PR: How to hire a great rep (and why it matters) - PART I
Whether you’re an artist, small business, non-profit or anything in between, a good PR rep, is an integral part of boosting your brand and bottom line, whatever that bottom line means for you. Considering hiring someone but not sure what qualities or skills to look for?
Public relations roles might go by different titles such as community relations, communications specialist, media relations, publicist, PR rep or a host of others, and specific job descriptions may vary, but the common thread that runs through all of them is found in their primary function: to represent you, to share your message (product, service, art) with your intended audience and otherwise build positive brand awareness that ultimately help meet your business goals (aka: the "why").
As a former journalist (10 years) I worked with many PR reps, from grass roots interns to big agency pros. Regardless of agency type or size, there are a few key skills and qualities that all good PR pros must posess.
In this three part series we will cover
Hard skills √
Character and qualities√
Day to day duties√
Part 1: The Skills
They must be media savvy
The most fundamental, non-negotiable “must” for any PR rep is that they posess a solid understanding of how media works. It really helps if they’ve worked in media before moving to PR.
There are two fundamental reasons why this is important:
- Media lives and dies by one word: Deadline. Reporters (producers, writers, etc.) are always racing against the clock and your rep needs to know this and be as ready as possible to meet media requests in order to make a story happen because the opporunity may not come around again. I can’t emphasize strongly enough how important this is. They need to “get it” from day one.
2. Part two of being media savvy means understanding the fundamental dynamic of the media/PR relationship which is that media makes the rules, not PR. Media and PR need each other, but ultimately, media calls the final shot. A PR rep needs to know this and learn to work well with media as a teammate, not a competitor.
(Side note: I’ve read pieces that say the opposite; that a good publicist absolutely will guarantee and deliver coverage, but I disagree. Good PR can and should garner good coverage. It can and should influence and persuade. But I respctfuly disagree with the idea that PR calls the shots as to what ultimately ends up in print or screen. That’s why relationships are so important; good PR builds positive, mutually beneficial ones which can lead to more and better coverage. But it doesn’t change the fundamental dynamic of the media/PR relationship.)
They must be available
That means they know that a reporter can call at any time and they need to be ready to answer questions and otherwise do what it takes to make a story happen. They shouldn’t return media phone calls five days later saying, “Sorry, I wasn’t in the office. Is it too late do do the story?” Then where were they and what what were they doing? Hopefully something that will bring in even bigger and better coverage than the chance they passed up by not being available when the opportunity presented itself.
They must coach you
You must allow them to coach you on Media Relations 101 and you must give them carte blanche to pull you out of meetings, lunches or the gym, or to call you at 10:30 p.m. if that’s when the reporter is calling. Even if you have the best rep in the world but you play hard to get or think you’re too important or busy to drop what you’re doing to talk to a reporter, then you can’t be that serious about wanting coverage. If your rep regularly has to tell reporters, “Sorry s/he’s in a meeting for the next two hours, can we call you back?” because you get all uppity if you’re interrupted, you’ve failed. You’re paying them to interrupt you, capice?
They must be social media savvy
In 2017 this is essential, not optional. It’s not enough to tweet once or twice and give yourself a gold social media star. It’s better to have no presence at all than to have your audience visit your Twitter feed and see two tweets from 2010, especially if one one of them says, "just joined this Twitter thing. Not sure how it works." Minimally, your rep needs to know how to work Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, if not other major social networks. They need to have a presence and be somewhat active on their own accounts too, and it helps if they actually have a passion for social media. For you, they need to strategize, create and manage your online presence and post consistently. What they don't need is a college degree to do it. #justsaying
BONUS FAIL ON YOUR PART: Are any of these your profile photos?
Yeah, you need to hire someone asap. Keep reading.
They need to be knowledgeable about your brand/product/service
You need to arm your rep with as much information so they can intelligently and quickly answer questions. As a reporter, so many times my questions were met with “Uh, I don’t know. I’ll have to get back to you.” After the third “I don’t know” I’m wondering, then what do you know and why are you calling? Ocassional IDK’s are ok. An honest IDK is preferable to sloppy, stumbling improv or anything remotely resembling falsehood. Sometimes even the best prepared rep may be caught off guard by a reporter's out left field question (I never did that...). Not one of us knows everything all the time. Normal. But when reps are consistently unable to answer what should be basic questions, something’s not right. And if I, as the reporter, have to explain to them the fundamentals of their job it doesn’t reflect well on you. Your PR person is as much a part of your team as your lawyer, accountant and anyone else you deem “important.” They need to be in the loop.
They can’t guarantee coverage
This is a biggie. Goes back to understanding the fundamental dynamic of the PR/Media relationship. No matter how media savvy your rep is, they can never guarantee coverage. It’s never a go until you see yourself on TV or read your name in print. The only surefire way to “guarantee” anything is to buy an ad. There are many factors that can contribute to sudden story death including, but not limited to, breaking news that's more important or timely such as a guy stopping on the freeway to rescue an injured puppy, or the editor's day got off to a horrible, first world start because the barista at Starbucks squirted "only" two shots of vanilla instead of three and it spills over into rearranged priorities. A good rep will never promise what they should know is not in their power to deliver. And you, boss man or lady, should not demand that they absolutely positively will land you the quintessential “front page” or they’re fired. Only Kim and Kanye have that kind of pull and power. Maybe. And face it: you’re not them. Not even close. (And that’s a good thing, by the way).
They must know how to write well
A good PR person must be a great writer and storyteller, which is indispensible to good PR. They should express ideas, convey meaning and create written visuals, not just rattle off words and hope they make sense. It goes without saying that good writing includes proper spelling and grammar. They know how to write at an age appropriate level: adult. Everyone makes typos now and then but a good writer will never consistently commit known federal felonies like your/you’re, to name one of the most common. Yes, good writing and storytelling is a non-negotiable must.
So you reviewed their (very well done) resume and they clearly seem to have the hard skills and experience necessary to do the job. But all the hard skills in the world won’t matter if they lack fundamental character and attitude “soft skills”/qualities that are equally, if not (almost)more important.
What are those qualities? Read on.
(Note: For usage info of the word media as a collective noun rather than plural term, click here)