PR Checklist: What to Look For in a Publicist

Do you know what to look for in a publicist?

If you type “what to look for in a publicist” into Google, you get little more than vague platitudes like the importance of being a “people person” and “following up on a press release.”

Here is one pontification:

“A publicist is adept at establishing core messages and fundamental corporate goals, and introducing them to the media and the public through high interest stories and press releases about products, people, services and benefits.”

Ugh.

When I made the move from journalism to PR about four years ago,
blather like the above white-noise statement is why I was so reluctant to associate myself with the term “publicist.”

That’s because, in my 20-plus years as a reporter, most publicists were more preoccupied with looking and sounding good rather than being of any help. The typical PR flack dresses well and writes awfully, and has little, if any, journalism experience.

As a result, there is a huge disconnect between most PR folks and legitimate journalists. And by “legitimate,” I mean someone who pursues those quaint practices known as “research” and interviews that go beyond cutting-and-pasting others’ work or conducting all their Q & As by e-mail.

As a daily newspaper staff writer and later, as a freelance reporter for the Chicago Tribune and Time magazine, I encountered more than a few PR pros, usually at high-priced, glamorous firms, that were little more than obstructionists.

They littered their work with misspellings, factual errors and omissions of basic information that undermined any credibility their client may have and gave me little confidence that I could trust anything they communicated.

In short, precious few had sufficient news sense to make my deadline-heavy, difficult job any easier. Instead, publicists would typically waste my time and stress me out. They were intent on sharing only tiny nuggets of self-serving information, rather than doing the diligent work of providing the meat-n-potatoes material that make up legitimate news.

So, again, I ask: do you know what to look for in a publicist? Here are the Top 10 traits that I recommend you seek:

1. A Passion For The Process
2. Numerous Referrals/Case Studies
3. Stellar Educational/Professional Background
4. No-Fee, No-Obligation Initial Consultation
5. Enthusiasm and Belief In You
6. Confidence In Abilities
7. Well-Developed Media Connections
8. Hands-On Attention From An Experienced Pro
9. Ongoing Access & Communication
10. A Strong Support Team

For an elaboration on each of the points on this list, see “PR Search Checklist: 10 Traits to Seek in a Publicist.”

Keeping Your PR Eye On The Calendar

Of all the similarities between being a journalist and being a publicist, one of the most prominent ones is the need to keep your eye on the calendar.

Mine says that today is Jan. 16th, which means, among other things, that it’s well past time to start thinking about Valentine’s Day-related story ideas, whether you represent a client or toil in a newsroom.

I touched on this timing truth in an Inside Edge PR post two weeks ago.

On another front, if you don’t have a Super Bowl-related pitch ready to roll, it’s time to go into the two-minute drill. Yesterday, as I was speaking with Don Riley, the new fitness director at Five Seasons Sports Club in Burr Ridge, a thought popped into my head–how can we tie in his expertise with the big football game on February 1st?

The answer came quickly, and simply: offer simple fitness and nutrition tips that TV spectators (aka “couch potatoes”) can implement as they “watch 22 players desperately in need of rest,” as the late, great football coach Bud Wilkinson has been quoted.

More to come in a future Inside Edge PR post.