How To Navigate The Public Relations Process
No matter how unique a product line is, a company won’t sell merchandise if no one knows about it. Public relations is the art of elevating awareness, and it’s one of the first areas beauty newcomers consider investing in beyond the basics of products and branding. Because it’s an art, though, there are no set-in-stone strategies for obtaining PR assistance and judging the jobs of PR agencies. To direct beauty entrepreneurs through the alluring yet frequently amorphous PR process, Beauty Independent picked the brains of nine PR veterans and beauty company founders. Based on their insights, here are six profile-raising steps brands shouldn’t skip.
- Narrowing down the PR field
- Selecting the right PR people for your brand out of the over 240,000 PR professionals in this country is no easy task. Andrea Pierce-Naymon, founder of the natural skincare brand OY-L, started with a PR firm in Cleveland that didn’t have the New York connections necessary to attract editors at the big magazines. She later turned to a New York firm that had the connections, but didn’t comprehend her brand’s natural positioning. “PR is very tricky,” she bemoans. The lesson? Think hard about your brand’s objectives. Do you want to spread the word in your local market? Lift brand recognition nationally? Expand internationally? Other aspects to contemplate are the size and specialty of PR firms. “A large corporate firm might not be the best fit for a start-up brand with only a few SKUs,” advises Erin Kelly of Erin Kelly PR. PR firms tend to concentrate on beauty, technology, celebrity, food, fashion or a different segment. Generally, it’s a good idea for beauty brands to stick to PR agencies with extensive beauty backgrounds. “We only take on beauty brands. It is what we do. It is what we excel at,” says Kate Morgan, a principal at Morgan Publicity. “A fashion agency with one token beauty brand, I’d be a little suspect. Use your business intuition.” There might be occasions, however, when it could be advantageous to tap a PR agency with a non-beauty specialty. For example, if you’re keen on entering fashion stores, a fashion PR team may grasp the lay of the fashion retail land better than a beauty PR team.
- Interviewing PR partners
- Once you’ve narrowed the PR field, Rachel Johnson of Rachel Lynne Johnson Public Relations suggests interviewing three to four agencies. “Finding the right publicist is like dating,” she muses. “Sometimes you have to go on several dates to find the right fit.” Ilisa Wirgin, senior vice president and group director at 5W Public Relations, details a brand interviewing PR firms should solicit case studies, inquire about the specific group of people that would handle its account and touch upon topline program proposals. “It’s also important to ask about how they communicate with their partners,” she says. “It’s a two-way relationship, and you need to ensure that your working practices and needs are compatible.” Leah-Vail Soloff, brand strategist and PR authority, elaborates brands should delve into the PR efforts that would be required to deliver desired results, what the PR agency would deem major wins and whether it responds promptly. “If the PR person is very responsive and on top of it with you, then they will be that way with media as well,” she says. Adele Chan, founder of Blank Communications, adds brands should probe about a PR firm’s current and former clients, and its media network. Finally, there’s an emotional component to evaluating PR candidates. “Find a PR representative that you feel comfortable with, and someone that truly understands your brand,” says Chan. “This person will represent you and your brand, so you have to trust them and that they will say the same things you would.”
- Timing PR right
- PR professionals counsel brands to secure PR timed with a brand or product launch, and they’re not referring to a soft launch that dips your toes into the market. Wirgin outlines a brand should have products, e-commerce capabilities and brand or product messaging to hit the ground running with PR. Kelly further notes a brand founder has to be ready for editor interviews and calls with his or her PR team. Soloff says, “I would recommend investing in PR when there is also a budget to execute around a new initiative or product launch. But sometimes, it can be valuable to invest a small amount of money, even if it is a stretch, right when the brand launches. Since you only launch once, this is an opportunity to build notoriety and cache for the company.” Morgan stresses brands should stay away from bringing on board PR too early. “You’re burning a hole in your wallet, and no reputable agent should have you under retainer unless they are complementing your business needs and brand life cycle.”
- Money for your megaphone
- Typically, PR firms charge indie beauty brands $3,000 to $10,000 for monthly retainers. Scope of work dictates the cost. “Are you looking for editorial, influencer and broadcast representation? Or just editorial and influencer seeding later? Or influencer outreach only?” queries Morgan. She continues that brands should remember to budget for travel, meals and entertainment. “Some of my best coverage pieces have been born from taking an editor to dinner,” explains Morgan. She figures small beauty brands usually hire PR agencies for six- to eight-month terms. Soloff dissuades brands from shorter terms. “Most long-lead publications work on a three- to four-month lead time, where short lead can be up to a month. It would be a poor investment to spend budgeted dollars for such a short timeframe,” she says. Brand founders have diverging opinions on PR terms. Annie Tevelin, founder of skincare brand SkinOwl, says, “Do not hire a publicist, if you can afford one, for two months. It should be a marriage, not a one-night stand.” Pierce-Naymon is supportive of short-term arrangements. She states, “My advice: really vet these firms, compare them, use them as a trial run and don’t sign a year contract.”
- Bloggers, influencers, magazine editors and more
- The media landscape has never been more complex than it is today. That complexity is why a skilled PR professional can be exceedingly beneficial, and it’s also why old standards of PR success are being thrown out the window. No longer is a story in a splashy magazine the be all and end all. “I advise brands to celebrate every win whether it’s Vogue or a smaller blog. Often, brands have high expectations for a big-name publication, but it can be the high-quality placements and brand profiles in a smaller publication that may actually result in traction,” says Soloff. Lorraine Dallmeier, director of Formula Botanica, an organic cosmetics digital learning resource, instructs brands not to undervalue online mentions. She says bloggers may “understand your brand and your message. You might, for instance, see a bigger leap in your following through a mention by the right beauty blogger with 10,000 followers than by an article in a major media publication that reaches millions.” Wirgin underscores that micro-influencers can be boons for new brands, and she believes brands should pursue media placements across key mediums such as print, web and broadcast. No matter the medium, Dallmeier cautions that brand founders shouldn’t be hands-off with PR. “Get actively involved yourself, so that you can connect with the influencers that are covering you,” she says. “If they love you and your story, they’re likely to keep coming back.”
- PR’s soft ROI
- There are too many factors at play for a brand to tie PR programs directly to purchases. “Earned media means no guarantees,” declares Morgan. “Get on board with that notion quickly if you want to go down a PR road.” Soloff points to retail channel growth, online banter about a brand and traffic to its website as sensible ROI measures. “PR is a piece of a larger strategy puzzle that includes marketing, social media, influencers and a digital spend that will hopefully drive the conversation around your brand and build equity in the company,” she says. “Building a household name will result in an increase in traffic to your website and eventually sales.” Brand founders’ experiences with the sales impact of PR vary significantly. “PR is very expensive, and I just did not see it driving sales, only brand awareness,” says Pierce-Naymon. “I would like to use PR again, but that is going to be a tough sell to my investor. He did not see any results from it.” Tevelin thinks hiring Johnson for SkinOwl’s PR was the single best investment she made at her brand. “I would say that 90% of the people I talk to have had really bad experiences with publicists. If I was working with a firm where I was treated more like a number or maybe small businesses weren’t revered as much, it might have been different for me,” she says. “Rachel cares about people really understanding your story, your brand and who you are. It gives me a lot of confidence to have that relationship.”