Recently, a friend of mine who is in the infancy stage of her business asked me if she should hire a pr firm to ‘get her name out there.’ In the same breath, she also let me know that she did not have the cash flow to hire them so she would need to take out a loan to pay for it.
My answer was a big fat no.
First off, let me say that I love publicists. The truly talented and well connected do fantastic work. I have worked with some outstanding individuals who have taken brands far. However, having started several businesses and made just about every mistake possible, I was very prepared to give my friend advice and hopefully spare her some pain and frustration.
One thing that I want to make very clear, getting your name out there is not a strategy. It’s too vague, and you can never tell with any accuracy if your brand awareness activity made an impact. You need sales to make an impact, and brand awareness does not equate to immediate sales. It is a pet peeve of mine, only because I’ve conned myself many times by saying something will help me get my name out there to justify unnecessary expenses and lost a fortune following that path.
I also want to explain how a PR firm works. They create targeted plans to get your brand exposure. Immediately, they will need product, hi-res images of products, well-crafted product descriptions, and professional photos of you. They will begin pitching publications and media outlets, and this takes persistence and experience. And there are no guarantees that you’ll get a placement. Some print publications will have a lead time of months, so the work they do today won’t pay off for months, if at all.
They’ll also present you with lots of gifting opportunities. Do you have 5,000 pieces of your product to drop in a swag bag? Chances are if you are in the infancy stage of your brand, you don’t. The other thing to consider with celebrity gifting opportunities is that most of the time, they don’t give you an instant lift in your exposure. There is no guarantee that the celebrities will endorse you publically. So what do you get out of it?
With all this said, there are so many other marketing activities that need to happen in addition to pr to make your brand a success. PR is just one piece of a marketing program. Do you have all the other parts in play? If not, you need to.
I can truly relate to my friend. I’ve been in that infancy stage with a brand, and I’ve been so desperate to make my business a success, that I wanted to take the easy route of hiring an expert to get me mentioned in magazines. If I get in the magazines, people will see that as a stamp of approval, and then they will buy my product. I’ll sell my product on QVC, grow a cult following, sell my business to a major corporation and live the rest of my days in a penthouse in Manhattan with fabulous friends. I mean, that’s how it works. Right?
The thing is, those are the unicorns. There is a lot of blood, sweat, and tears that go into making that dream a reality. And for some of these unicorns, there are significant budgets and super-talented teams who help them build their successful empire. That part of the story is left out of their bios when they strike gold, or if it is included, it is spun in such a way that it appears that the team volunteered to lift them to greatness because they believed in their leader’s vision so passionately.
In my friend’s situation, I had to tell her to not even think about hiring a publicist because she isn’t there yet financially. And that is the truth. If she doesn’t have the cash to hire a publicist, she will never see a return on her investment quickly enough to make it worthwhile. That isn’t the fault of the pr firm. Publicity is a long game. She’ll go broke feeding the beast in the hope that success is right around the corner.
Until you can hire experts, try a little DIY pr and marketing. Now I don’t expect you to be an expert marketer because chances are, that isn’t what you got into business to be. However, you can learn the basics, get the ball rolling, and get sales on the books. That momentum will move you forward to the point when you can bring in the experts.
In addition, I would strongly recommend you hire a paid marketing intern because you are going to need help. They don’t need marketing experience, they just need an entrepreneurial spirit like yours and you guys can learn and grow together.
I have created marketing internship programs for several companies and it has been one of the most rewarding things I have ever done. I load them up with the Inbound Marketing Certification from HubSpot, and I give them a copy of ‘The New Rules of Marketing and PR’ by David Meerman Scott so they’re equipped with the basic knowledge they need to get started.I share my vision and goals and they work towards them. Most importantly, I encourage their candor and empower them to own their projects.
If you’re not ready to start building your marketing team, no worries. Get started by reading that book and getting the Inbound Certification. I guarantee that your marketing nerd brain will be so fired up and you will have the confidence to tackle foundational marketing activities that will make a huge impact.
When you get to the point where you can set aside a few thousand dollars a month for a pr firm and you have the assets they’ll need in place, hire one. Just don’t take a gamble and hire one prematurely. It will not be what you’re expecting, and you will be disappointed. And that starts a downward spiral it is hard to recover from.