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Author - Lecturer - Strategic Communications Adviser

6 Things to Look for When Hiring a Publicist

Date - January 28, 2021

By Jennifer R. Farmer

I recently stumbled across a social media post highlighting challenges securing effective publicists. This was not the first time I had heard the sentiment. A couple of years ago,  a potential client casually told me, “PR people be selling wolf tickets” to get work. I was stunned. I knew a ton of public relations professionals and thought highly of all of them.  But this sentiment continues to come up. I realized that PR has a brand problem. Over the past several years, I’ve met many people with skepticism or disdain toward publicists. By the time I came across the social media post, I felt compelled to reflect and respond.

What follows are my reflections, culled from 18-plus years in the PR space, on what to look for when hiring a publicist or PR firm.

  • Before hiring a publicist, get clear on why you want a publicist and what you want them to do. If you want someone to connect you with other influencers or ensure you are invited to the hottest events, you may want to hire someone with extensive connections in the media and the entertainment industries. If your primary focus is someone who will help you amplify your work through media outreach, you want someone with extensive media contacts and a deep professional rolodex. If you want someone to plan and coordinate events, you will want to hire a publicist who is organized and has event management expertise. Before you hire a publicist, get crystal clear on what you want, and this clarity will help you hire the best person for you.
  • Understand that all publicists are not for everybody. You must find your match. Just because a person achieved phenomenal results for one client does not it mean that will happen for you. Consider the publicist’s industry, their track record and rolodex, as well as the other client’s platform and connections. If you hire a publicist who has predominantly worked in entertainment with high-profile clients and ask them to work in labor organizing, there is no guarantee that person will have success in the new industry. Consider the field you’re in and then look for people who have experience in that field or people with a proven track record of excelling across industries.
  • Ensure there is chemistry between you and the person you are seeking to hire. You want to ensure that you like the person and they like you. You want to ensure that they are moved by your work and vision. You want someone who not only has the experience but the drive to continue pushing the campaigns you are working on. There have been times when I accepted work for people with whom I had difficulty communicating. That was not a setup for success. There were misunderstandings and needless roadblocks. Avoid that by ensuring that you vibe with the person you are asking to promote your work.
  • Look for someone who is relentless. Publicity work can be difficult. If the talent is new or emerging, you will chase media opportunities far more than opportunities chase you and your client. Further, given the fact that there are more publicists and PR folks than there are journalists, you will always compete with a host of other people. There is more work journalists wish they could cover if they merely had the bandwidth. To effectively promote your work, you need someone who is determined and relentless. You need someone who will not retreat upon hearing no. You need someone who will view rejection as an opportunity to refine and then reengage. You need someone who will continue pitching until you find the success you desire. That is critical for most people and causes, but it is essential when a client is just starting out.
  • Look for someone with good judgment. So much of PR and publicity is about judgment. Your publicist will need good judgement to determine which opportunities to accept or decline. They will need judgement to discern how to craft your message. They will need good judgment to help you avoid problematic relationships and situations. When you interview potential publicists make discerning their judgment a priority.
  • Interview several people. Before hiring a publicist, interview multiple people. Ask each person how they would go about getting you media coverage. Look for concrete, actionable recommendations. Ask each person you interview whether they can show you results from their current clients. When you check references, check with people they list as well as people whom they do not mention. Understand that the person who makes the greatest pitch isn’t always the person who will work the best for you. Some people present well but underperform. You want someone with whom you vibe, who offers concrete examples of success and who has experience in your industry.

If you are considering hiring a publicist but aren’t sure what to look for, these tips should help. If you’re a media professional, feel free to share your tips as well.

Jennifer R. Farmer is a writer, trainer and activist communicator. She is the author of “First and Only: A Black Woman’s Guide to Thriving at Work and in Life” and “Extraordinary PR, Ordinary Budget: A Strategy Guide.” Follow her on Twitter/IG at pr_whisperer or on Facebook at prwhisperer.

 

 

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“I have decided to show up fully and authentically. I trust you will do the same. May you find what you need in one of these books.”Jennifer R. FarmerExtraordinary PR, Ordinary Budget: A Step-by-Step Guide. Order now from Berrett Koehler or your favorite book seller.   First and Only” was published by Broadleaf Books in February 2021. Order your copy at Broad Leaf Books or any bookseller or your favorite book seller.

About

Jennifer R. Farmer is a leading professional in communications strategy. For over 15 years, she has made her mark in social justice movements, working with entities as varied as PICO National Network, Advancement Project, the Service Employees International Union, SEIU District 1199 (WV/KY/OH), Obama for America, the Ohio Senate Democratic Caucus and the Ohio Department of Transportation (in the administration of Gov. Ted Strickland). She is the founder of Spotlight PR LLC whose mission is to develop high-impact communications workshops and trainings.

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Testimonials and Endorsements

Jennifer Farmer is one of the smartest and most talented communicators I know. She’s passionate, knowledgeable and relatable about her work. Plus, when we spent time together, she made sure I never ate alone.

Ari Berman, Contributing WriterThe Nation

When we worked together in the Forward Together Moral Monday movement, Jennifer Farmer skillfully heard me. She allowed me to be myself, while teaching me and the NC NAACP staff foundational communications techniques.

Rev. Dr. William J. Barber, Founder, Repairers of the BreachThe North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP,The Forward Together Moral Movement

I loved this book. It is smart, practical and filled with personal examples that underscore the author’s central message: there are concrete things you can do to promote your organization with or without a large budget. Extraordinary PR, Ordinary Budget is required reading for anyone wishing to use strategic communications to make a difference.

Celinda Lake, PrincipalLake Research Partners

I sincerely appreciate your work and having you as a team member. You have helped me grow and sharpen my focus for this journey. Thank you. Love and Respect.

Michael Render, pka Killer Mike, Activist, Rapper and Businessman

“Jennifer Farmer is an insightful listener and observer of human interaction. She uses her insights to speak directly to the core issues impacting leadership. Her analysis perceptively integrates gender, race, religion, and overall worldview to offer more nuanced understandings of leadership than the one-size-fits-all approaches more commonly promoted.”

Rev. Dr. Cari Jackson, author, clergy in residence, Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice