THE BLOG
02/26/2014 02:37 pm ET Updated Apr 28, 2014

The PR Problem With Public Relations Firms

Public relations can be a valuable way for businesses and experts to establish credibility, raise their profiles, create awareness and find new customers. However, with public relations being an art and not a science and with the landscape changing so much over the past few years, many PR pros today have completely jumped the shark. I have both pitched as a client and received pitches as a member of various media and let me tell you that I've seen a wide range of the good (not often), the bad (often) and the ugly (too often) of PR.

Pitching the wrong sources: There are a number of types of media sources who change teams very frequently. Reporters and journalists may take pitches, however, pundits typically deal in opinion pieces and don't use sources. PR professionals often don't take the time to learn the difference and send people who don't want stories materials. Also, media members who may work for one entity or cover a particular industry change positions on a fairly regular basis. To this day, I receive pitches for a radio show that I haven't hosted in seven months. This is a waste of the time your PR firm is spending on your account.

Pitching irrelevant material: Journalists, reporters and bloggers writing articles and conducting interviews are often looking for specific sources or story angles to supplement their pieces. It is infinitely frustrating for a member of the media to make a specific query or request and in return, receive a pitch that is boiler plate and/or off-topic. As a client, this makes you look silly and it's a waste of your money. This challenge is often exacerbated when your PR firm doesn't know enough about your expertise or business to be able to effectively answer a query on your behalf.

Not all PR is created equal: With the online universe becoming a content factory, there are almost an infinite number of blogs, podcasts and other low-traffic media venues available for stories, articles, quotes and interviews. To justify their existence and to get a larger number of media "hits," your PR firm may be too focused on bloggers, internet radio or other venues that don't have much of an audience. These venues are fairly easy to land and depending on where you are in building your profile, they may in fact be worthwhile. However, you need to decide whether that type of "exposure" is worth the retainer you are paying for it. You may be able to garner the same results with you or a staff member spending a small amount of time sending out a few emails each week.

Unless you are a big deal, press releases are often useless: If you are Apple or Tesla, the world will cover your press release. If you are Joe Blow or Joe Inc., nobody cares about your new product or service launch. What you need to understand about the media is that they typically don't want to report on your business. They have something that they are writing about that is topical and they may want to quote you as an expert related to that story. This means that to be effective with your PR strategy, you should be going deep with relevant pitches tied to tips or current news. This is different than the broad blast strategy that many PR firms have been trained to do for decades.

If you are looking to hire a PR firm, in order to get the most out of your relationship, make sure that they understand what you want them to do (including avoiding the issues above). Test them on the strength of their relationships (which can often outweigh a good pitch) and set up performance metrics with defined time periods.

Plus, make sure to take some ownership of any relationships that you do make. If you are quoted or write a guest blog, make sure to insert yourself in the process and thank the journalist or reporter so that you can own that relationship in the future.

What are other issues that you have with PR firms and best practices to get more out of your PR? Share your thoughts below.