How To Find A Great Public Relations Firm
This is a guest interview with Katherine M. Rothman of KMR Communications
At its inception, public relations was a tactical operation to crystalize public opinion for Fortune 500 companies, Hollywood studios, celebrities and politicians. As decades passed and the world became globalized, public relations became a necessary complement to traditional advertising and marketing. Anyone with a professional or public image needs PR representation. To admit to having a publicist was not the norm. Today, having a PR firm is like a badge of honor- that one is successful enough to be able to retain one.
Regardless of your industry, garnering credibility and name recognition is key to surviving competition and fickle consumer interests. Everyone from lawyers and doctors to fitness trainers and real estate developers looks to PR for an effective path to public trust, media awareness, search engine optimization and online reputation management. Finding the right PR firm can be a daunting process. Much like medical professionals or financial advisors, the pool is full of gems and pebbles.
Katherine M. Rothman is the Founder and CEO of KMR Communications, a public relations firm established in 1998 which specializes in the fields of health, beauty, and fitness public relations. Ms. Rothman has more than 25 years of experience and has worked with some of the biggest names in these specialized areas of PR. The firm was one of the pioneers in the sector of medical public relations.
Here are Ms. Rothman’s tips for finding the right PR firm:
What is your budget? Don’t go looking without a well thought out budget.
Boutique PR agencies are the ones that charge the lowest retainers, usually ranging between $2000 and $5000 in the United States. Retainer fees for startups tend to range between $5000 and $10,000. There are firms that handle large corporate clients/entities that can start at $20,000 per month and go up from there. Many clients seeking PR services are enticed by freelance publicists who may charge $1000 to $2000 monthly on a retainer. Depending on your budget and the number of clients a freelancer has, you may find yourself the small fish in the pond. A client never wants to be in the position of paying a retainer to someone who does not have the bandwidth to give your campaign proper attention. If a client has to come up with their own content topics, media outreach ideas, and PR stunts, then what is your publicist doing?
Do you fit best with a small, midsize, or corporate PR firm?
If you are a startup, small company, or an individual with a lower budget, you should seek out a firm that matches who you are and what your budget is. The kiss of death for a PR client is to be a “small fish in a big pond.” If you are paying a PR firm, $10,000 per month and you are their low man on the totem pole, rest assured their focus, CEO and A-Team will not be centered on your account. You are likely to be disposable to them rather than indispensable. If you opt to retain a smaller firm, you should expect more individual attention, guidance, and “hand-holding,” as these PR firms are accustomed to clients that don’t have multiple vehicles for promotion such as brand integration, social media advertising, and a marketing team. For a small company, the PR firm may be the sole method of promotion. A smaller or mid-size PR firm will understand how to work with a client on smaller budgets.
Do the firms you are looking for specialize in your area of expertise?
PR firms are divided into two categories. One category is “the generalists.” These are often large firms that engage clients in many different sectors as diverse as beauty, hospitality, real estate, tech, crisis management, consumer products, food & beverage, travel, and pharmaceutical. The second category is specialists who have client niches that they stick to strictly in order to really hone their knowledge set of that arena and develop long-lasting relationships with the media. For example, a PR firm can be as specific as only handling restaurants and hotels. Other niche PR firms can represent a variety of niches that tie- together such as beauty, health, and fitness. Unless you have a huge budget to go with a large firm that has a division dedicated to what you offer as a client, you are better served with a specialized or niche PR firm who should have years of expertise with similar clients, a firm grasp of your industry, and a wealth of media contacts they can count on to cover your story. It is never a good idea to be a PR firm’s “guinea pig” client.
Is the CEO of the firm willing to meet or speak with you or are they farming that out to an account executive? Will the CEO be part of your account work if you sign? If not, who will?
In the world of PR, this is often referred to as the “bait and switch” technique. A company/individual has a meeting over the phone, Skype, in person and meets with an impressive PR CEO and his/her key team members. The prospective client is blown away by these PR pros. The key question is: “Once the ink is dry on your contract, will you ever see or hear from them again? Sometimes, unfortunately, the answer is no. If you are not a significant account to them because of your own inherit fame or budget, your account may be handed over to much more junior account executives. When you have a question, concern or want a strategy session, the CEO who was so available to you in the vetting process has magically disappeared. Have a firm understanding as to who the daily point person on your account will be and ask to meet/speak with them prior to signing. If having reasonable access to the CEO of the PR firm is important to you, get a handle on that before you sign.
How will you be updated on progress? Does the firm provide weekly or monthly status reports?
Some firms provide weekly status reports to clients and others provide monthly reports. Whatever the PR firm’s custom, there should be an organized, standard form of reporting/accountability that you receive as a client. These reports should show tangibles such as placements that have run in the media, stats like circulation, Unique Visitors Per Month and outlet demographics. The reports should also show opportunities that are ‘pending’ and an overall summary of the week’s activities along with professional clippings of media coverage that you can showcase on your website, social media or other marketing materials. Ask to see examples of a PR firm’s status reports to other clients, even if the PR firm needs to redact the name of the client to protect privacy.
