Public Relations: DIY Or DIFM

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Where public relations (PR) is concerned, the question often surfaces: "If you can do it yourself (DIY), why would I want someone to do it for me (DIFM)?" The rationale behind utilizing the services of a consultant or firm is sometimes a matter of inherent circumstances, such as your internal staff is too busy or untrained to manage PR, you are unprepared to manage an internal PR manager or you find that the cost of retaining an experienced firm can be less than hiring a full-time, junior-level employee to manage PR. Many of my clients have shared with me that their biggest reason for using a firm is it frees them and their employees to concentrate on their foundational business practices. It allows them to benefit from "controlled" rather than "uncontrolled" PR.

However, time and management are not the only advantages a PR firm can bring to the table. PR firms are specialists in the discipline of public and media relations, offering a unique set of skills that can equate to growing your brand, customer traffic and sales through tactical messaging and marketing. PR practitioners make available opportunities to broadcast your business, product and service news to the media, which can be a mix of trade and consumer magazines, newspapers, product guides, newsletters, Web sites, blogs, radio and television programs and others.

When working with most firms, you can expect the professionals managing your PR will be experts in concepting, planning, writing, scheduling and performing publicity campaigns, a cost-effective means to promote your business and build public cognizance for, and interest in, your inventory.

Which Way From Here?

If you are uncertain as to the particular category into which you fall – whether the DIY or DIFM categories, or, perhaps, even the Do Some Of It For Me (DSOIFM) group – the following tips should prove helpful when deciding to retain a PR firm:

Need Fresh Perspective – Retain a PR firm when you desire fresh marketing perspective, creative approaches to address competition and access to market research, industry statistics and media contacts. A qualified firm can provide overall coordination of marketing and media resources and efforts. Some even offer advertising planning, scheduling and negotiation of ad space rates.

Want Help Increasing Outreach – Hire a firm if you need to boost your promotions, enhance how you market and announce product or stock introductions or grow your target audience outreach. Good firms create unified and comprehensive marketing plans based on their clients’ marketability characteristics and ROI expectations.

Desire To Be Heard Among the Competition – Begin to search for a firm if you seem to endlessly read about your competition in trade or consumer magazines, or see them quoted as experts on all things home and garden in area or regional newspapers. A devoted firm will find and solidify continuous articles and radio interviews to publicize you and your business and products. Usually at a higher level of service, television coverage is also a service option. Certainly, some of these aspects for marketing your business can be achieved without the help of a PR firm, but be sure the internal assets, know-how, contacts and time are readily available if you decide to go it on your own.

Finding A Firm

When searching for a firm that understands your business model and can develop new strategies to garner brand awareness and media coverage, it is possible to narrow the list by outlining your objectives, interfacing with industry peers and assessing all possible options. Begin with the following guidelines, and, most likely, the process will simplify beyond what you might expect.

Verify Industry Position – First and foremost, always start your search for a PR firm in the industry. Successfully working in the home and garden industry requires a certain level of knowledge pertaining to horticulture, plant material, tools and, surely, consumer trends. It is essential to select a firm that has a proven background in the field, is able to write advanced plant or other product profile information, and can knowingly design and channel your publicity programs. Ask any firms you are considering if they manage PR for clients outside of the industry – in such trades as financial, technology, hospitality, healthcare, etc. If they have clients in multiple industries, chances are they are not primarily focused where you and your customers are situated. Many firms have multiple divisions, names and LLCs, meaning they work within one industry under one name and in other industries using separate, additional names. Is this a bad thing? Not necessarily, but consider your choices carefully. It is a given that it makes sense to work with a firm solely devoted to your industry.

Qualify Capabilities – Before purchasing a new car or even a new pair of shoes, you probably shop around, look at availability and explore your many options. Most of all (I hope), you ask questions before you buy. Apply these practices when searching for a PR firm. Inquire about each firm’s history, staff make-up, industry experience, client references and fee structures. Ask for samples from each firm on your list. Since you hope the firm you select will land you media coverage, they should be able to easily and quickly provide samples of written and published articles with their staff bylines, press clippings, copies of radio interviews, etc. Many firms say they have done industry work, but their trade-based samples are lacking. This is a likely telltale sign they are not equipped for your scenario.

Execute Request for Proposal – One of the most prevalent ways to settle on a well-matched firm is to execute a request for proposal, commonly referred to as the RFP process. This is your opportunity to outline your needs as you see them, note specific problems or issues the firm should address for you, provide specific insight and information about your budget parameters and current marketing programs. In short, ask the questions you feel will make your decision easier. In many cases, RFPs require meetings with management from both companies with the goal of ample information sharing. Upon receiving the submitted proposal, read and reread, looking for how the firm suggests it will manage your PR, the ways in which it proposes to develop strategies and a timeline for recommended execution. Do not expect a full-fledged PR plan at the proposal stage. This is typically what happens once you become an actual client and your specific program plan commences.

Chemistry And Synergy

Keep in mind that while working with the media to publicize products, businesses and services may seem natural and easy, most people find it overwhelming. No matter the public relations firm, or even if you decide to employ your own PR efforts in-house, it is important to work synergistically with your chosen team. Good chemistry between business owner and PR practitioner is a key element to achieving a scientific approach that leads to results.

Don Eberly is president and CEO of Eberly Collard Public Relations, an agribusiness and home/garden-based firm that specializes in public/media relations, marketing, advertising and branding for garden centers, professional nursery and greenhouse growers, grower consortiums, plant breeders, horticulture product companies and landscape designers. He can be reached at 404-574-2900 or doneberly@eberlypr.com.

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