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November 4, 2004

What Should You Look for in a Public Relations Firm

By Bretton Holmes

If you've thought about the possibility of embarking on a media relations campaign, a word of caution: No two firms are the same, and you should know what to expect in all areas before some slick talking wheeler-dealer in suspenders who claims to have written a best-selling book on the subject of public relations phones your office telling you he can get you booked on the Oprah Winfrey Show.

With public relations, you are able to cover a much broader spectrum of your target audience, explaining to them in a place they trust and in a way they can understand exactly what it is you have to offer. You are able to provide them with a much better understanding of who you are and what you offer, doing it in a way that distinguishes you from all the other choices.

Selection tips

Because no two campaigns are the same, no two firms are the same either. What should you look for as signposts of success? Here are a few crucial guidelines:

Always check references. That guy in the suspenders from Los Angeles or New York who wrote a book on the subject of public relations? See what he tells you when you ask him to put you in contact with a former client he handled in your specialization. Chances are, if he can't give you more than two people to contact, it's time to move on and find someone who can. What you want to hear from the references is that they had more calls coming into their office than they could possibly handle as a result of working with the firm you're inquiring about.

Find out about your specialization. Many firms claim that there is so much exposure to be had that two people or companies with the same general expertise or product couldn't possibly have the same things to offer. If you'll be signing with a firm that has more than one of the same type of client at any given time, you'll be competing for interviews within that firm, which means less exposure.

Size does matter, although bigger doesn't always mean better. The chances that you can get lost in the shuffle at a large firm out of the big city are just as great whether you're a large company or an individual. Find a firm that only handles a certain number of clients at any given time. This shows a definitive interest in ensuring you not only get the attention you're paying for, but that they are able to respond to the needs of the media more quickly when called upon to do so.

Get a guarantee. The slick-talking guy in the suspenders will tell you time and time again that marketing does not come with a guarantee, and by default, neither can your public relations campaign. This is hogwash. If their firm doesn't offer a guarantee, politely escort them to the door and thank them for their time. You need to know what you can expect and they should back up their work.

What added value is there? Will they give you a few hours of free media training initially as a part of your campaign, or is this an added expense? If the firm isn't willing to invest in you to make sure your campaign starts off on the right foot, chances are they're only looking for a check.

How much attention are you getting? The best investment you can make is the executive who takes the time to find out what you've done in the past, what you're doing now, and where you'd like to be in the future, in order to specifically tailor their efforts to coincide with your unique needs. If there is a process there will be a result.

Set realistic goals. This is a difficult thing to do when someone is in your office touting their ability to get you on "Good Morning America." The lure of the golden ring can be blinding. If you've never seen someone with your expertise or product or service on Oprah, chances are you won't be either. Realistic expectations are the cornerstone of successful campaigns.

How will expenses be covered? Does the firm in question charge you for each phone call, fax, or letter? If they do, politely escort them to the door and thank them for their time. They'll appreciate the extra time they have to go suspender shopping.

Are monthly updates provided? This is an absolute necessity. Ask to see a sample of the monthly report they generate for clients. The areas that should be covered are what media outlets are interested in you, what has been booked for you and what items are pending. This way you'll know exactly what work is being done on your behalf. The firm should also include a complete list of every outlet that was contacted for the month in question, along with a comments section explaining their impression of where the campaign is. If you don't see this, chances are they're not worried about it.

What have they done lately? If you meet with an executive who shows you a New York Times article they placed 10 years ago, chances are that their recent success isn't all it's cracked up to be. Successful firms can show a wide array of diversified outlets in local, regional and national tiers that have used their experts within the last six months to two years. Remember, nostalgia isn't the cutting edge unless you're selling vintage clothing.

Bretton Holmes is the President and Founder of Holmes World Media, an image development and media relations firm. Business partners of Holmes World Media have been seen in some of the most prestigious media outlets in the country. Mr. Holmes' expertise is sought out regularly by experts and organizations who want to significantly increase their profile and reach. Bretton can be reached via e-mail at .


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