Help Me Help You: Publicists Reveal How Small Biz Clients Can Improve Chances for Press & Their Working Relationship


*Co-founder & Chief Excitement Office of Tin Shingle Sabina is also the co-founder of Red Branch PR.  Here, she & some fellow publicists share tips for small biz owners everywhere...A list they've been wanting to share for quite some time now...

At the risk of sounding embarrassingly idealistic and naïve, I’m going to tell you the truth about something: when I started my first company, Red Branch PR, I felt like I was the "Jerry Maguire" of PR.  Seriously, I was bright-eyed and full of inspiration, ready to “fight the good fight” for small businesses and independent brands, take on less clients, care deeply for them, give them the chance to make it big - the works!  We were going to take the lesser known names and make them the “next big things”. 

I pictured myself as Tom Cruise (without all the crazy and couch jumping that I now associate with him), and I loved nurturing and working with the new businesses and indie designers we tended to work this.  To that end, I would watch the scene in Jerry Maguire when Tom Cruise had his epiphany and wrote his mission statement (outlining “fewer clients, more personal attention, etc”) on a quarterly basis at least. I just knew that there were small businesses out there who deserved a chance and I saw myself as the person to help them get that chance!  Cue my own inspiring movie theme music here.

Years have passed.  I still love the principles our agency was founded on and we still work nearly exclusively with new or smaller brands, we still help them get noticed, and I’m still filled with passion for my clients and my role in their business.  In fact, I was so passionate about small business I partnered with two brilliant women to bring Tin Shingle to them as well.  But reality has set in…I realized that too many times I’m not playing the inspirational scenes of the film in my brain’s  private movie theater.  Oh no, another scene has emerged.  One that I believe many publicists can relate to, but heck, it’s not limited to us.  After all, Jerry was a sports agent, and he might as well be speaking for so many who work in the service industry for brands of all sizes...  

“Help me, help you”, Jerry begs the over-confident Cuba Gooding Jr. (click here to watch)

I can promise you though the words may change, “help me help you” is a phrase SO MANY in the service industries that help small to mid-sized businesses would love to say.  Heck we’d love to hang it over our doorways, flash it on our websites, and use it in a signature on many an email.  Web designers, programmers, agents, manager, social media teams, publicists, sales reps, the press – help us help you!  Make it easier to do our jobs and thus make your business a success. 

Though I’m sure we all share this sentiment, I can’t speak for every industry, and I’m not even going to speak for my own industry today, as I’m wearing my "entrepreneurial hat”.  Instead, I’m going to call on my trusted peers from the public relations industry to hear what they have to say about how you as a small business owner or entrepreneur, can make their lives easier.  Remember, just like you love to say to your publicist (when trying to negotiate a much lower fee), "when we do well, you do well", the same rules apply in this situation. Help us do well. Read, digest and trust the tips below!

*Some publicists have requested they remain anonymous in their responses.

Believe us when we say it’s necessary to have amazing photography! Fantastic high resolution photos are crucial as many editors and bloggers use these photos for their stories. In the long term, it will help your brand get more coverage.  - Connie Wong, Moderne Press

Please stop yourself from reminding me you or your product “BELONGon: Today Show/Good Morning America/CNN/Access Hollywood the Oprah Winfrey Magazine/The Wendy Williams Show, etc. (etc!!).  So do you and everyone from my yoga instructor to my mother, and you’re all reminding me.  Since you’re the one paying me and I also do this job because I love doing this, I’m trying my best to make it happen, so top reminding me.  Even in a “subtle” way.  I’m clear. Anonymous

Communication is key. If we are asking you for something, it is because we need it. We are not trying to bother you, but instead, trying to do the job you are paying us to do.  Jamie Werner, Moderne Press

Let us know what is working for you. Which products are selling for you? Which press opportunities are giving you the best rate of return? Jamie Werner, Moderne Press

Please be realistic about the PR timeline.  The cliché is true.  A nationally recognized “anything” doesn’t emerge over night.  Stop thinking that your brand will just “pop” and be on the same level as other brands you’re comparing yourself to without a little work.  Instead, help me try to get you there as fast as possible by having a professional website, samples, images and so forth. Anonymous

Please respond to our emails, calls, etc. with PR-related questions. If you do not have the answer to our questions, don’t ignore us. Instead, please at least let us know you are looking into it and give us a date you will try to have the answer to us by. Jamie Werner, Moderne Press

Be able to produce the right samples at the right time. Timing and trends are everything! Publicists do their very best to anticipate trends and plan according but the media moves quickly. Be sure to be able to stay on top of editorial calendars and last minute media requests by providing your PR team with what they need as soon as possible in order for them to get it to the appropriate editor in a timely fashion. These editors are inundated and on deadline so going the extra mile really counts not only now but also in the long run!  Liz Anthony, Mariposa Communications

Please don’t call us just to “check in” or just to catch up, to tell us about your personal life, your dog, your this or your that during the middle of the workday.  You’re paying us to get your press, not to be your therapist/best friend/mother/trainer/etc.  When you do that, it eats away at the precious time we have to get your story out there.  Every second really does count, so think about how you’re using every second on the phone with us. Anonymous

