Recently here on Writer Unboxed, the lovely Sharon Bially wrote about The Bad PR Hangover (and how to avoid it). A fabulous post – if you have not read it, read it too. You see, I’ve also had a handful of authors recently who have found me and relayed terrible and unfavorable stories of working with a book publicist or publicity firm (or other outside/freelance help) with an unhappy or very unfavorable outcome, similar to what Sharon wrote about. I hear these stories from time to time, but lately the number is on the rise and now that I know other publicity and marketing pros are also hearing these situations too, I think it’s even more important to equip authors with as much info as possible to avoid these situations. The tips Sharon shared in her post, and mine below, can also be applied toward any help an author hires – from a publicist to a website designer, from an editor to a cover designer and so on.
Perhaps it’s just another side effect of a crazy publishing market where things are being shaken up. When things are shaken up, growing and changing so quickly, well, there are things that are “unknown”, that is when some people take advantage. I have heard some mind-blowing, heart-wrenching stories just like the two Sharon mentioned. Whatever the reason for the increased instances of bad experiences or being taken advantage of, it should not happen that way, does not have to happen that way and there are things you can do to prevent – or recover – from a situation like that.
One author who called me even called it PTPD – Post-traumatic publicity disorder. Sharon’s author called it a bad PR hangover.
Regardless, here are 5 Additional Tips to Avoid a Bad PR Hangover/Experience/ PTPD (or whatever you want to call it!). Sharon’s great advice included things like setting reasonable expectations up front, getting a detailed work plan in place, having a publicist who is accessible and communicative on a regular basis and who offers you general guidance – all great tips!
To take this a few steps further, authors should:
#1 Get referrals
Do your research and make sure you get referrals – past and present clients – who have worked with the publicist. Ask for their favorite clients/campaigns but also ask for referrals for their most challenging (even if they don’t want to give those out, ask and make sure it’s not just the ones they know will rave). Ask those referrals as many questions about your potential new publicist as you can. Questions like: what are their strengths, what are their weaknesses, how often did they communicate/update, what were their biggest wins and biggest challenges. Also, ask for non-author referrals – like an internal publicist at a publisher they worked with. It’s always good to know how your potential outside publicist will be received and interact with your publisher (if you have one). Do not ever hire a person without talking to multiple referrals and asking the tough questions. And they should not be afraid to talk about those challenging clients or projects they might not be as proud of. I had a client once who signed up with me and, within the first month, unsigned and complained about how little we got her. I use this as an example to set realistic expectations with potential new clients. Publicity doesn’t happen in a month. Talk about the good, the bad and the ugly. A good publicist will have experience will all and not be afraid to talk about all.
#2 Ask them “Why my book?”
It’s common to ask a potential publicist “Why should I hire you?” and you should ask that question and hear what they have to say. But you should also ask, “Why my book?” – meaning why do they even want to do the publicity for your book? There are many firms who will take on a book project without reading the book and just push it through their “factory” or process without any thought to what makes sense for your particular book and without even reading it. How can a publicist really be successful at a campaign if they do not have a good, passionate reason for taking on the project and without reading it or at least reading enough of it to know why they want to take it on? Recently, a woman I spoke with who spent thousands of dollars on a PR firm, got no results and no explanation. She told me that she read the press release the publicist was using and overheard the PR team talking about the book and it was clear that no one at the firm had even read her book. If I am not a good fit for a project, I will be the first to say. If I am a good fit, I will say exactly why – and probably get a little over excited in the process! You need to have that kind of rapport with someone – they need to tell you why they are a good fit for your book and why they even want to work on it. Is it just another paying gig for them? Do they know or love anything about what you are writing about? Get specifics on what interests them about your book in the first place.
Once you have established that you want to work with a publicist or firm (you’ve checked all their references, you’ve asked the hard questions, you’ve asked them why they want to take on your book, you’ve grilled them and know without a shadow of a doubt they have read your work and are ready to help put you out properly into the world), demand even more specifics by getting a contract so you know what to expect. Have someone look that contract over. You want to know things like: total budget, total hours you’ll get for that budget, how often you’ll hear from them and be updated, how detailed they will be in their reporting, how they handle pitches they don’t hear back on (how long they continue to follow up before calling it quits on certain things), how you will be billed and when, what other expenses in addition to your retainer or fee you should expect. A contract – and then a detailed work plan/PR Plan with timeline after the contract – will help you know exactly what to expect and when. Reference the work plan/PR plan and contract often and know when and what you should be getting. The more specific, the better. Hold someone accountable if they are not living up to their end of the contracted bargain.
#4 Do not pay in full but do pay fully
Do not pay in full with cash or check or with a credit card for a book publicity campaign. Ever. Do not pay in full up front. Most of the time, you pay a monthly retainer or you pay the first month to get started and then a monthly fee. Do not pre-pay for the whole thing. However, know that PR is no guarantee and you pay for the work and the effort and sometimes no matter how hard a person works at it, the results just aren’t as great as you (and the publicist) hoped. You still need to fully pay your end of the bargain, for the effort and hours of the team working on your behalf. If there’s been a contract and a work plan/PR and communication and updates happened regularly, then it will be clear that the effort was there. Sometimes it boils down to things out of a publicist’s hands. So, you need to pay for their time and effort. Hopefully, they adjusted their plan and efforts to try and maximize what was working and didn’t just put your book into their “factory” or “process”. Hopefully, they were more creative than that. But, in then end, payment will be a big thing and could make or break a relationship. Avoid paying in full (to avoid a bad PR experience where you may never see that money or hear from that firm/person again – yes, that happens), but always pay fully for what you said you would. Establish those payment guidelines and expectations and a good solid payment plan and this should avoid any issues. Do not get in over your head. Do not get talked into a budget you can’t afford or that is not necessary. Understand the hours and where they are being spent and what is happening with those hours.
#5 Clear the air
When there is something you are unsure of, when there is something you need or want to know, when you feel like you are not hearing enough or getting enough explanation, when you feel like there’s something not going according to plan or something seems off, talk about it. Open up the dialogue. Have open communication like Sharon also mentioned -this one deserves to be reiterated. Do not be afraid to ask, do not let things fester, don’t let the publicist or firm be silent or not let you in. You should be part of the campaign. Don’t jump to conclusions or assume or demand or blame – but do talk. The best relationships I have with my clients are when things are out in the open on both sides. If this is a publicist who is right for you and is passionate about your book, they are doing everything they can and will be open to talking about your concerns, worries, disappointments, challenges, questions, and, of course, the good news too. Always clear the air and make sure you communicate.