As most of my readers can guess, given my 15 years of business development/marketing experience, public and customer relations are passions of mine. When I see customers put their trust in unscrupulous or inexperienced “professionals” in that field, I find myself not only saddened by it, but angry at the persons passing themselves off as experts able to provide those services, especially when it’s in the area of my expertise.
This rang true for me this past week when I received an email asking if I had received a blast email requesting reviews of a book that will, for the purpose of this piece, remain nameless. An email was sent to more than 500 unsuspecting reviewers in the old standard of simply giving a blurb about the book, that it was the most dynamic book on the market and would the recipient consider reviewing it because they would be missing out on it if they didn’t. To make matters worse, some people received the email twice, and some recipients are no longer reviewing. The only thing missing was the attachment for the book itself, making it a true cluster-fluck of a request.
When I asked my reviewer friend about the author, I was floored because the email didn’t come from the author, rather from someone who calls themselves a public relations person. The author had hired this individual to get the word out about her book. How absolutely mortifying that a person who calls them self a professional would make such a rookie mistake. To boot, I’m sure the author paid this person to make such a colossal mistake. What’s worse, the author, who probably has no knowledge of the issue, is unaware that 500 plus book reviewers are now aware of her name, but not in a positive way.
Before hiring this novice – and I use the term lightly – what questions could’ve been asked?
- Ask about the individual’s employment history. How long have they been in public relations? Has it been in the publishing industry? If not, is the industry comparable to publishing? For example, has this person worked in the entertainment industry? While my background is in healthcare, it took me years to amass the experience that I built upon in the publishing industry. While a person’s day job may be outside of publishing, they should’ve developed the experience necessary for working within the publishing industry. Don’t just accept that someone has experience in any area of public relations. There are special aspects to the publishing industry that aren’t learned in any other sector.
- What do his/her databases consist of? It is critical for those in public relations to have databases within numerous pipelines. For example, a public relations professional isn’t only going to have to have a database of book reviewers, but numerous other sources as well, including blog tour managers, magazine/e-zine publications, etc. Be sure to ask how often these databases are updated. It’s important to realize that sources change for numerous reasons, including discontinuing of business. If this person charges you for sending out email blasts to reviewers no longer reviewing, you just flushed money down the toilet while irking those who have been on the receiving end of an unwanted email blast.
- What does their social media profile look like? If this person is being hired for his/her public relations capabilities, they should have a strong profile which helps sell that picture. Don’t focus on number of followers per se, rather how it’s kept up. Does it look professionally maintained? You wouldn’t hire a hoarder and a slob to clean your house, would you? Why would you hire someone who claims to be a professional in public relations when their own site looks unprofessional? If they can’t do it for their own site, why do you think they could do it for yours?
- When soliciting reviews from reviewers, how are these emails created and sent out? Are they personalized? Do they follow reviewers’ protocols for review request criteria? There’s no quicker way to have a reviewer say “no” and blacklist an author than by not following the guidelines they’ve established for running their review site.
The best advice I can give any author is to get referrals from your author network, including reviewers! Believe it or not, if it’s fostered correctly, the independent publishing industry is a small world for the author. I continue to be amazed by how many authors and reviewers know each other, either personally or professionally. If one can’t give information from their own knowledge, they know where to reach out within their network. Most of those who’ve been around for a while know who the “bad” players are and can forewarn of an unscrupulous or untalented professional.
Like many services in independent publishing, hiring a public relations person can be an expensive venture. It’s critical to ask the right questions that don’t result in hard-earned money being thrown away or book reviewers remembering your name for the wrong reasons and for something that could have been prevented by asking disqualifying questions BEFORE hiring your public relations professional.
What are some pithy tips that have worked for you in selecting public relations/marketing vendors?