Take the time to think about the goals for your business – both in terms of PR as well as overall (from sales to website traffic). Then share this information with us. When your entire team – and that includes your publicist(s) - are on the same page, we can strategize, plan and work together to achieve those goals.  Connie Wong, Moderne Press

Don’t be stingy with your samples.  I know that samples cost money, but you can’t expect people to cover them in the press or celebrities to wear them/use your products if you aren’t prepared to part with some of them.  I’m not giving them out willy-nilly, but you should be mentally prepared to gift some of the writers/producers/bloggers/celebrities/celebrity handlers that you’re courting.  Anonymous

Listen to our advice.  We’ve done this before and have a very good idea of what it takes to get a brand launched into the press.  Of course each brand is different and requires a unique, tailored strategy, but there are several basic tools we need (such as look books/line sheets (digital and printed), hi res images, samples, gifting, etc) to successfully pitch your brand.  We’re not telling you this because we want to waste your time or money, they really are important elements to your success. Kelly Kepner, Haute House PR

High-resolution, Professional Images are a Must: This is something we always advise our clients not to skimp on. You could have the most amazing product but if you’re trying to pitch it with “DIY”, low-budget photography then you won’t get a positive response or any response from the media at all.  Put your best foot forward with photos that speak for themselves and leave a positive, lasting impression of your brand. Liz Anthony, Mariposa Communications

You should have a user-friendly, professionally designed e-commerce website. Once your product has been placed, you want to feel the positive effects of your latest credit. When readers are directed to your site, especially if it is for the first time – they should feel excited about your brand and be able to locate the product featured within seconds. Don’t lose out on any opportunities for sales, Facebook fans, newsletter subscribers or potential loyal customers by having them land on something that is less than your very best. Liz Anthony, Mariposa Communications

Please: stop comparing yourself to your competitors – at least over email or the phone with us.  Let’s all take a deep breath together and realize that there will be times, for reasons too many to list, other similar products and experts will get featured in an outlet you want to be featured in.  Let’s acknowledge that and move on.  Too much time dwelling on that takes away from you.  Besides, they’ll be thinking of you in the same way someday soon. Anonymous

Don’t tell us you can do something if you really can’t. 
One of the worst things is when we sit down with a new client and tell them everything we need and they guarantee us that we’ll have it all.  We’d rather know in advance the collection is running a couple weeks behind, or hi res images won’t be available until next season.  If you promise us these tools, and then don’t deliver, we’re stuck having to scramble, but, if you let us know these details in advance, we can think of something else to supplement in the meantime. Kelly Kepner, Haute House PR

Don't be shy. As publicists, we're not vendors.
We're partners in your business success and our goal is to help you position your brand and company in the best light. When you're working with a publicist, there's no need for a filter. We get "all up in your business" because we dig up those stories you think no one cares about or notices, assist you in filtering through the things that really matter (as it relates to securing coverage) and help you prepare for those media moments. Nancy Vaughn, White Book Agency

Be open to new ideas, this is crucial to reaching your ultimate goal. Example: I once worked with a client that was dead set on getting solely print placements.  After explaining to her the possibilities that could come from online exposure she agreed to taking her pitches in a different direction.  As an end result she got several placements in smaller blogs which led to four page feature in a fashion-lifestyle magazine highlighting her expertise as a makeup artist. Soon after other great opportunities fell into place including makeup artistry for local celebrities and acting as a beauty/fashion correspondent at lifestyle related events in her area.  Nadia Murdock, Manchester Public Relations

When clients spend days/hours reviewing pitches or insisting to review pitches before they're sent to media it's a big problem. It's a colossal waste of everyone's time and we don't use their boring pitches. We know how to package the pitch and necessary info to get the producers attention. Once we hook them we'll make sure they know the client speak and deal breakers. Anonymous

Try to incorporate some of our suggestions or feedback into your collection.  We work so closely with these editors and hear their input and know what stories they are working on, so trust us and our advice.  Try to introduce a piece of jewelry or an accessory that’s under $100.  A graphic tee brand can easily print the same graphics on totes or children’s apparel too.  Or if you’re a high-end line, think about making a silk scarf which we can gift to celebrities instead of a gown.  All of these opportunities open the door for more press and more exposure! Kelly Kepner, Haute House PR

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Well there you have it!  The truth! And the truth shall set you free!  It will help your business flourish! You hired your PR professionals to do what they do best, to do what they love!  Sure you're not as difficult as Cuba's character (we hope) but the public relations marathon can be a long and tiring one, and you want your publicist to have all the support he or she needs on the journey.

After all, don't we all want a happy ending?

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UPDATE, 1/27/12: One of our member Tin Shingles, Peggy Li, read this post and was inspired to write a response, voicing the needs from the client-side of things. PR Is a tough business, where the stakes are high, and everyone needs something RIGHT NOW. This can cause a lot of pressure for the business owner, their PR team, and even those around them that are helping to make the magic happen. Read Peggy Li's advice from a small business point of view.