Why Public Relations Doesn't Just Happen

Diane T. Creston

Public relations is a very important part of the marketing mix. It provides a company with something no other marketing vehicle can provide -- the third-party endorsement of your product or service. A number of people think that once a company starts advertising, the media beats a path to your door. In some rare cases that actually does happen, but it's not the norm.

Many clients simply don't understand the PR process. For example, when I was working on Cabbage Patch Apparel, the client had signed the advertising contract, but not the public relations contract because he just didn't understand the entire subject. He asked for a meeting and shortly into the meeting, this charming, grandfatherly gentleman looked at me with a straight face and said, "Why do I have to pay for this, doesn't it just happen?"

At first, I thought he was kidding, but then I could see as he sat behind his desk surrounded by his "family" of Cabbage Patch Kids, he simply didn't understand the process, or the discipline. After a rather lengthy discussion, he signed the contract and the rest was history.

Some clients don't have the budget for trade advertising, consumer advertising, sales promotion, corporate ID design, web site development and PR. Many will start with two of these elements and work their way up to taking advantage of the rest.

When you are ready to consider an agency, what should you look for in a PR team? To begin, just like any other professional relationship, the chemistry has to be there. You should also look for experience and the connections. Don't be afraid to ask for references. Once you have them, pick up the phone and make some calls.

If there is one account person that you feel really has the expertise you need, insist that this individual be the point person on your account. The agency should be willing to agree to this request in writing in the contract. Beware of bait and switch, where you are courted by the new business people who will never be seen again after the contract is signed,

What You Can Expect

Some points to remember:
  • Nothing kills a bad product faster than excellent PR and advertising. Customers may purchase the product once and then, that's it.
  • When products are photographed, the samples must be in perfect condition. The camera can pick up and magnify very tiny flaws.
  • PR is not a tool used to force retail distribution. If you try it, the move will come back to haunt you. When an editor asks for information on the retail distribution of a product and/or service, the PR agency had better have answers. Or, they had better be able to obtain it in 15 minutes or less. Reporters and editors always manage to call for this information when they are on deadline so everything is a rush. A response such as we're planning to open outlets soon in your area is not the correct answer.

    Put yourself in the editor's place. He/she is writing about your product/service and the readers, or viewers expect to be able to find it in a local store or a location, on a respected web site, or in a catalog. If they can't do any of the above, the editor will not write about the product.

    I have had consumers track me down at home, during dinner I might add. They really wanted the product and could not find it at the retail store mentioned in the article because the item had sold out. One Christmas, I was practically running a mail order operation out of the agency because frantic consumers were calling for one specific product that did not have wide retail distribution.

  • The results don't happen in a few weeks or a month. It's a slow building process. One time, it took us almost a year to convince a Wall Street Journal editor to write about the product. When he finally understand the points, it was fantastic because he gave us the whole front page of the section minus one column.
  • Trade books usually publish one month in advance. Consumer books publish three, yes three months in advance. If you're hoping for a December story, you'd better start planning in July or August.
  • You can't buy placement. The story is newsworthy, or it's not. Paid placement is called advertising.
  • If your agency is creative, they will come up with innovative "hooks" for your products or services.

PR is truly a wonderful vehicle, but you must understand the basics to understand how it can work for your company.

Diane T. Creston
Creston & Associates, Ltd.
Phone: (212) 400-8698
Web Site:

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