Business owners juggle many different functions, from bookkeeping to marketing. But most cannot do everything, and that's OK. Most business owners get to the point where they need to hire outside help.
It's a huge step for a business. Bringing someone in who is an expert in managing, growing and/or protecting your business is an important investment. Contracting a consultant or firm can help bridge skills gaps.
Getting the word out about your business is essential to reach more customers. That's where public relations and marketing can help. A consultant or agency can let people know about your services and products by creating or refining your business name, your messages, your brand, and the content on your website.
It can help business owners with media relations, social media management, website and content development. An experienced consultant/firm can look at your business at the macro and micro levels and provide you with a customized strategy and plan based on your communications needs.
What do you need to know when contracting a public relations and/or marketing consultant or firm?
Lourdes Diaz of Diaz Creative, an independent marketing and public relations firm, wishes that clients understood the difference between public relations, marketing, and advertising. This lack of knowledge creates many problems. Don't be afraid to ask the consultant what the differences are between those disciplines; most public relations practitioners have an understanding and/or experience in marketing and advertising.
Michele Bennett of 1L Communications explained that public relations is not the same thing as advertising. Public relations practitioners work with the media to tell a story and make it newsworthy. She goes on to say while a practitioner defines and refines messages and helps you internalize them, he or she cannot tell a reporter what to write, when to write it or what page to put it on.
Greg Brooks with West Third Group, a public relations firm, suggests that before a business owner works with an outside professional, he or she needs to know answers to these three questions: What am I specifically trying to achieve with this? How do I know it's working? What are my options if it does not appear to be working?
Aamaal Abdul-Malik with THESAURAI PR, advises business owners to first know who they are, what they stand for, what they want their business to achieve, and commit to sticking to what they know or do better than anyone else.
A public relations or marketing professional is only as good as the input/insight they are given, says Alison Kenny of KPR Communications. Karen Swain, owner of Words for Hire, agrees and shares that public relations is not a task to be outsourced and forgotten. It requires ongoing communication and collaboration. Business owners need to be prepared to do their part.
Once you have answered those questions then you need to find the right fit.
Linda DiJohn with DiJohn Communications encourages business owners not to hire the person who tells them what they want to hear, but hire the professional who tells them what they need to know, with the experience to back it up; then listen to their counsel.
DiJohn urges business owners to get a good read on the consultant first, before hiring. DiJohn says when you are talking, pay attention to how they engage you. Do they listen? Add to the conversation? Seem interested and knowledgeable about your business issues and needs?
Stu Opperman, Impact Players, says businesses should hire advocates they like, respect, and are comfortable with having represent their organization.
Given all the collaboration and messaging tools and technologies that exist today, says Jodi Echakowitz of Echo Communications, location of the person you hire should not be a deciding factor. While most business owners may want someone that is local, it is less important than finding someone who has the skills and expertise needed to deliver results.
Once business owners have connected with a practitioner, don't be afraid to ask for references and then check them thoroughly. A respectable practitioner will be able to provide references, and most will have examples of their work on their websites.
Public relations is not an overnight success formula, says Ebony Grimsley-Vaz of Above Promotions. She advises that business owners should give a public relations campaign time to create lasting and trusting relationships with their demographic.