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Op-Ed: Why business owners must research their PR and marketing firms

Here’s proof that anyone can hang up a shingle and claim to be a PR firm, even more reason to do your due diligence on your next marketing or PR firm.

The New York Post is reporting that an alleged fraudster pretended to own a public relations firm in Manhattan, saying he had such famous clients as Hillary Clinton, Mariah Carey and Paula Deen.

“Corey von Furstenberg” also allegedly claimed to be the head of the PR firm, Von Furstenberg Creative Group. The website and Twitter accounts associated with these names have since been taken down.

As the owner of a NYC public relations firm, I always encourage potential clients to do their due diligence on all PR firms before making a decision. Too often, I hear horror stories from business owners and entrepreneurs as they vent about how their last PR firm did nothing, despite all of the promises.

Unfortunately, anyone can claim to be a publicist – as we saw from that news story, which is why you need to do your own research and not fall for a slick talker.

If you’re looking to hire a top PR firm, here are some questions you should ask during your vetting process. I’m basing these questions from my career as an Executive Producer with NBC and a Senior Producer with CBS in New York and from my experience as the owner of Macias PR, which was named the 2015 top “PR Consultant Firm of the Year – USA” by Finance Monthly.

1) What is my media strategy?

This question is the driving force behind every successful media campaign. The majority of potential clients usually ask which reporters I know, but that’s not a smart question to ask. Just because you know the editor of a newspaper, that doesn’t mean you will get coverage. That is not a media strategy. Make sure you understand the proposed media strategy and if you don’t understand it, make the PR team clarify it.

2) How do you see my brand?

This question reveals how well the PR firm understands your business. Make the publicist or PR team elaborate on how they see your product or service. The key is trying to identify how well the PR firm grasps what is unique about your business.

3) Will I be working directly with you?

Many of the large PR firms send their best sales person to get your business, but after you sign the contract, they pawn it off to an inexperienced person right out of school. How do I know this? During my time at NBC and CBS, the VPs and SVPs would take me out for drinks, while their junior account executives would pitch me generic ideas. Make sure you know the person who is developing your strategy and representing your company to journalists.

4) Who are your clients and what media have you secured for them?

Media placements are the calling card for PR and the more diverse the placements, the more talented the PR firm. My PR firm has secured prominent news stories for our clients with the New York Times, New York Post, Good Morning America, CNN en Español, Fox News, Cosmo, TechCrunch, Entrepreneur Magazine. And – we have the client testimonials to back it up. If someone promises you something, get it in writing. If they refuse, take that promise for what it is worth – free air.

5) How long before we see your results?

This question allows you to see how confident the PR team is with your potential business.

6) What is your media experience?

Experience matters in life, and it is equally important with PR. Many firms like to hire great sales people because they assume they can sell a story to the media, but public relations is not about sales. It’s about understanding what a reporter needs to get a story sold to his editor. It requires a strong narrative, timely component and assessment of the competition. Experience inside the media will definitely give your campaign an edge.

7) Why are you different from everyone else?

This may seem like it contradicts the previous question, but it allows you to see how confident the company or publicist is with their experience. Just make sure the PR team is selling in an objective way – and not subjective. Anyone can say they are the best, but how many PR firms can say they were the Finance Monthly top “PR Consultant Firm of the Year – USA.” You get the picture.

Every industry has its unscrupulous players, so don’t hold it against your next PR firm. Just make sure you get it right and do what is in your control.

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