Can they show you case studies?
If you are a cosmetics company, a dermatologist, a fitness trainer, a restaurant or whatever your business is that you are seeking to promote, a firm should be able to provide you with case studies of similar clients showing what they did for a client over a six month to 1-year period of time. Although a firm cannot guarantee you identical results, these case studies should give you a good idea of the quality and quantity of coverage you can expect.
Does the firm have testimonials from clients posted on their website? Do these testimonials link to a legitimate and still existing website? Will the firm allow you to speak with 2 clients to get a verbal reference?
Ask to see recent media placements they secured for clients in your sector
A PR firm should be able to show you placements from as recently as six months ago for clients who are in your sector. If you are only seeing placements from several years ago, perhaps they have not had clients in your area of expertise in years or maybe they have lost media connections and their placements are no longer as impressive.
Understand your goals and ask if they are realistic for the budget you have and your timeline
If you are a startup cosmetics company or haircare company, you must understand that signing even with a top-notch PR firm is not a winning lottery ticket. Within the first six months or a year of a PR firm, you are not going to have sales like L’Oréal or Neutrogena. This holds true for any startup. Ask the PR firm how they measure their success on your behalf. Just like with traditional advertising, PR firms cannot guarantee an increase in sales or revenue. Also, be wary of PR firms who make promises or speak in absolutes, such as, “We guarantee we can get you on ‘The Doctor Oz Show’ in the first three months, or we promise we can get you a feature in The New York Times.” There is a saying, “In advertising, you pay, in PR you pray.” It is unrealistic/dishonest for a PR firm to guarantee coverage in specific outlets if these outlets are secured editorially and not with “sponsored” i.e. paid posts or brand integration which is also paid separately from a PR retainer.
Go with your gut. Personal Chemistry is important.
Even though working with a PR firm is a business relationship, you still need to feel comfortable and have a level of trust in the people you are hiring. Do they seem approachable, honest, attentive, or are they giving you attitude and making you feel that you are “lucky” if they decide to engage you? If you feel ill at ease with the CEO or any team member you meet, perhaps you just don’t mesh with that particular firm. Don’t force a relationship if you don’t get a good “vibe” from the outset. There are approximately 50,000 PR firms in The United States alone. Find the one that best suits you. If a meeting with a PR firm seems like a bad blind date, it’s time to move on.
Ask for a proposal/outline of services
After speaking/meeting with a firm, ask for a written outline of objectives, tasks, goals, and strategy. It is very important to be on the same page and understand what you are getting/not getting for your money. PR firms today vary in the scope of services they provide. Very often, the scope of work depends on the client’s budget. There are firms that strictly handle press releases/ content writing and media coverage. Conversely, there are firms that encompass this in addition to social media, events, crisis management, integrated marketing, celebrity and influencer relationships, SEO and Online Reputation Management. The more add ons, the higher the retainer fee will be. Think about what your business needs most to positively impact it.
Be wary of a firm that quotes you a retainer fee lower than anything that is industry standard
If you are speaking with 6 potential PR firms, and you receive quotes ranging from $5,000 per month- $10,000 per month, and 1 firm comes in with a quote of $2,000, you need to ask yourself why. Everyone loves a bargain, however paying $2,000 per month and reaping nothing in return is not money well spent. PR firms don’t’ do “clearance” sales like department stores. Most likely, the bargain basement PR firm is composed of a few recent college grads who majored in PR and are getting their feet wet in the PR world. Proceed with caution.
Are there any additional costs beyond the retainer fee?
Some firms will charge disbursements for mailing out a client’s products to editors, for Xerox copies, postage, Fed-ex, messenger services, transportation on behalf of a client, etc. There is nothing unethical about a firm charging these. As a prospective client, just understand how much potential disbursements can cost so that you really have a grasp of your total spending per month.
Finally, when you do find the right firm, they can be worth their weight in gold. As Bill Gates has famously said, “If I were down to my last dollar, I would spend it on PR.”
About KMR Communications
KMR Communications was established in 1998. Launched in New York City by CEO Katherine M. Rothman, the firm has been one of the pioneers in the fields of beauty, health, fitness, and PR for medical practices. KMR has likely represented more dermatologists and plastic surgeons than any other PR firm in the nation. KMR has been the recipient of numerous industry awards. We were named, “One of the top healthcare PR firms” by PR Week Magazine and “one of the top 3 beauty PR firms in the nation” by www.everything-pr.com
The firm has over two decades of experience dedicated to very niche driven PR. KMR has represented clients in every sector of beauty, health and fitness ranging from skin care companies, haircare, nail care, fragrance, salons, spas, fitness trainers, gyms, fitness apps, nutritionists, fitness devices, plastic surgeons, medi-spas, dermatologists, psychologists, ophthalmologists, internists, divisions of hospitals, gastroenterologists, chiropractors, cosmetic dentists, podiatrists, orthopedists, hair restoration, as well as beauty/health devices, and equipment.