With all of the tools for communication available today, many people are asking if hiring a PR firm still makes sense. Can you go it alone? Here are some things to consider before making that decision:

Truly understand what PR is.
By definition, PR refers to the actions of a corporation, store, government or individual in promoting goodwill between itself and the public. PR is the profession whose concern is maintaining that image. We shape messages, form ongoing strategies, and communicate to the media and the general public in an effort to promote goodwill. PR is not one press release, or a single event. It’s a long term strategy, with a supporting set of tactics, that builds your brand and influences public perception about you and your brand.

Craft stories and newsworthy events to support your strategy.
Once you’ve determined your brand strategy, all communications tactics must be designed to support it. Ask yourself before deciding on any event or news release topic: “How does this action fit with how I want the public to think about me?” Be objective, and try to view the piece as someone seeing your name for the first time. What impression will they have?

Next, be sure that what you’re creating is actually newsworthy. Tying into trends and news of the day can be a good way to create a newsworthy angle. If you’re creating a trend, be sure you have data to back it up, and be prepared to offer another source (a client or someone who is an example of the trend) to speak with the media. Remember, it’s not a trend just because you say so! A reporter will always ask you for proof, and a media outlet will never do a story that’s little more than a commercial for your business.

Do the research, and know how to work with the media.
First of all, you must know the reporter you want to work with. No, you don’t need to be best friends, but you do need to know them through their work. There’s one thing that I hear time and again from reporters: “Before you pitch me anything, read my stuff!” Become a devoted follower of the news outlets where you’re trying to gain coverage. If you read, watch, listen on a regular basis, you can see the trends in what the reporter and the outlet is looking for, and what types of stories they want to cover. Fitting that pattern increases your chances of getting their attention.

Second, know the outlet and what they need in order to make a story. The most important component of this is knowing the media’s deadlines. What time and day does the paper go to print? When does that columnist need to submit her story? When is the best time to pitch a radio personality? When do the morning show producers hit the studio and put together their daily schedules? Remember, you need the media – not necessarily the other way around. That means you work on their schedule, not yours.

The other important component to consider in giving the media what they need is preparing the information that will make it easy for them to run with the story. If TV is your target, you must create a visual. If it’s a morning talk show, create the points that you will be able to speak about which support your story. If it’s print, make sure you have all the facts and figures you need, and supporting sources (as mentioned above). Newsrooms are very tight these days, and the more help you can give the reporters, editors and producers in creating the story, the more likely you are to gain their attention.

Prepare for the interview!
Great news – you’ve landed the story! Now you’re in the hot-seat faced with a question that you don’t know how to answer. Not so good. Before you go to the interview, consider your talking points and all questions that may be asked about your subject. Learn how to answer in a way that reinforces your talking points, and don’t get stuck going out on a hypothetical limb or providing incorrect information. In today’s constant cycle of communication, one misstatement or faux pas can travel around the globe very quickly. You must practice and be comfortable in media interviews, and be sure to avoid any pitfalls. Oh, and it also is good to mention that you need to be available when the media needs you. Remember, they’re on tight deadlines and they remember who is easily accessible and who isn’t.

Thank the reporter.
Nothing goes further than a good, old-fashioned “thank you” note. Reporters like to get feedback, and if they do a great job for you, go the extra mile and send a note to his or her boss! Be careful with gifts, however, as many newsrooms don’t allow this, or have restrictions on gifts.

Leverage online and social media.
Online and social media have opened a whole new world of communications. It’s where conversations happen. It’s where sharing takes place, and recommendations are made. These conversations are happening with or without you, so ignoring things like Twitter, Facebook, Blogs and LinkedIn isn’t an option anymore. It’s also become a real source of information and dialogue for traditional media, and is a great place to build those relationships. However, without solid strategy and without the right mix of listening and interaction, your social media efforts will not reap the right benefits. Your social media strategy should be integrated into your overall communications strategy, with management and tactics created to encourage interaction – not shout your message.

While the items listed above may seem like a lot (and it is a lot), there are many more things that go into good PR and media relations. Chances are, your job isn’t to do full time PR. But don’t be discouraged – that’s what PR firms are for! It’s our job to do all of the legwork, craft the right hooks, prepare the media and prepare you, and make sure that all goes off without a hitch, so you can focus on your business. And when crises occur, we can help you manage those too.

A good PR firm will integrate seamlessly into your team, and value your mission, goals and strategy as much as you do – then work hard to help you achieve those goals. Talk with trusted friends and colleagues who have experience with PR firms to get referrals, then interview the firm to make sure there is alignment and good chemistry. Once on board, work with the firm on strategy, creation of an ongoing plan, and agreement on expectations and outcomes. Keep in mind, no PR firm can guarantee coverage, so be wary of those who make this promise. Ongoing communication and regular meetings or conference calls will keep the plan on track and inspire additional story angles that support your strategy – all of which lead to greater chances of coverage and success of your campaigns.

For additional information, please contact me at 636-379-3895 extension 12, or via email at lauren@kolbeco.net.

About the Author:
Lauren Kolbe is Co-Owner and Senior Manager of KolbeCo, an award-winning, full-service communications firm specializing in emerging businesses and providing a wide range of services including PR, advertising, direct marketing, social media, and online communications. Established in 2000, KolbeCo clients have appeared on NBC’s Today Show, CNBC’s On the Money, Newsweek, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Forbes, Money, The New York Times, and scores of additional national and local outlets in key markets.

Kolbe is a board member and Past President of the St. Louis Chapter of the American Marketing Association, and is an active member of the Women’s Leadership Society of the United Way. She also serves on the board for Just Because We Care, a local charity which provides food, education, housing and basic medical care to children in a small mountain village in Honduras. Kolbe has fostered a pet friendly environment at KolbeCo, where she and her staff organize an annual drive to benefit Stray Rescue of St. Louis.

Kolbe has been a featured speaker on marketing and PR topics at several conferences in the St. Louis area, including the St. Charles County EDC’s Alliance Program, the American Marketing Association, the National Association of the Remodeling Industry, U Design Jewelry’s National Sales & Marketing Conference, and Rising Stars of St. Charles County. She has been featured in Redbook, Success magazine, the St. Louis Business Journal, St. Louis Small Business Monthly, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and Professional Remodeler, among others. Kolbe is a member of St. Charles Business Magazine’s 2008-2009 40 under 40 class, and received Dove Award Nominations in 2007, 2008 and 2009. She is a graduate of the University of Southern California, which honored her with a 2005 Alumni Service Award, and remains active in local student recruiting activities.