Any entrepreneur who has come across a great public relations professional understands how invaluable these people are; their ability to understand your business and create a strategy and narrative for best communicating that information is nothing shy of genius — truly.
But the bad PR people (who far outnumber the great ones) are like sour apples spoiling the bunch. They leave a bitter taste in the mouths of any company wishing to pursue PR in the future, and have inadvertently created frustration and chaos for journalists. On the client side, their offenses are a garden variety of overpriced PR services for relatively unimpressive results; poor internal communication (ironically); overselling their PR capabilities; and at worst, sheer incompetence.
Journalists, on the other side of the PR problem, are the unfortunate recipients of poorly written press releases, spam pitch emails, offbeat pitching, and just blatant disregard for their craft.
So, what is actually required in order to create a great PR experience?
What we’ve found, through market observation, is that in order for PR to truly work for everyone involved (but especially the business owner who hired a PR expert), three things are required:
When a PR pro fundamentally and thoroughly understands what the client is trying to achieve, both parties are positioned for success. When clear expectations are set from the beginning, and both the client and the PR agency tells the truth about their capabilities, limitations, and passions, the results of the engagement are desirable.
If you’re an entrepreneur looking to engage a PR pro, make sure you review coverage the PR pro has garnered for specific projects. Ask pointed questions about your industry and sector to ensure they truly grasp the space you’re in and don’t let a PR pro sell you on the fact that PR is the same across industries. While some of the principles are the same, two things are required for a successful PR engagement: relationships and expertise. Period.
Just like any relationship, trust is required to build and maintain the relationship in a healthy manner. When the source, in this case the PR pro, has a track record of trustworthy behavior that has led to results, the client is more inclined to relinquish control and let the PR pro do their job. Without trust intact, efforts are quickly derailed.
As a client, make sure you ask former clients whether the PR pro was honest and acted with integrity, as well as whether they were a good communicator even when things weren’t going exactly according to plan. Huge red flags: missing calls, not responding to emails in a timely manner (in today’s environment this means 24 hours at the most), and sidestepping questions about how to measure success. This last one is the number one killer. Every PR pro should know what success looks like — even if it varies slightly from campaign to campaign.
PR is known as a “black box.” When you pull back the curtain and both parties have visibility, everybody wins. Transparency is achieved when both sides are given the opportunity to put every misconception and fear on the table throughout the process. As alluded to above, if the PR campaign isn’t working, if media aren’t responding, the PR pro should be open and honest and have the confidence to say, “Let’s regroup, collaborate, get creative and figure out how to approach this differently.”
Additionally, while PR pros may not be willing to give you their contacts, they should be willing to tell you which outlets they are pitching, and even be willing to show you what they are saying in the pitch. Collaboration is key — assuming the client isn’t being a giant pain in the keister and making the PR pro’s life a living hell by pretending he or she is the PR expert.
Whether you are a first-time entrepreneur looking to launch your company, or a seasoned business person trying to raise the visibility of your brand, the PR goal is the same: to drive business objectives you have decided are fundamental to the success of your company. PR is largely a creative endeavor, so to make it work, you must have truth, trust, and transparency.
Without these things, the PR problem becomes your problem. Do yourself a favor and ask the hard questions up front, don’t make assumptions, and go with your gut — because nothing great ever comes from something mediocre.
Sharam Fouladgar-Mercer is the CEO of AirPR, a company he co-founded in 2011. He was an Entrepreneur in Residence at Shasta Ventures focused on consumer internet and the social graph. Prior to joining Shasta, Sharam was a Senior Associate at Sierra Ventures focused on consumer internet, enterprise software (cloud computing / virtualization), and mobile. He served as a Board Observer at Makara (sold to RedHat) and TouchCommerce.
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