What is Your Goal and Other Questions a Publicist Should Ask

So now that you have some names of publicists that your professional network has suggested you contact, you’ll want to start reaching out to these publicists to explain your project, see what they think they can do for you, determine if their services fall within your budget, and see if your personalities mesh well. Be prepared to explain your background, your project/service/product, and provide links to any supporting material you can find, as well as give an idea what you are hoping to hire someone to do publicity-wise. I say hope, because sometimes potential clients with no prior TV experience “hope” to hire someone to get them on national TV only to discover that in order to get on those programs guests are expected to have prior TV experience or an extensive history of speaking in front of audiences. So, sometimes what a publicist thinks is possible is different than what a client initially hoped for, and that’s just fine!

At that point, if a publicist is too busy to take on another client, she will likely thank you for your interest and then refer you to someone else who may be a good fit. Those who get back to you will want several things:

  • A sample of your work or product, or detailed information about the service you offer. Recognize this is just the cost of doing business, and get some samples and pay the shipping fees. If you’re product involves trade secrets, you’ll have to look in non-disclosure agreements or something similar. If you’re an author with a publishing house, don’t assume your publisher has extra galleys and will be willing to ship them out to numerous publicists. You can ask and the answer might be yes, but don’t assume. (The answer could also be no. Galleys are expensive.) Some publicists may be willing to evaluate your book from a PDF, but don’t count on it. I don’t like doing a professional evaluation of a product from my computer screen, so I don’t.
  • Your view of the market. Often times a client has an insider’s perspective that a publicist could never have.
  • Your background. What makes you qualified to speak on a particular subject? Do not send a 20 page CV. Doing so will probably result in the publicist suddenly becoming too busy to take on another client, because he has just seen that for a very simple request, he now has to digest 20 pages to get the one page of information he requested.
  • What kind of marketing support is already planned? Be wary of anyone who doesn’t ask up front what plans are already in place. An ethical professional is not interested in a client spending money on things the client doesn’t need to spend money on.
  • Your goals. This is really one of the most important questions any publicist asks potential clients. Goals determine strategy, which informs what tactics to employ, what media to target, and where to spend time and resources. It’s essential to understand what a client hopes to gain from a publicity campaign – whether it’s sales, increasing her profile within a particular industry, or even just the bragging rights to say “I’ve been interviewed by 50 radio programs across the country.” If a publicist doesn’t ask what the goal is, a publicist can’t develop a plan that she believes is most likely to help a client reach that goal.
  • Budget. This is a tricky question, since it can seem like the real question is how much can I get away with charging you? if not handled properly. I’ve been the publicist working in-house trying to hire out something as small as a radio campaign, and had this question asked of me. Not only have I read lots about negotiation working for a business publisher, but I’ve also worked for a training organization for quite some time, so I’ve had some training in negotiation skills. I know not to give a number. But there are instances when it makes sense to ask, especially when you’re an agency or consultant dealing with a small business or author. If someone is interested in dropping many tens of thousands of dollars (rare) on a full-on multifaceted national campaign, with national and local print, TV, a 30-city radio tour, an online and social media campaign, and I don’t think that’s realistic, I have to tell them that. And, if I do think it’s realistic, but I know it’s not a one-person job, I have to consider partnering-up, contracting out, or referring a potential client to an agency with more resources than I have. Also, many of my clients have been small business people with limited budgets, so in order to really create a plan that was going to get them the biggest bang for their buck, I needed a sense of what they were looking to spend (and there were instances where I still came in with a proposal under the monthly budget, because I thought the project warranted a highly targeted approach).

Once the publicists you are in talks with have gathered all this information, and had an opportunity to evaluate your project/product, as well as do some preliminary research, they’ll write up a proposal. Then it’s up to you to decide which proposal (and publicist) seems like the right fit!

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