Hiring a public relations firm won’t translate into actual business growth, new customers, and profits unless you’ve laid the right foundation.

I never knew that. Partly because I was naive and partly because a PR firm won’t ever tell you this.

You can spend thousands on PR, get in the press, and then… crickets.

It wasn’t until my recent book and album launch that I “did it right.” I didn’t start with hiring a public relations firm. 

I started with three things and I got results.

Learning the “right way” to approach PR was difficult (and expensive), but it doesn’t have to be that way for you. If you don’t want to waste your money, keep reading to learn three things you need to do before hiring a public relations firm.

1. Define Your Messaging and Positioning

Know Your Target Market. You need to know who your target market is and have proven success marketing to them. If you assume who your target market is when you make a large investment in PR, the PR won’t deliver the results you need because you’re wrong on who your target market is and don’t totally understand them. Number one before hiring a public relations firm: Understand who your target market is, test who your target market is, and have proven success that you can acquire customers in that market. Otherwise, PR won’t solve that for you. 

Determine Your Differentiation. The only reason why a media outlet is going to pick up what you have to offer is because you have something unique or different to say. A lot of people confuse something that’s a major milestone in their life with something that their target market will actually care about, but just because something is a big deal to you doesn’t mean it’s a big deal at a macro level. Make sure that your differentiation is very clear, and that you have a compelling story. 

Have a Compelling Story. You want to make sure that your story is something that’s worth telling the media. This is the fundamental nature of what PR does. There has to be a story that’s worth telling. Making announcements, sending out press releases about a new product or website launch, is a thing of the past. This doesn’t work. 

What works is having something unique about your product that media outlets’ readers may actually be interested in, which is why you have to have a story in mind before you hire a public relations firm. The firm will help you refine your story, but you want to have it pretty clearly established beforehand. 

Choose a Media Spokesperson. You want to make sure you have somebody in your company who can handle media questions. This is usually the face of your company or another thought leader in your business. Often, this is the CEO or the founder, but it can really be anybody in your executive team. 

Whoever your spokesperson is, you want to make sure they’re well-equipped to talk to the press. They should be able to provide soundbites, be quick on their feet, know your products and services inside and out, and be able to deliver your compelling story in a short amount of time. 

2. Build Your Platform 

What exactly is your platform? It’s your website, social media, and email list — things that work towards acquiring customers and either convert them into leads or customers for you. A platform isn’t just having a website, social media, and email list. For example, if you have website traffic but aren’t working to convert that traffic into leads, then you have a foundational piece of your platform that needs to be fixed before hiring a public relations firm. 

Why? 

If your PR is successful, people will start to check you out online. It’s pretty common for someone to Google you and check out your website…but if your website doesn’t already have a great way of converting website traffic into leads and customers, all you’re doing is driving more traffic to a website where no one’s converting. 

You want to make sure that your platform is built for conversion. 

Pro Tip: Invest in Content Marketing Before Public Relations

Ultimately, we’re all in the game of acquiring customers at the lowest price, regardless of whether you’re in a service business or product business. When you hire a public relations firm, it normally costs $4,000 a month with a six-month minimum. You’re looking at a $24,000 investment. 

Before making this investment into PR, ask yourself: “Could I be spending this $24,000 to acquire customers in a different way for a lower cost?” 

Take a look at the other channels you have that are working, and see if it makes sense to invest more in those channels. 

At Flow, we’ve seen content marketing work really well as a precursor to PR. 

Your media spokesperson needs to be a thought leader who understands your business and what’s happening on a macro scale, then connects the dots to make the story interesting. With content marketing, you can interview your media spokesperson to gain insight into the topic you’re writing about. This will prepare them for the short, fast interviews they may encounter during media appearances and give them opportunities to practice delivering information about your business in a compelling way. 

By putting out your spokesperson’s thought leadership through content marketing, specifically through writing blog articles and distributing them through various channels (like Medium, LinkedIn, or third-party publications), you’ll also gain practice with different types of messaging and use data to learn what resonates with your audience. At the same time, your business will acquire website traffic and build awareness of who you are and what you do. 

Content marketing is the single best thing you can do before going into PR, because it lays the foundation for your chosen thought leader, and for the platform and audience you need in order to make your PR investment worth it. 

Related: Personal Branding Guide for Entrepreneurs and Executives

Not sure where to begin with building your platform? Flow’s customer service team is highly skilled at converting website traffic into leads. We’re happy to schedule a call and discuss how we can help.

3. Grow Your Audience

As you build your platform, you’ll begin attracting an audience — another key component you need to have in place before spending money on PR. 

How many people are on your email list? How many followers do you have on social media? Are they in your target market? This group of people is your captive audience. 

If you depend exclusively on the audience of the publications your PR firm places you in, you’re missing a big opportunity. When you do the work to build your platform and your audience, you’ll have a captive audience who’s subscribed or followed you and wants to hear from you. They’ll be excited about any PR blip that you share.

These people are incredibly important because when you generate press (whether it be an article, TV interview, or podcast appearance), this captive audience turns into raving fans. And what do raving fans do? They create word of mouth — the number one business driver for any business. 

Public relations is designed to give you word of mouth, but if you don’t have any mouths to provide the words, who’s going to be talking about you? It’s on your plate to build your audience. That’s not going to happen as a result of PR. 

PR is a microphone. Without a bunch of mouths to put that microphone to, nothing is going to be amplified. Make sure you have your captive audience in place before spending money on PR.

How Long Does This Process Take?

The length of the process depends on your dedication to these steps and the size of your target market. 

At Flow, we spend the first three to four weeks with our clients determining the components of their target audience, their differentiator, their messaging, and their positioning. Then, we turn around and use this information to develop their social media profiles, branding, and website copy. We also spend time during this first month to ensure that their platforms are set up to convert traffic into leads. 

After the first month, we focus on distributing blog content on a weekly basis. We’ve found that clients tend to grow their audience quite quickly once this part of the process begins, but we still spend about six months developing content before asking that audience to take action. 

If you make a call-to-action ask too early, you risk hurting your relationship with your audience. You want to focus on being a giver. Remember: You’re the teacher, and your student is the target market. Focus on teaching. 

As you do this, your students will continue to seek out more information from you, not just knowledge but professional guidance, asking about hiring you or purchasing your products and services. When you have this platform and dedicated audience in place, it’s time to begin thinking about PR. 

Don’t aim to reach a certain follower count on social media or the number of emails in your email list before hiring a public relations firm. Focus on reaching people in your target market and develop a relationship with them. In turn, you’ll create an audience who’s excited and willing to amplify the news when you’re featured in a media outlet, which will create an even greater return on your PR investment.

Once you clearly define your messaging and positioning, build your platform, and grow your audience, you can hire a PR firm with confidence, knowing that your money isn’t going to waste.  

Related: 5 Hacks to Take the Stress Out of Digital Content Creation

The Before You Waste Your Money on PR Checklist