As per Wikipedia, public relations is the practice of managing the communication between an organization and its publics. Let’s say it again. It is the practice of managing the communication. Not developing the communication. And certainly not developing the marketing plan that the communication is part of.
So how come it’s now becoming the norm that not a week goes by where I don’t hear of yet another vendor engaging a PR Firm to develop its marketing plan and spending, at least in my view, an obscene amount of money for the privilege?
(Now, I’m not saying you shouldn’t use a PR Firm [even though I have had numerous issues with a number of PR Firms and/or vendors who have used external PR Firms over the last few years]. If you don’t have the talent in-house, can’t afford to have the talent in house, or don’t have the need for a full time PR person, then you should definitely consider engaging a PR Firm. Managed properly, a relationship with a good PR Firm who can help you get in front of the right audience and refine your message appropriate to the audience has a significant ROI. But a mismanaged relationship with the wrong PR Firm will come back to bite you in the behind. Like an arms-reach BPO who takes your broken process and runs, a mismanaged relationship is only going to make things worse.)
A PR Firm doesn’t know your products and services, they don’t know your business, and they might not even know your vertical. Considering that these are the three things you have to know to come up with a good marketing plan, how can you possibly expect a PR Firm come up with one? The reality is that the free marketing advice you’re going to get from us bloggers — who know your vertical, your business, your competition, and what your products should do — is much better than anything you’re going to get from a PR Firm no matter how many (tens of) thousands you spend.
Remember where the PR Firm’s expertise lies — communications management. A good PR Professional is a Spin Doctor. This means that for them to add value, they need a message to spin. If you don’t have a marketing plan with appropriately identified messages before you go to them, then they have nothing to spin.
So I guess what I’m saying is, if you hire a PR Firm to do your marketing plan, don’t be surprised if all you get back is a bunch of hot air. Their function isn’t creating substance, it’s creating spin. And if all you give them to spin is air, then that’s what they’ll do.