How to Know When You Need to Hire a Publicist

If you're willing to spend the time learning how to get free publicity on your own, you can generate media attention for your product, service, cause or issue.

But sometimes it makes perfect sense to let a publicist do it for you. Here are 13 situations  when you should consider hiring a publicist:

1. Because of work or family commitments, you can't devote the time to create and manage a major publicity campaign.

2. You work for yourself, but running your business entails hundreds of other tasks that leave time for little else.

3. You're an author who's on a book tour, or you're busy working on your next book and don't have time to devote to a publicity campaign.

4. You're an author whose contract with your publisher has expired, you can no longer work with their publicist, and you're on your own.

5. You are aware that your publisher is handling many books at the same time and you know it's important to have a publicist unrelated to the publisher working directly with you from the beginning.

6. You have a job such as a consulting practice, and your time is better spent making money on client projects than it is doing your own publicity.

7. You don't have the right kinds of media contacts.

8. You're familiar with the basics of how to get local publicity, but you want to take your campaign to the national level and don't know how.

9. You want publicity in a certain part of the country and you would prefer to work with a professional who has strong media contacts within that region or state.

10. You're trying to get in front of people within a particular industry but don't know the best ways to reach them.

11. Even though you feel comfortable interviewing with the media, you don't like the thought of calling reporters and editors on the phone and asking them to cover your story. (More about this in a minute.)

12. You're doing most of your own publicity yourself. But there's one aspect of it that you don't know how to do or don't want to do, such as setting up an online media room. A publicist can help fill in the gaps by doing small-project work.

13. You're already a successful publicity hound who is writing articles, doing radio interviews and appearing on TV shows. You're so busy being in the media spotlight that you need someone behind the scenes who can keep you on track and focused. The perfect publicist will work several steps ahead of you, lining up interviews for next week and beyond.

When to Not Hire a Publicist

Did you notice anything missing from that list? I intentionally didn't include the two following situations:

--You have little or no knowledge of how the media operate, or the basics of what a publicity campaign entails. If that's the case--if you are absolutely ignorant about how the media do their jobs and you need to spend a significant amount of money on a major publicity campaign--you are not a ripe candidate for a publicist. Not yet, anyway.

--You find the very idea of publicity distasteful but necessary, and you're looking for a publicist to relieve you of the entire burden of working with the media. If that's the case, don't part with your hard-earned money. Your publicity campaign must involve you at some point. If that's unacceptable to you, then don't seek publicity.

How to Work with Your Publicist

To get the most for your money when hiring a publicist, you must have a basic understanding of what reporters, editors, guest schedulers, TV assignment editors and others want--and what they consider news. Without that knowledge, you'll have to trust your publicist to make every decision for you.

If, however, you understand how reporters do their jobs, you can challenge your publicist with intelligent questions and maybe even offer a suggestion or two. And your publicist won't have to spend a lot of her time--on your nickel--educating you on simple background you can learn on your own.

Take a few weeks to immerse yourself in learning about the media. Once you can speak intelligently about things such as story pitches, media kits, news releases, follow-up stories, the local angle, profile stories and radio talk shows, it's time to go to the next step and hire a publicist.

If the very thought of talking to reporters and editors or appearing on a radio show frightens you, hire a good media coach too. A media coach will give you all the training you need to feel comfortable during print and broadcast interviews and can prepare you for what to expert during your publicity campaign.

Many publicists know who the best coaches are, so you could actually hire a publicist first. After all, there's time to get training while your publicist is creating a strategic media plan and writing your media kit. The publicist might also have ideas and angles that should be covered in training.

Don't use a publicist as a crutch or as someone who can shield you from the bulldog reporters you've heard so much about. The closer you are to your own publicity campaign and the more you understand it, the less susceptible you are to getting stuck with the publicist from hell.

This article was written by Joan Stewart, "The Publicity Hound." It originally appeared on her Web site,