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.”


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

Has a strong roster of satisfied clients, with supporting testimonials and 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.

We’re not talking about endless free service, but someone who offers immediate value to you during that first meeting—sharing ideas and insights that you can implement, even if you don’t retain them.

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.

Related Posts:
Content Creation: A Foundational Element in Fueling Your Public Relations Effort
Ease the Media’s Load: Tip, Don’t Tease

1 thoughts on “PR Checklist: What to Look For in a Publicist

  1. Chicago Garden says:

    One of the things I love about PR people that work with gardening related companies is that they will just cold email me with press releases and images.

    I always just delete them after that. Now if someone wants to send an email to me and not to "Dear Sir or Madame" I'll read it and engage in a conversation with them.

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