By Jennifer R. Farmer
Social media can catapult almost anyone from relative obscurity to superstardom – or at least stardom. Once a person reaches a certain number of followers, the individual is considered a social media influencer, and brands will invest big bucks to cultivate a relationship with said influencer.
Reality TV, YouTube and Instagram can also take people who are relatively unknown and make them into media commodities. When people go from little-known to persons of interest, there is a natural desire to refine their look and present the best possible image forward. There is also a desire to expedite the fulfillment of dreams. To adjust and successfully make the transition, some people consider hiring a publicist.
If you have told yourself or someone else, “I need a publicist,” you may want to read this article first. While a lot of people believe they need representation by a #PR firm, not everyone is ready to maximize the investment. Before you jump out there, keep a few thoughts in mind.
Don’t hire a publicist until …
You are leading work you care about. Media attention is great. It can catapult your work and ensure that the right people and more people see your ideas or products. But your overwhelming interest and passion must be on the work you care about, because media attention is fleeting, and it is discriminate. There are a multitude of ideas and people competing for attention, and even worthy causes and products get overlooked. If your commitment is solely on capturing the glare of the cameras, what will you do when the cameras are temporarily focused on something or someone else?
You are committed to investing for the long haul. I have a lot of sympathy for emerging brands and individuals seeking attention for their work. But even under the best circumstances, public relations involve an investment. Too many times, I meet leaders who want to promote their work, and they want microwave results. For most people, media attention comes from sustained action, repeated investment and continual pitching. That means people may not get all the media coverage they want based on one campaign or one series of events. By going back at the apple repeatedly, you increase the likelihood of media attention. I remember when I was working with the Rev. Dr. William J. Barber at the outset of his Forward Together Moral Movement. He held weekly actions at the North Carolina state capitol, and each protest was an opportunity to engage different and more people about the work he was leading. It was also an opportunity to capture state and national media attention. I can’t imagine what would have happened if he organized just one, two or three actions. While investing in public relations requires resources, it is an investment worth making. As public awareness about your issue, campaign or work increases, you stand to position yourself for bigger opportunities.
You are willing to commit time on your schedule for media. Media involves a time commitment. There is the time to prepare for the media interview, the time to physically go to the interview spot or do the interview remotely, and the time after the interview to promote the segment or your interview’s message. There is also an investment of time required when thinking through the best angle to share your work and story; what examples will you use? What visuals promote your message? What validators do you need to have lined up to affirm and confirm what you are saying? I’ve described a best-case scenario, but certainly not everything goes according to plan. I have actually had colleagues agree to a TV interview, be picked up by a car service for the interview, travel to the station, have their hair and makeup done, wait in the green room and then be told the segment has been cancelled or breaking news will bump their interview. This doesn’t happen frequently, but it does happen.
You are coachable. If you are inflexible and unwilling to let a public relations expert coach you, you may want to reconsider hiring a publicist. A publicist’s job is not only to help you share your work publicly but to anticipate the public’s reaction and help you adjust accordingly. The publicist should also help you articulate your vision in a way that invites others to be a part of it. PR work invariably requires feedback, so expect a publicist to challenge you, offer suggestions to help you refine your product or approach, and generally tell you the truth. If you’re unable to receive input or are unwillingly to bend, hiring a publicist may be a waste of your time and the publicist’s.
You are willing to make the publicist a part of your core team. Publicists can do very little to support you if they are not fully embedded in your team. In my book, “Extraordinary PR, Ordinary Budget: A Strategy Guide,” I mention that publicists and communications staff should be included at the outset and throughout core campaigns. This will allow them to understand the broader strategy and determine the right communications tactics to implement that strategy. It also allows them to give reporters and editors sufficient notice to cover your event, issue or campaign.
If you look at this list and honestly believe you are uncapable of following this guidance, you may want to reconsider hiring a publicist.
Jennifer R. Farmer, aka The PR Whisperer, is an author, lecturer and strategic communicator for organizations, leaders and celebrities committed to social and racial justice. Follow her on IG/Twitter using @pr_whisperer.