By Melissa A Vitale
To my journalists, I always joke that I’m the rehab for bad public relations practices. I hear horror stories of near-stalker-like strategies, aggressive follow-up techniques, and ignoring the boundaries of the person behind the email. Here at MAVPR, we don’t need those policies for an effective media campaign.
It’s only recently that I’ve realized that we’ve also become a rehab for clients who have experienced costly yet ineffective media relations campaigns.
Based on my experience and collaboration with other agencies in the vice-category space, I’ve seen a number of tactics that I would advise brands to avoid in their quest for the right PR partner.
Of course, there are exceptions to every rule, but I’ve rounded up a handy checklist of things your PR firm shouldn’t do to help narrow down your search.
Back-bill for non-requested / approved travel
I used to consider it redundant that my mentor, Jim Dowd, would include “There are no surprise invoices” in the proposals for potential clients. Why would there be a surprise invoice if we agreed to the campaign costs and what fees may arise that require client approval? Then I found out that some publicists would use a remote meeting to back-bill entire vacations to clients. If you’re paying for your publicist’s travel, it should be from something you requested or is essential to your PR campaign.
The exception: If a client requests a publicist to attend something on their behalf, appear in person for an internal event like a photoshoot, or secures a media opportunity that will benefit from the publicist’s in-person appearance (like if you were to be interviewed on 60 Minutes, you’d want your publicist there).
Paying & back-billing advertising or production distribution fees
Most PR firms focus on organic media relations. While many agencies pass along paid opportunities to clients that come from their network, they typically don’t prioritize advertising and paid opportunities as part of the campaign, unless that is included as part of the services. If you weren’t expecting advertising fees on your invoice, its worth a call to your publicist to align expectations.
The exceptions: Many broadcast opportunities may come with production costs; while this may seem like advertising, typically they’re lower than similar advertising rates and they make up the cost to the outlet the guarantees the timely coverage. Without these, the outlet may never have the bandwidth to greenlight such an opportunity. This rule also doesn’t apply if you wanted paid placements in tandem with your organic PR campaign.
Send a brand’s entire line of products to a single journalist
Many journalists live in cities, aka minimum storage space. Providing more than 5-8 products at a given time (and even then, only if there’s a reason, a solid relationship, or a request) can not only cheapen the brand appeal, but many of the products may not remain in the hands of the journalist as they clear out space for other mailers they get. Its never bad to spoil a journalist with a handful of styles, but you don’t need to send more than a half-dozen for most opportunities (including smaller, travel-sized items).
The exceptions: If a journalist works at an office where they share their samples with other writers of similar topics, it may be beneficial to send a bigger set that everyone can try. If a journalist has covered a brand extensively, it never hurts to spoil them. If there is the opportunity of a lifetime, it never hurts to hedge your bets.
Back-bill for overhead costs
I’ve seen Public Relations Principals back bill their daily salad to their clients under entertaining costs. I’ve seen PR firms back-bill clients for printing paper, office supplies, and general office mailing supplies. We try to keep the costs for running the campaign included in the retainer.
The exceptions: With seasonal mailers and during campaigns where press-sampling is a key-feature of the campaign, its often difficult to predict mailing costs to bill into a retainer. Mailing fees and press-mailer costs and supplies are typically not included in a monthly retainer. Additionally, market appointments, events and client-requested media meetings are usually back-billed to the client. Other things that are typically not included in a retainer include clipping services and release wire distribution.
Focus on one campaign at a time
The media’s focus is always multi-faceted, so we believe a public relations campaign should be as well. I’ve seen PR agencies only focus on one company initiative at a time, without pitching relevant storylines the brand could also be included in. The most successful PR campaigns are multi-prong to maximize the types of coverage a brand can be included in.
The exception: Your brand’s strategic marketing roll-out is focused on placing either one or two key messages a season.
Only pitch sensational [click-bait] storylines
Curating the type of thoughtful relationships with press requires diving deeper into a brand’s ethos than the flashy headlines that drive clickthroughs. Some agencies focus more on the month-to-month wins than the overall strategy.
The exception: If tabloid-type viral, click-bait-driven stories is a key part of your marketing campaign, this is something you’ll want a PR firm to excel at.
Going over three months without any signs of coverage
Depending on the brand or season, it can take sometimes three or more months for a brand to see the results of public relations efforts in the form of coverage. However, it you’re six months in,
The exception: If this was a managed expectation based on the parameters of the campaign due to either a launch or a priority of long-lead coverage
Of course, every agency is different, so go off the expectations of your publicist.
For vice-category brands looking to cement their name in their industry’s history, learn more about becoming a client: https://www.melissaavitale.com/become-a-client.html
A public relations agency specializing in brands and startups across plant and intimate wellness