You need a license to sell real estate and give legal advice, but when it comes to marketing your startup to the media, pretty much anyone can put up a shingle and call themselves a “publicist.” During his time as Executive Producer with NBC in New York, Mark Macias heard hundreds of pitches a day from publicists, reporters and producers. Today, as the owner of a NYC-based PR agency, he gets to hear the challenges entrepreneurs and startups face standing out from the crowd.
This is why it’s so important to do your due diligence before hiring a PR agency. That firm will be in charge of your messaging and overall brand, and their work will be amplified by the media. In a worst case scenario, you can waste valuable time and money as the media ignores your story from the start.
Macias shared with Grit Daily some of the biggest mistakes he sees startups make in their pursuit of publicity. Here’s an excerpt from that interview.
Grit Daily: What should you look for when hiring a publicist?
Mark Macias: I’ve found the best publicists have a deeper understanding of how the media works from the inside. They have an intuition that spots trends and news stories before others.
A great publicist also understands the nuances of the media – because messaging is always a subtle sell around news. Experienced editors and journalists can spot an advertisement within seconds of hearing a pitch, and if it remotely sounds like a commercial, they won’t run it. The best publicity campaigns are able to weave themselves into the news fabric or pop culture.
Intuition is another overlooked factor. Journalism is usually centered around human behavior. It’s about connecting the invisible dots around people to form a story. And that’s not reading tea leaves. Intuition is a component of behavioral science.
Grit Daily: Is it better to hire a local, east coast or west coast agency?
Mark Macias: It is true you can lead a media campaign from anywhere, but publicists on East Coast time do have an advantage when it comes to the national news cycle.
Cable news, syndicated programs and the national news publications all work off of east coast time with the typical editorial meeting starting at 9am EST/6am PST. If you want to place a story with the national media, you likely need to go through this meeting.
With each passing hour, you lose momentum to position your brand into the news cycle.
By noon EST/9am PST, most journalists are well into their story. And by 5pm EST/2pm PST, many news stories are already written and filed. That 3-hour time change really makes the difference between getting overlooked and being in the game.
It’s different if you’re trying to get publicity for a product or service sold in a local market. If you want to get a story on a restaurant or small business on the local news, a PR firm that understands the local market will be better. They should have the contacts to assist with media outreach, and hopefully possess a better understanding of the local news landscape since coverage varies by region.
Grit Daily: How do you know when a PR campaign is successful?
Mark Macias: There are many ways to measure a successful PR campaign: media placements; news organization reach and influence; website analytics; search engine optimization; sales conversions; behavioral influence and social media exposure.
Millennials and Gen Z look to reviews before buying products – more so than older generations. If you get a positive profile story on your product that will help with sales.
A successful PR campaign will also reach your clients and customers on their terms. So if you’re an accounting firm trying to find business owners, your successful campaign will land in the business pages. Likewise, a digital health startup would get a story placed in a lifestyle publication. Any story that shares your value-add to your targeted audience is a successful campaign from my perspective.
Grit Daily: How much should a startup pay for PR?
Mark Macias: Prices and approaches vary by firm, but it helps to understand how the payment plan works. You can pay by the hour, by the media placement or under a retainer.
I’m a firm believer that nothing is free in life, so if a publicist claims you only pay if they make a placement, I’d ask a lot of questions. It costs time and money to generate organic (earned) media. And a press release does not fall under that definition. It takes time to write a successful pitch and find the right reporters, and resources to secure the story. If someone offers to do work for free, I would question their experience and PR understanding.
Paying a lawyer, consultant or publicist by the hour scares me. If a story isn’t catching on, it’s easy to add more time – and under this payment plan, hours add up quickly. Personally, I prefer retainers because the cost won’t fluctuate, even when unexpected issues arise. And if the firm or consultant is reputable or cares about your business, they will likely add extra hours to ensure they meet your expectations, regardless of what happens.