Bob Mooney doesn’t normally use the services of a public-relations specialist, but earlier this year he realized he needed some help.
Mooney, the owner J.R. Mooney Galleries of Fine Art, in San Antonio, Texas, wanted to raise money for a charity with a commissioned painting: Good cause, good publicity.
“I felt like the more publicity we got, the better we would do for the event,” Mooney says. “Any time you can get your name out in front of a large group of people, for a business like mine, that’s a very good thing.”
Getting the Word Out
Mooney got his name in front of plenty of people. An acquaintance put him in touch with Nelda Skevington, an independent public-relations specialist, who, for a fraction of what it would cost to place an ad, landed him an article in the daily San Antonio Express-News, the local business journal and a TV spot.
Skevington charged Mooney $1,600. His story potentially reached an audience of 7 million people, which would have cost an estimated $24,000 in advertising, she says.
The painting, an image of three San Antonio Spurs basketball players, took in $145,000 for the Spurs Foundation, surpassing the $60,000 Mooney expected. And now he’s getting more traffic and sales in his gallery because of the article, he says.
People, are coming in, often sports fans who wouldn’t have entered his gallery before the benefit. Others, who had passed by and meant to check out the store but never went in, were reminded to pay a visit.
In Public Relations, Timing is Everything
Not all small business owners have Mooney’s luck. Knowing when to bring in a PR person, how to go about finding one and knowing what you’ll pay, isn’t always clear.
Public relations can go beyond local media. The right pitch can get your company national exposure and lead to appearances on talk shows, as well as speaking engagements at various events and seminars.
Some PR specialists also can assist your business with newsletters, direct-marketing campaigns, and crisis management.
“In my humble opinion, any new company has to have it in their budget,” says Beth Bryant, of the Public Relations Society of America’s Boston chapter, and owner of BBWrites Strategic Communications, in Marlborough, Mass. “I find a lot of companies aren’t really sure about what PR can do for them.”
A published article can increase your company’s credibility, Bryant says stories carry more weight than advertising – readers are usually aware that ads are paid for – and most savvy PR people have valuable contacts at media outlets.
PR is more Cost Effective than Advertising
You might balk at the $100-$150 an hour that PR specialists charge, but a full-page, color ad in the Sunday Express-News, for example, can cost $10,000.
“Although these PR services may be an extra expense, they’re well worth it in the long run,” says Melanie Rembrandt, owner of Rembrandt Communications, in Howell, Mich. “Business owners can concentrate on their area of expertise to efficiently grow the business while the public relations specialist handles all of the media-relations activities.”
Choosing a PR Firm
Picking the right firm to represent your company isn’t always easy. You need to do your research, Rembrandt says, emphasizing that a small business should interview several firms, comparing rates and strengths.
Says Bryant: “You want to do your homework and look around for agencies that have experience in your industry. In many industries, you need specific experience to really be successful for your clients.”
Both Bryant and Rembrandt advise choosing smaller, independently operated firms, because they can spend more time on you, and less money, than a larger operation.
“A small business owner should look into hiring an individual expert or small firm first to get the best results as cost-effectively as possible,” Rembrandt says. “Without a big budget, small business owners aren’t always given high priority at large, PR agencies.”
7-Point Checklist for Hiring a PR Specialist
Before talking to a public relations agency, Melanie Rembrandt – owner of StartupNation’s PR agency – advises small business owners to review their specific goals. They’ll then have a better idea what to ask a publicist candidate and what to expect from specific PR activities.
Here’s a checklist of things to cover:
- Who will I be working with and how much experience do they have? Will more than one person be helping me, or will I have one, central point of contact?
- How can you increase awareness of my small business and reach my specific goals? How long do you think it will be before I see results?
- What services are included in your fees?
- Do you have references I can contact?
- Do you provide any guarantees or discounts?
- Why should I use you instead of another organization?
- How do your contracts usually work? Is there a trial period before making an actual commitment? Will I be able to end our contract if I’m not happy with your services?
Small business owners should also ask any other questions specific to their unique needs. There should be a clear understanding of pricing, services and tentative results between both parties before signing a contract.
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