2023

Entrepreneur’s Notebook

You’re ready to make that step, to hire a P.R. firm and take your business to the next level. You’re excited but worried. You’re making a commitment of time and money, but you’re not quite sure what you’re committing to.

You’re not even 100 percent sure what exactly public relations is. Advertising is easier to define. In the most simplistic of terms, you pay someone to create an ad, pay for placement and the ad runs.

Maybe it pulls and maybe it doesn’t, but at least the process is understandable.

P.R. is a different animal. There are no guarantees. Once you commit, how do you know the firm is going to do its job? What if it doesn’t work? What about the time and money you’ve invested?

The reason media placement is so powerful is that you can sidestep the advertising section and jump to the editorial section. It makes your story a part of the magazine article or TV program. It makes you a part of the reason that John (and Joan) Q. Public have picked up that magazine, or turned on that TV program. In effect, you become the news.

If you are being interviewed on an evening news segment, your interview could be placed between an interview with the president of the United States and a feature on the newest medical breakthrough. Not only do you reach your target audience, but you also gain credibility and legitimacy that no amount of advertising can offer. P.R. is not a fire sale, but once a campaign takes off, it can be the most powerful form of marketing available.

It’s useful to know what to expect and how to work with your public relations firm. Its obligation is to give you the best campaign it can, to come up with the best releases, develop creative pitches, effectively utilize its media contacts, make follow-up calls, and develop an effective and successful campaign for you and your business.

You, in turn, have obligations as well. The primary one is to pay your fee in a timely manner. Also, do your homework. Work with your P.R. firm to develop new and unique story ideas, try to make yourself as available as possible for interviews, broaden the scope of topics that you are willing to address, and leave your ego at the door.

Expect results but be realistic. Remember, this is a cumulative process, one that takes time. I have had clients begin to panic within days of signing because we hadn’t yet placed them on the cover of Time magazine.

A public relations campaign requires patience. If you’re with a firm for a few weeks and nothing has happened, relax. You may not have a story placed for a while, but that doesn’t mean the campaign will be ineffective.

Only sign with a public relations company if you are willing to give the campaign a chance to succeed and make a commitment of both time and money. Although a campaign can move incredibly swiftly, P.R. is by definition a slow-building, cumulative process.

The more prepared you are, the greater your chance of success coming sooner rather than later. An effective public relations campaign takes time, but the wait is worth it.

Respect breeds success. Treat your representatives the way you wish to be treated. It is human nature to want to do a good job for someone who has realistic expectations and treats you with respect.

I don’t mean to imply that you should stay mum if there are problems with your campaign. By all means, speak up, make the company accountable. But be realistic, and if they’ve done a good job, tell them.

Don’t try to run the campaign yourself. You’ve hired professionals for their expertise, let them use it. There is nothing more harmful to a campaign than a client who insists on rewriting every release or dictating the direction the campaign should take every step of the way.

Stay involved. As I tell my clients, I know P.R., but they know their business. The more information you give your representative, the better. If there is a trend in your business, or a breakthrough, or anything that is newsworthy, let your P.R. representative know.

Stay in touch but don’t overdo it. You want to know how your campaign is progressing, but don’t turn your P.R. representative into a baby sitter or psychologist. Don’t be afraid to call in order to see how things are going, or to come up with new story ideas, but only call if there is a real reason.

Take direction. No matter how many interviews you’ve done, you can always improve your presentation skills. If your firm offers media training, take it.

P.R. is not a quick fix. If you have real financial problems, or are working on a very limited budget, do not hire a P.R. firm. Spot advertising, on a very limited scale, or another form of marketing may be called for.

I have seen successful P.R. campaigns literally work miracles, but if you don’t have the funds available to hire a firm, wait until you do. Don’t sign a long-term P.R. agreement in the hopes that your first few days of the campaign will generate enough cash for you to pay next month’s rent. It won’t.

Anthony Mora is president and CEO of Anthony Mora Communications Inc., an L.A.-based public relations firm, and the author of “Alchemy of Success.” He can be reached at amora5@ix.netcom.com

Entrepreneur’s Notebook is a regular column contributed by EC2, The Annenberg Incubator Project, a center for multimedia and electronic communications at the University of Southern California. Contact James Klein at (213) 743-1759 with feedback and topic suggestions.

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