I had a very interesting meeting today with a potential new client. It’s the sort of a meeting that represents a typical “why should I hire you” scenario from a first-time author who has written a book published by a small press. First, let me just say that I really enjoyed meeting the author and her publisher. They were absolutely lovely. Though I concluded that I wouldn’t be a right fit because the subject matter of the book was a topic very emotionally intense, I found myself answering their questions in the most straightforward and honest ways I possibly could. In many ways, I have taken the demystification of PR to a whole new level.
The author very appropriately asked me what sort of expectations she should have within a three-month contract in terms of how many interviews I could land for her. I said, “Absolutely none.” Had she asked me that ten years ago, I would have scrambled for exactly the right answer. I probably would have said “At least two major hits” or something along those lines. I wouldn’t have been lying, I would just have been very confident in my abilities to deliver. And if I didn’t deliver, not only would I be disappointed with myself, I would have a very angry client on my hands. So here are some basic questions that many publicists get when being interviewed for a contract– and I’ll tell you what I would say. Take it or leave it.
1) Do you have active contacts at Oprah that you can call?
Yes and no. I have secured two clients on Oprah in years past, but there is no guarantee that I can pull that off again, and I would never promise that to anyone. What I can promise is that I bring nearly twenty years of experience in developing pitches and stories that capture the attention of producers. But even if your best friend is a producer at a major network or show, they still have to push stories through production meetings, other producers and hosts.
2) Do I have to go to some other state to do interviews? I don’t have the time.
No. That’s a waste of time. If you’re trying to get on national television, focus on that. You can always do a satellite media tour from your home town which will transmit you around the country.
3) How many media “hits” are normal?
PR is not just about media hits. It’s about creating a strategy to meet your objectives. If your objective is to become an expert resource on a particular subject matter, then doing interviews is essential. If you want to sell widgets consistently quarter after quarter, PR is a small (but integral) part of a larger marketing plan. Be clear on why you need “hits.”
4) I don’t have much money, but I need a lot of help. How do you charge?
I used to charge by the hour, but I don’t do that anymore. A brilliant idea can appear and be executed in a matter of minutes and yield very signficant results. It would not be fair to charge for fifteen minutes of work. I do flat monthly fees depending on the scope of work.
5) How many clients have you gotten in national media outlets in the last six months?
It’s not a matter of “getting clients into” anything. There is a process which includes developing messaging, a pitch, and maybe a press release or other materials including b-roll, sidebars and other good content. Good publicists either have existing contacts in your specific industry, or they have the ability to quickly forge new relationships with targeted media. Then the pitch goes out, follow-up is conducted and then you go from there. I think the days of touting how brilliant a PR person is based solely on where clients end up is long gone. In many ways, media relations is honestly a crap shoot.
You’re really paying for world-class messaging, media savvy sensibilities, knowledge of your industry and the news industry, and execution. It’s called “earned” media for those very reasons. You may have an upper hand if your pal is an editor, but if the story is stale not even your closest pal can do much for you.