For a public relations professional, it’s annoying to read about “DIY PR”. These types of articles – usually targeted to small companies or startups – can contain useful information. But they imply that anyone can learn to do PR with a crash course consisting of a few blog posts. Maybe it’s just professional pride speaking, but no one who has built a career in PR thinks it comes so easily.
Last year I agreed to help an acquaintance school his staff on some media relations and PR techniques. His nonprofit group was struggling with some perception issues, and because I have some direct experience and a strong interest in his area, I was moved to try to help. But the group lacked a real PR budget, so my team and I could only “coach” his staff and suggest ways to execute media relations. Our advice was mildly helpful, but the experience was a reminder of why DIY PR so often falls short.
A PR campaign is a commitment. Take this blog post – not to pick on Dan Simon, but he outlines everything from goal-setting and media audits, to creating a quality content program, to networking with journalists, to broadcast media relations. My point is, for the time you must invest in learning and doing those things and more, you might as well hire a competent and well-trained PR person.
Execution may be harder than strategy. Consulting about strategy is one thing; but to be effective, execution must be skillful and efficient, and it requires many course-corrections along the way. It was relatively painless for me to advise my friend on the best positioning for his nonprofit and to assess his internal communications. But when it came to the implementation of media relations, trying to ‘train’ someone with no communications background was a nonstarter, even with regular check-ins.
Beware the opportunity cost. PR requires time. Lots of it. The truth is that business owners know their stuff better than anyone, and some even have a gift for PR. But they have other priorities. Generating earned media coverage requires weeks or months of research, planning, outreach, and timely follow-up, and it rarely bears fruit right away. DIY-ers who foist the responsibility on themselves or others should ask themselves what’s not getting done as a result? Again, if you’re going to make it someone’s job, you may as well hire a professional.
Experience informs judgment. Often what we do on a day-to-day basis comes down to a series of timely judgment calls. It looks and even feels easy. But that’s because, like anything else, our judgment is informed by years of experience that is simply impossible to convey in a weekly consulting meeting. There are definitely reasons to hire an in-house PR professional, including specialist industry expertise. But a key advantage to tapping an agency is the multiplier effect. Instead of hiring an individual, you are renting the expertise of many individuals, each with a specific skill set and range of media contacts. Chances are, they’ve done it before, and that will save time in the long run.
Sometimes you get what you pay for.