Last week I was having coffee with a new friend who’s in marketing/branding/communications. She’s lived a fascinating life all over the United States and was telling me about one of her very talented, well-known and super connected friends in NYC who was thinking of starting a business. He had used a PR firm for past ventures, only to walk away incredibly disappointed (read:  no visibilty). As a PR peep, I don’t understand how this happens. You have famous client with a huge following and a great story, yet you can’t make anything happen for him?

Unfortunately, I hear a story like this almost weekly. People come to me having spent thousands—tens of thousands—with a PR specialist, boutique or firm only to have nothing to show for it. Unless you’re a business owner, it might be hard to understand just how devastating this is. You’ve sacrificed, taken risks, gone without to start your dream and then you trust someone(s) with your hard earned dollars that could go a million other places only to be in the exact same place you started before you signed a six-month retainer.

Not only are you out money, time and energy, but now you don’t know what to, where to go or who to trust. And you might go down the road of blaming yourself and lack of business know-how (don’t do that) and think you’re not cut out for this entrepreneurial game. Or you think if you can just get a couple of big time peeps to notice you or up your social media game, you won’t need PR. Highly unlikely.

These stories really, really, really bother me. Not just as a biz owner, but as someone who has spent their entire career in marketing and PR. To know that there are people out there taking retainers that start at $10,000 and go way up from there, and end up producing very little results for their clients is disheartening to say the least.

And it happens for a variety of reasons:

– The client isn’t ready (or positioned) for PR, and the PR professional doesn’t realize it or doesn’t care.

– The PR professional doesn’t make sure the client has a well-developed story.

– The PR professional doesn’t understand the client’s goals for PR.

– The PR professional is using old-school methods without understanding current ones.

– The PR professional thinks press releases and social media are the most effective tools.

– The PR professional has no idea how to pitch the media.

– The PR professional has no idea how to interact with the media and breaks etiquette, therefore getting blacklisted.

So what can you do about this? Especially if you don’t know anything about PR.

You can learn how to do it yourself, or have an assistant or employee learn. It’s not rocket science and it’s very doable. But if that’s not your jam, and you really want someone to take the reigns, then do your homework before hiring someone.

– Ask other business owners who have had a good amount of visibility who they hired.

– Go to the testimonials page of the PR person you’re thinking of retaining and contact the people who wrote them. Ask them about their experience.

– Know your PR goals. Do you want visibly to increase revenue, brand awareness or to become famous? The strategies are different for each one.

– Know your story. Why would members of the press want to write about you? Hint:  it’s not because you opened a biz or have a great product. It’s closer to your why.

Do not let a bad experience cause you to lose faith in an industry that is 100% crucial to growing a business. So spend a little time educating yourself, which will save you time, money and prevent you from crying into your tub of ice cream thinking everyone else has it figured out but you.

P.S. My current crushes:  the Converse knock-offs at Target (I own white, navy and red), Eccolo notebooks, Sharpie fine point pens (forever), Vikings TV show and the True Crime Garage podcast.