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Q When is the right time to think about using an outside PR/marketing company? And because they are expensive, what are things to look for in good PR people?
A I once worked with a sage old sales guy who said, "Price should never be an objection." For him, nothing that delivers on the espoused value is really overpriced. Your question suggests that marketing consultation is "expensive," while what you really want to know is when and how such support delivers real value.
What marketing public relations people should deliver must be based on an understanding and track record that proves they know PR is more than just publicity.
Every firm has something to market and needs communication that sells at every customer touch point.
Great PR strategists help fill the many gaps between advertising messages and editorial content -- many of those opportunities being outside traditional media, or not in the media at all. Today, this will most certainly include a track record in social media, but also in old-standby tactics such as events and other audience-engaging initiatives.
Another factor that underlies the successful marketing PR consultant is the ability to tread the fine line between generating messages that sell with language appropriate to non-advertising channels without lapsing into harder-hitting "ad" language. Potential buyers accept the direct sell in ads, but can be offended by the same language in a place perceived as being less sales-oriented. You want to hire someone who can do both.
As to timing, the critical moment comes when you have reached the limit of either expertise or available time (or both) within your organization to deliver truly effective management of audience perceptions that sell your product, service or message.
If it's not getting done, find the funds to get a valuable resource at your disposal. After all, your decision is really based on the answer to the question "Can I afford not to reach my audience?"
MICHAEL PORTER, DIRECTOR, MASTER OF BUSINESS
UNIVERSITY OF ST. THOMAS
OPUS COLLEGE OF BUSINESS