Do-It-Yourself PR: An Accident Waiting to Happen

Early in my career as a public relations consultant, I remember standing in a group of people at a business function and listening to one man's tale of woe. It seems the founder and president of a small and growing business was bewildered about his lack of media attention. He organized an event to launch a ground-breaking new product and couldn't understand why no one covered the event.

"Why didn't they (reporters) come?" he asked. "I sent out press releases!" I smiled sympathetically.

This is not an isolated incident. Too often, many notable products and services are ignored by reporters and subsequently, by the public. Time and again, small business owners believe they can run the publicity activities for their companies. How hard could it be anyway?

The problem is, performing the mechanics of publicity tasks without understanding it will not achieve desired results. There's more to PR than sending out a press release.

And trust me, the quality?or more accurately, the lack thereof?of releases I have seen lately from do-it-yourselfers ranges from the sublime to the ridiculous. It would make any professional publicist nauseous!

As a PR consultant for many years, I have often wondered why people want to do it themselves. After much thought about this phenomenon, I attribute it to one justification: a cost-cutting measure. This is a common pitfall.

PR is not something that achieves an immediate return like running a two-for-one sale. It is a long-term commitment that often can't be quantified. Publicity is one aspect and often, instead of letting a PR professional develop an integrated campaign, releases are sent haphazardly with an eye on costs rather than results. Piecemeal publicity-sporadic releases or placements, often after the fact-is rarely effective. Sound public relations is a concerted effort and an investment a company makes in itself. Consultant's fees are based on time and activities required to build a comprehensive program.

The idea that companies even think they can take this in-house and delegate it to an administrator without hiring a PR professional is deceiving. I once asked a career consultant about this. Her reply was startling. She responded by saying that some people are so technically expert, they make it look easy enough for others to take on their duties! This probably explains why there was a huge increase in duffers at golf courses after Tiger Woods won his first Masters. It also explains why there are so many people taking on their own home repair and decorating projects since HGTV became a cable mainstay.

The truth is Tiger Woods and other pro golfers work at their sport the way most of us work at our jobs, and home repairs and decorating are far more time-consuming and complicated than a version compressed into a 30 minute segment.

The same can be said of publicity . . . and that's the relatively easy component!

What if you're on the negative end of publicity? Do you really think you can handle that alone? Remember, a lawyer will protect you legally; who will protect your image and reputation? After the tragedy of September 11, I remember an interview with a very emotional company executive caught up in the moment. Several of the things he promised in an excited moment came back to haunt him several months later. If he had a PR consultant, he never would have been permitted to give an interview, let alone promise anything, at that time.

Even if you think you're just sending out press releases, there's more to writing them and emailing or snail mailing them. It's called pitch and place. There's also a vetting process which, to summarize, prevents amateurs from crying wolf. Not everything you do or accomplish is newsworthy!

If you do-it-yourself, potential customers are likely to think you're penny-pinching because you have cash-flow problems, too impoverished to hire a consultant or an appropriate employee to adequately accommodate your needs and staff your operations. They can also question your business acumen if you think you're proficient enough to do this properly. This alone can make or break your future growth.

If you think you're saving money by doing-it-yourself, you're not. A good PR program with an experienced consultant is far more cost-effective than doing-it-yourself. Remember, perception is reality.

You're vying for attention and credibility in an overcrowded marketplace. People have to know you exist before they can beat a path to your door. Good PR can enhance your operations so your products or services are accepted.

© 2005 F.N. Rosenstock. All rights reserved.

For more than 20 years, F. N. ROSENSTOCK has worked in the field of public relations holding a variety of positions before starting her own consulting firm. Rosenstock has served as a presenter on panels and at workshops, and has produced seminars and given instruction about public relations.

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