Looking for unemployed journalists who need work is one of your best tactics. More about that in a minute. But here’s some general advice about how to prepare for your search.
Where you begin looking depends on how much you can afford. So before you do anything, determine your budget. Come up with a range of how much you can spend.
If, for example, you’re a self-published author who can afford no more than $1,000 for a publicity campaign, a solo practitioner publicist who is experienced in working with authors would probably be your best bet. You’ll find hundreds of book publicists on the Internet.
If, however, you’re a company that wants major national coverage for a controversial new product, and your needs go far beyond publicity to include things such as shareholder communications and crisis communications, a large PR firm that has expertise in all areas of public relations would serve you better. These firms will be far more expensive than solo practitioners but they offer more talent in a variety of areas.
Be Honest with Your Candidates
Share with publicists you talk to—right up front and as soon as you meet them—what you expect to achieve from publicity. Also give them a range of how much you can afford. This will save a lot of time. Good publicists who think your expectations or price range are unrealistic will say so, and they probably won’t want to work with you.
Don’t “test the waters” by meeting with several different publicists without discussing fees, only to learn later—after they have submitted written proposals—that their fees are way out of your range. This wastes your time and theirs. Instead, be open about your budget. Give them a range of what you can afford. Then, if they’re a top candidate, ask for a written proposal with a variety of options within your price range.
Don’t use the excuse “I don’t have a budget.” If you don’t have a budget, you shouldn’t be looking for a publicist. You wouldn’t walk into a car dealer’s showroom if you didn’t have money for a new car.
And please. Don’t call the publicist and say, “I don’t have any money, but I’d love to talk to you about my project and pick your brain.” It’s the same as saying, “I want your advice but I’m not willing to pay for it.”
It isn’t necessary to meet a publicist face-to-face before hiring one. Many publicists who live far from their clients do a wonderful job by communicating regularly.
But if you’re on a smaller budget, there’s no sense hiring someone hundreds of miles away. Look first in your own community. Whether the publicist understands your topic and has a strong track record of media placements is much more important than where the publicist lives.
Look for Employed and Unemployed Journalists
Email a reporter or editor for your local newspaper and ask for recommendations for local publicists. (If you can find these journalists on Twitter or Facebook, follow them, and send them a direct message. It’s best not to call.) Often, they know about co-workers who have been laid off and would be grateful to work with you.
Rich Merritt, proprietor of PR Express in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, gave me permission to reprint his excellent answer on LinkedIn when someone asked about the best way for a small business owner to find a publicist.
“Find an editor whose writing you like in your market and ask him or her if they freelance. Almost all editors freelance, and can easily write articles and stories—but not all know how to write press releases. Be sure to ask if they can.
“None can do media relations for you or send out press releases (they have to stay under the radar) but they can write your materials and make sure your materials are accurate, in the correct format, and are on target. Pick the right editor, and he or she will know more about your business than you do.
Ask the question on LinkedIn and direct it to people within your own industry as well as the public relations industry. You can also ask your friends and followers on Facebook and Twitter and sometimes get responses with seconds.
Ask for referrals from people you trust.
- Contact your trade association and ask if any publicists are members of the association. They just might be. Publicists who represent authors, for instance, often are members of groups such as the Independent Book Publishers Association.
- Ask your trade association for names of publicists who have worked for other members in your industry.
- Ask the trade association if it contracts with a publicist. The big advantage is that the publicist already knows your industry and has key media contacts.
- Contact editors who publish ezines on your topic, as well as bloggers. They often receive pitches from publicists.
- Identify high-profile, non-competing people in your industry who get great media attention. Call them and ask how they do it.
- Join online discussion forums in your industry and ask for recommendations.
- You can also ask the group for feedback after you have interviewed candidates and you’ve narrowed down the list to your top choice. Throw out the name of your Number One choice and see what comes back.
- Call your local chamber of commerce, or a business networking group such as BNI (Business Networking International), the world’s largest business referral organization. Check their website for a chapter near you. You’ll also find BNI groups in Canada.
- Unfortunately, there’s no nationwide trade group just for publicists, although you can find regional groups like The Publicity Club of Chicago . Publicists are also members of the Public Relations Society of America, the Association of Women in Communications and the National Association of Women Business Owners. Publicists from small, independent PR firms might be members of the North American Association of Independent Public Relations Agencies.
- The Council of PR Firms and the Holmes Report both have free databases of hundreds of PR firms that can be searched by name, state, client, size, etc. The Holmes Report is one of the most respected independent journals in the business, and most of its content is available online for free. So you can type in a firm’s name and check them out.
- Call the publicity department of any mid- to large-size publishing company and ask if they know good freelance publicists.
- The O’Dwyer Directory of Public Relations lists more than 1,000 PR firms.
- Musicians should refer to The Industry Yellow Pages: The Official Music Directory of Booking Agents, Managers, Producers, Engineers, Publicists, Promoters, PR Firms, Talent Buyers, and Attorneys & Lawyers.
- Musicians should also check out Bob Baker, an author, speaker, workshop leader and expert in marketing for indie groups.
My ebook, How to Hire the Perfect Publicist, includes a list of questions you can use during your interview with publicists, tips on how to choose the best candidate, and and advice on how to work with a publicist so you aren’t stepping on each other’s toes.