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.”
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.
The Publicist-Journalist Disconnect
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, 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.
Top 10 Traits for a PR Professional
So, again, I ask: do you know what to look for in a PR professional? Here are the Top 10 traits that I recommend for any individual or organization seeking support in telling their story or stories.
1. A Passion For The Story-Telling Process
Conveys an authentic passion for what he or she does and what he or she can do to serve you.
2. Solid Referrals/Case Studies
3. Stellar Educational/Professional Background
Has a strong educational and professional background with a well-documented history of success.
4. No-Fee, No-Obligation Initial Consultation
Offers a no-fee, no-obligation initial consultation.
5. Enthusiasm and Belief In You
Exudes genuine enthusiasm for you, your organization, and the qualities that set you apart from others in your field.
6. Confidence In Their Abilities
Does not try to lock you into a long-term contract, but projects confidence that once you hire them, you won’t be looking around for a replacement, anyhow. The longest retainer Inside Edge PR + Media ever seeks is six months, with an “out” clause available after three months.
7. Well-Developed Media Connections
Possesses a strong network of media contacts that they’ve cultivated over the years, either by working alongside them in the media, or by connecting effectively with them via previous PR campaigns.
8. Hands-On Attention From An Experienced Pro
Deploys seasoned professionals on your account, not delegating the bulk of PR duties to inexperienced junior account managers still learning their way.
9. Ongoing Access & Communication
Has a built-in structure in which you will receive not only regular updates on the status of their efforts, but also a pledge that they will respond swiftly to your requests for dialogue and other information.
10. A Strong Support Team
Either on staff or through an independent network, has a team of professionals who can meet your needs in a wide range of disciplines, including web design, photography, event promotions, law, accounting, and organizational development.
This list is by no means exhaustive, and certainly others can come up with other significant factors to consider. But as you evaluate your options, it’s my hope that these insights help you navigate your way to the firm (whether it’s Inside Edge or not) that is right for you.