Many of our colleagues are expressing concern over emerging “PR solutions” such as Spry and Bitesize PR. There are also publicists who offer quick solutions with great marketing taglines like “from hidden gem to household name” where they demonstrate, among other things, how to create a strong pitch letter and, through their short-term program, introduce clients to some leading journalists for a fraction of agency fees.
For an established PR agency, it can be challenging to educate prospective clients on the difference between these instant fill-in-the-blanks solutions and long-term brand-building public relations campaigns and what it means to the future health and well-being of a company.
Let’s start with business models like Spry and Bitesize PR. They present themselves as “PR solutions,” but they really are little more than Mad Lib shortcuts. Spry is the first mobile PR Network; an app where a prospect can outsource everything for corporate communications including a press release, bylined article, blog post, company fact sheet and a la carte media lists. They’ll even write LinkedIn blog posts for you, for $300. When you dissect the service, the a la carte costs add up. For example, your company needs a press release ($749), a media list ($529), which adds up to $1,278 for a blind shot in the dark of papering a list with news written by someone who is unfamiliar with the user’s business or field, with the sender who isn’t skilled at following up with the media.
Bitesize PR works on a different model with three tiers of service: $79, $149 and $499 per month, respectively. It functions much like a curated HARO that you pay for: the user pays for the plan they think that they want and enters the Bitesize PR interactive network of journalists who are seeking experts and sources for stories they are working on, and if you are a good fit, they’ll contact you. Pretty straightforward.
Then there are the media experts who offer public relations services to make you really, really famous in a short period of time with their unique networking programs where they showcase their clients who were featured in Forbes, Inc. and O Magazine, examples they display proudly on their websites. These are typically short-term programs, up to four months, with fees starting at $3,000 and services that include learning how to write your own pitch letter and introducing you to a handful of impressive journalists through a series of exclusive networking events. What they don’t show you is that of the twenty-five or so clients who sign up, maybe two actually get into the high-end publications, and that’s not to mention how ineffective the long-term benefits of that one-off actually is. You may go to a few good cocktail parties and meals and discover how to draft a basic press release, but certainly not as well as a professional. Isn’t a client’s time better utilized by hiring a professional to draft and follow-up on a release? That way the client can spend their time operating their business?
While analogies don’t always do the image justice, the best analogy to a full service public relations agency and the examples cited above might be the difference between using WebMD to diagnose your symptoms and going to see a doctor. You can spend all the time you want shooting in the dark, treating yourself with web searches, guessing and putting the pieces together, but eventually you’ll need the diagnostic testing and the course of antibiotics to be on the mend. WebMD and over the counter medications can be a quick, cheap fix, but they are not a good way to service your health needs long-term.
When, as an agency, we drill down on what we do for our clients, the breadth and depth of what’s required to help a client build and maintain the brand is deep and long. It goes far beyond the one-shot services of companies like Spry, Bitesize PR and networking offered through a meet and greet service. Agencies prepare clients for their media close-ups that quick apps can’t, and then the agency introduces, builds and maintains client relationships with the media, crafts the brand messaging and helps them evolve with changing circumstances.
Our agency recently signed a radiologist who’s developed a patented technology that will change the landscape of patient data and body imaging. She drafted a thought leadership article for a trade publication and it was unintelligible, not because she’s inarticulate or uneducated — quite the contrary — but she’s a radiologist with an extremely high level of technical expertise, not a writer. We had her dictate to us what she wanted to say in her industry lingo and we translated her concepts and wrote the article so that it would be understood by the layman. The type of education and training it takes for even a staff like ours to be able to translate her specialized ideas far exceeds that of what would be expected from a fill-in-the-blanks press release or article. It takes time, skill and understanding of the client that an app simply cannot replace.
We protect our client’s intellectual property, file trademarks and hire outside counsel for patents. We make sure that trade dress is in line with messaging and all other IP assets, as a business is not ready for public relations if it is not fully protected or secured. Being ready for media is about much more than just having something to say. We also ensure that the leadership is appropriate for media, prepared and trained, and if not we suggest measures to realign the brand.
Our relationships with major television networks and shows like the “Today Show” span nearly 20 years, and it is for this reason that they call us when they are looking to fill content, and we reach beyond our client list to fill space. You can’t find that on Spry and Bitesize PR. You also will not find that producer hanging out at cocktail parties after hours.
When our clients are preparing for a series round of funding, they turn to us to review their decks. We provide strategic counsel on positioning, rewrites and full scratches when it’s called for. We also sit in on pitch meetings when partners are not available. We nominate our clients for national awards and secure speaking engagements on the highest levels, including The White House.
These aren’t bragging rights, this is what it means to hire a public relations agency and why you build a brand with the right PR partner. Your firm is in the long-term relationship and brand building business and these are the critical elements to good ongoing public relations that only an experienced agency can deliver. When prospects pose the question: why should we choose your agency over a less expensive, quick solution? The answer is easy: they should invest in their long-term future. In PR, as with everything in life, you get out of it what you put in to it.
Paula Conway is president of Astonish Media Group in New York City, and a five-time award-winning author.