When to Hire a Publicist

I’ve been in media relations for some time now, working both on my own as a consultant, and with an agency or in-house. In publishing, the in-house publicity department is often understaffed, and expected to prioritize projects. This means that a lot of worthy books don’t get the full-court press when it comes to publicity. Many authors understand that if they want publicity for themselves, their book, or their business, there’s a good chance they’re going to have to hire a publicist to supplement their publisher’s efforts. For self-published authors, they are responsible for it all.

Whatever product or service someone is looking to promote by hiring either a publicity or social media consultant, the time to start thinking about that is well before your product or service launches. I recommend a minimum of six months prior to launch. Earlier is better.

Social media efforts should be thought-out and strategic, designed to further whatever goals the client may have, and tailored to the amount of time and effort he or she can put in to it. For traditional media, monthly magazines have anywhere between a three to six month lead time. Some are even longer. That means that right now, it’s too late to get in to a February issue. You might be able to make it in to a March issue, but only by the skin of your teeth.

Another thing to take in to consideration is the amount of time it will take to find a publicist. There’s a lot to consider:

  • What’s your budget?
  • Do you want the full-service agency experience, with multiple publicists on your account and a reasonable expectation of hearing back from your team within an hour or two to answer any question you may have? And are you willing to pay for that level of service?
  • Would you prefer to hire an independent contractor who may only handle a couple of clients at time, but may also take Wednesday off to go to the dentist/beach/spa?
  • Does your personality mesh well with the publicist(s) who would be working on your account?
  • Do they have experience promoting products similar to yours?

You also want to allow time for those you contact (and I suggest contacting several) to evaluate your product in order to write a proposal. That means you’re going to have to factor in the time it will take you to send samples. And if you’re an author, that means a physical copy of your manuscript. I’ve had potential clients ask me to evaluate their books via a PDF, and I won’t do it. I need to be able to make notes in the margins, and easily flip back and forth between page 24 and 134, and I just can’t do that staring reading on my computer or with an eReader. (Bravo to those who can, but I suspect I’m not unusual in this regard.)

Another thing that people sometimes fail to consider is that a publicist can only work on so much at time. Many publicists workloads won’t allow them to take on any more clients and still be able to properly service their current accounts. I’ve turned down potential work for this very reason, and I know some of the publicists I work with are booked up for six months or more. Even with an agency, you want to be aware that many have reduced headcount in these tough economic times, and will often supplement their staff by hiring a freelancer to work on one or two projects.

Once you’ve chosen who to hire, you then have to give that person or team a reasonable amount of time to familiarize themselves with your product in-depth, develop press materials, pitching angles, media train you, get samples for the media, create media lists, etc. In other words, once you sign a contract, you’re not going see results immediately. Even if you’re interested in hiring someone just to schedule radio interviews, while you don’t need six-months, you can’t expect to find a publicist and have them get you on 15 radio programs on a specific date, if you only start talking to people 2 weeks before your target dates.

If you are considering hiring a publicist, where are you in the process? If you have hired one in the past, what was your experience like? What surprised you?