My career started off a journalist. I had the pleasure and, in looking back in hindsight, dumb luck to have worked at a TV station, radio station, large daily and small weekly in building the foundation of my future career as Lois Lane. I enterprised most of my own stories, working a specific beat and having good relationships with local leaders and those pesky PR people. I know very well how newsrooms work.
I would get press releases and pitches each day. And since my professional journalist days were in the dark ages, before email, most releases were excellent for scrap paper, as most news outlets were light on budgets. Once in a great while a release was helpful in at least catching my attention enough to do a follow up to set up and create an actual story. I had good professional relationships with several sources within my beat, which I also strived hard to continue to expand.
When a PR person would send me a release that was unicorns and rainbows I increasingly ignored those because no attempt was made to create a relationship and help me to get an actual story that would benefit my readers. See, this is what most PR people continue to fail to understand (and because many have never set foot in, let alone worked in, an actual news setting) is that there has to actually be a story that is of value to the reader.
Which is why I’m so disturbed at the activity of some so-called PR agencies that are literally preying on unsuspecting young PR pros or business executives who don’t take the time to hire an agency for just such occasions—and you’re literally falling victim to a variety of unscrupulous P.T. Barnums. Why? Because you so want the story of unicorns and rainbows in the media, and you don’t really understand how it “really” works, so when someone shares a magic voodoo potion that gets those placed, you unsuspectingly say, “Sign me up.”
If any so-called agency promises placement for an article or press release, they are lying. Period. If it says it will get your five articles placed for $2,000 per month, or for just a few thousand more, it will get you 10, it is lying. Not only should you not hire them, you should blackball them. Period. It’s impossible to guarantee legitimate placement in any exact number.
A legitimate “hit” or news interview will never cost you money. Never. NBC News will never charge you to be on “The Today Show”—you need an interesting guest or story or expert. I’ve even seen agencies pass off PRNewswire “Release Watch” hits five at a time and show that they got “five hits” this week, then do it again next week and so on. Anyone in the industry knows this is wrong, but, unfortunately, too many clients don’t take the time to understand that there are some unscrupulous operators out there ready to part your business with your hard-earned dollars.
If you’re in charge of PR, it is your responsibility to yourself and your business. You can’t buy legitimate articles and news placements.
You can buy advertising and some news outlets (particularly trades) may afford you some editorial space in the process.
Also, it matters little how good the “relationship” they have with any media outlet. What matters is crafting a good story, getting it into the hands of the right media professionals, cordially following up and doing this with consistency and constancy.
So, unless you cured cancer (then yes, I’d be happy to guarantee placement) understand that that’s just not how it works. Here’s some warning signs to watch out for:
1. “Yes, for $2,000 we’ll get you five placements and for $4,000 we’ll get you 15.”
2. “All you have to do is pay for the video crew.”
3. “And when we run this story, we’d like the names and addresses of 20 of your clients so we can share it with them, too.”
4. “You don’t need to call an agency, we’ll handle everything.”
5. “Yeah, we know people at The New York Times. They’ll run what we tell them.”
6. “We believe in paying for performance, so you only pay us when we get your article placed. We charge $25,000 for a placement.”
There are, sadly, many more. It’s a jungle out there, so be careful and remember, a good reputable agency or PR professional is working hard to do legitimate things that help businesses be more successful. While getting an article placed is indeed important, media relations should be only part of an overall successful marketing mix that is consistent, constant and measureable with a realistic budget. PRN
Rodger Roeser is the CEO of Cincinnati-based marketing and PR firm, The Eisen Agency. He is also the national chairman of The Public Relations Agency Owner’s Association. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.