No, not everyone is a publicist… even if they think they are or want to be.
Full disclosure: I did not go to school for public relations or marketing. My major was public affairs journalism.
Everything I learned to get me where I am today didn’t come in the classroom, regardless of my major. I interned at a local TV station before working in TV both behind the camera and in front of it for more than 10 years. That is how I learned how to be a publicist.
How to be a Publicist
The definition of a publicist is a person responsible for publicizing a product, person, or company. It’s a job many people think they can do… and try to do. How hard can it be? You just tell a bunch of people wonderful things about a client or yourself and that’s it, right?
Wrong. Many think they know how to be a publicist, but really don’t know. At all.
There are a lot of self-proclaimed experts who give hard working and smart working publicists a bad name. Two of these “experts” are bloggers and online influencers. Not all of them, but some of them. Here’s why.
In a way, bloggers act as publicists. We help spread the word about whatever brand we’re working with on our platform. We make some media connections if we do a great job promoting ourselves as marketers… but that does not mean a blogger can act as a publicist for others.
Don’t get me wrong, some bloggers do it and they do it well. It’s because they get it. Some don’t get it.
One big difference between a blogger and the traditional media is paying for coverage and earning it. Some bloggers earn a living by promoting brands. The traditional media cannot promote anything. That’s not their job. Understanding the difference and how to approach the media with a pitch for editorial coverage is very different.
As a publicist, I stopped pitching bloggers because many would refuse coverage unless they were paid. If they deserved payment, and my client had an additional advertising budget, then we’d talk… but unfortunately, many bloggers believe they are worthy of payment because they have a blog… just because they have a blog.
On the flip side, sometimes being a blogger can help you be a publicist because you know how things in the blogosphere work – just like me working in TV helped me, but you need a little more than just that bit of experience.
Lately, I’ve seen a lot of online influencers launch publicity products and courses… but they have no education or experience in publicity. They only experience is the said influencers earning media attention for themselves… but the media attention the influencer shares to bring in new followers is recent media attention – after that person became successful.
To most people, all that media attention looks great. To someone who understands the business, it’s not that impressive.
If Oprah made a few calls and got herself on the cover of Forbes today, we wouldn’t be too surprised. It’s expected. She is already a successful business woman. If Oprah made a few calls and got herself on the cover of Forbes 35 years ago when she was a radio reporter in Mississippi, that would be unexpected. That would be a big deal.
That is not what some of these online influencers are doing. Instead, they are earning coverage after they’ve made it big and trying to sell you on that coverage. Earning coverage before you’re successful is not easy and I’m not sure influencers know how to do that, but that is what their followers need.
So, to get back to the topic of “How to be a Publicist” there is no right or wrong answer. It’s not like math where 2 + 2 is always 4. Some things work for some people while different things work for others. We all have different methods of outreach, different relationships with people, different clients in different industries.
There is one thing that will always work. It’s being strategic.
I’ve seen so many publicists when I was in TV and when I worked at public relations firms throw a bunch of things at the wall and hoped a couple of them would stick – also known as pitching 500 people with the exact same thing and hoping a couple will run with it.
That’s not strategic. Be strategic.
Thinking of hiring a public relations agency like Media Maven or a publicist like myself? Any business or brand wants exposure. If people aren’t aware of you, how are they going to find you and become a client or customer?! They won’t, but still, there is one big thing that holds people back from hiring a publicist: Knowledge of the business.
Many people don’t understand how the business works and once you hire a firm or publicist, it can be a learning experience. Before you shell out any money, please keep these things in mind before hiring a publicist:
1. Find out how they work.
When I say “they” I mean the person working on your account. The actual person. At many PR firms, the person selling you on hiring their firm, isn’t the person who will be working on your account. Make sure you know who you will be working with and what their experience and connections are. Don’t fall for the person making the sale. I once worked for a man who would over promise on the deliverables, then hand over the account to a new employee and say, “It’s my job to get them, now it’s your job to keep them.” You don’t want that.
2. Know your goals.
As a media specialist, that is what I base my work on – what the clients goals are. Why do you want publicity and where do you want it? The more specific you are, the better. Chances are, you want to be where your audience is. That’s a great starting point when deciding what your goals are. Also, have realistic expectations. That leads me to a red flag…
3. Have realistic expectations.
If it was easy to get you on Good Morning America or in Entrepreneur Magazine, then every PR firm would have bragging rights until the cows come home. You’re not going to get national media coverage every week. That’s just not the way it works. We wish it did just as much as you do. So listen, when someone at a PR firm starts talking like, “I can get you covered in this magazine or an appearance on that show,” make them put it in writing because chances are they are just selling you with great hopes and dreams.
In the world of PR, we cannot control writers, producers, bookers, etc. We cannot guarantee coverage in anything just like a doctor can’t guarantee to cure your sickness, but like a doctor, we will use our time, experience, and expertise. If any PR firm starts making promises like this, either get it in writing… or run.
Like any business, you want to vet who you hire. Hopefully these three things will help you when you’re shopping around the very saturated world of PR. There’s a lot of firms and there’s a lot of soloPReneurs. You have a lot to choose from… and now, you have homework before you make your decision.