What should you do before contacting a PR agency?

Last week Professional Beauty chatted with Sydney Managing Director of Public Relations firm Soda Communications Dani Lombard about what you should expect from a PR agency. This week, Lombard, a seasoned PR Professional with a long and successful track record, including launching her own agency, lays out the top ten things Public Relations agencies and professionals wish you, small business owners, knew about PR before getting in touch with them. Too often, it’s a rushed affair with outsized expectations of immediate results. Lombard tells us what you should keep in mind and do before contacting potential agencies.

Don’t leave it until the last minute

There’s lots of work to do before your PR can even start reaching out to media for your brand. It’s not just enough to say you want to be in the press. “There is a certain amount of prep work required before we can push the button on actually reaching out to media on your behalf,” says Lombard. “Coming up with the best strategic approach, drafting media materials, making sure you have media-worthy photography, making sure your social channels and website are good to go, training spokespeople, ideating and organising events (if required), are just a few of the things that may need to happen before we’ll commence media outreach.” 

“With this in mind, if you approach an agency for a launch that is happening next week, you’re almost certainly too late to do anything of merit.  So reach out to an agency early to make sure you have ample time to get your ducks in a row for your PR debut!” 

How long is a piece of string?

Lomboard says “One of the biggest thing that prospective clients ask who aren’t familiar with PR is ‘how much does it cost?’ Unfortunately it’s not quite that simple. It’s important to know that when you’re paying for a PR freelancer or agency, you’re paying for their time.  While PRs don’t bill by the hour with the clock ticking like a lawyer might, we will forecast how many hours we think we’ll need per month (for a recurring monthly retainer fee) or for a project (known as a project fee). In either case, budgets can be quite flexible and it doesn’t necessarily have to cost you the earth, but a certain investment of time will be required to make an impact.”

“Unless you have a major news announcement or a celebrity spokesperson,” says Lombard, “You can assume that your PR person/agency is going to have to do a decent amount of work to get your business featured. It’s not as simple as sending an email to a journo and BAM your business is featured; it’s a process that takes time. And time is money! In a nutshell, the bigger your budget, the more time your PR team will be spending working on promoting your business. BUT a smart PR person or team will know how to use your budget efficiently for the best outcomes, and will also be honest with you if they don’t feel your budget will generate the results you’re looking for.”

 PR isn’t a direct sales-driving mechanic

“It’s a top-of-funnel activity that helps to drive awareness and build credibility and trust. Generally speaking, you won’t see a direct sales return ROI (you might in some cases!), but you will tend to see website and social traffic. It’s up to you and your marketing team to capture those leads once they land. We can do our best to get customers to the website, but it’s hard for us to influence whether they decide to purchase once they’re there. That part is up to you.”

PR builds trust in a way that advertising can’t

“While there are no guarantees with PR, a genuine earned feature from a journalist or influencer provides that third-party endorsement that consumers are so often looking for – especially when it comes to trying new beauty products or treatments.” 

Deliver on what you promise

“When it comes to beauty PR, there will usually be an element of trial… either products being sent to journalists and influencers to review, or bringing them in to a clinic or salon to trial a treatment. While your PR agency can get them there, the experience they receive is up to you,” says Lombard.

“If the product doesn’t stand up to its promises, that’s not going to yield a good outcome for you. If the treatment they experience is below par, likewise. But if you’re confident that what you’re offering is going to WOW people once they try it, then you’re ready to roll!”

A journalist or influencer is under NO OBLIGATION to cover your product/business unless you pay them to

On that note, say Lombard, many small brands mistake sending out samples to press as an implicit agreement that the recipient of the product or treatment is going to write about it. “Even if you offer free product or a treatment to a journalist or influencer, they are under no obligation to write about it unless you agree to that up front. (or pay them).”

“Understand that offering a free treatment is an opportunity to hook that journalist or influencer by giving them the best experience possible in the hope that they’ll write about it or tell their readers/followers. Bear in mind that these people are bombarded with free products and treatments daily and securing coverage off the back of an experience will come down to the relationship your PR has with them, following up in a timely manner and the experience they have. 

“Personally, I never demand coverage or a post from an influencer or journalist experiencing a treatment or product. In allowing them to experience it with no pressure, the hope is that they’ll truly love it/you/your business and want to tell people about it. Both on their platforms and in real life.” 

Good imagery is worth more than a thousand words 

There will almost never be a time that a journalist doesn’t need great shots of your product/ location/brand if they write about it. So much of content is visual and all lifestyle journalism is accompanied by good imagery. “Before you hit GO on a PR campaign,” says Lombard, “make sure you’ve got excellent quality, professional imagery of your clinic, spokesperson or products – images you can imagine seeing in your target media. If you need advice from your PR on getting that imagery shot, that’s okay too – we can definitely organise that for you as part of the project! But there is definitely no point commencing media outreach without the required imagery on hand.”

PR is a team sport

“A good public relations campaign requires real collaboration and partnership between the agency and the client to achieve success. Honesty, transparency, trust and mutual respect are vital in achieving a fruitful and long term working relationship.”

PR isn’t magic 

Lombard says “If it was as easy as sending an email to a journalist to get you a full page spread in Vogue, everyone would be doing it! There is no magic switch we can turn on to get coverage rolling in. Trust the process and know that it takes time to see results. Even if we do place a story in Vogue (I’m just using Vogue as an example), it takes three months from the time of doing the interview or shoot for that edition to appear on shelves. In other cases, a pitch to an editor might turn into a conversation that runs over many weeks before anything is set in stone.  Also bear in mind that your budget determines how much time we have to work on your business during the project or month. The more time, the more exposure we’re likely to get you.” 

We’re running a business too

“Just like you, PR agencies are businesses,” says Lombard. “Not banks. Our product is our time. You wouldn’t give away your products for free, so please don’t expect us to. A certain amount of over-servicing is expected in going the extra mile to deliver results, but please be reasonable about what your budget buys you. Make sure you’ve had a conversation up front with your agency about what’s possible within the boundaries of your investment. If you start expecting work that isn’t in the original scope, or demanding more time investment than you’re paying for, you can expect your agency to push back and request that you negotiate additional fee.” 

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