DIY (Do It Yourself)
or Use A PR Agency?

Whether to hire a PR agency is an important question to ask yourself during development of your practice marketing plan, even if your intent is to DIY (do it yourself). There are many ways you may find an agency useful and it is valuable to consider these during your plan development.

The great seduction, of course, is the idea that you could turn everything over to the experts at a PR or marketing firm and not have to deal with it yourself. While there are many reasons why this can be a good idea, for the small practice it can simply be cost prohibitive…and it’s a delusion to think you can get good results without being actively involved in the process, even when you are using an agency.

Why consider an agency?

Why consider an agency?
I believe most professionals can create and manage a very effective DIY practice marketing program completely in-house. The key (surprise, surprise) is to simplify. Don’t try to do too much. Manage your expectations. Create a simple plan. Work through the frustrations that will occur. You’ve been through your professional training—including a lot of education—and managed to get licensed, so you probably have the skills you need to effectively market your own practice. Your barriers are likely these:

  1. You don’t have the time
  2. You don’t have the interest
  3. You can make more money working than it would cost you to hire a PR agency
  4. You lack expertise that a PR professional could provide 

These are all good reasons to consider using a professional PR firm. Here are some questions to help you decide whether this is the right decision for you:

  • Do you have staff with any PR or marketing experience or an interest in learning about it?
  • Is there any staff time available to work on marketing?
  • Are you a good organizer? Do you procrastinate? Can you delegate? Do you have enough discipline to create and follow an action plan?
  • Can you afford it?
  • Can you effectively manage an agency, say no to some of their ideas and understand enough to discern the level of benefit you are really receiving for the amount you are paying?
  • What is the size of the community in which you practice?

    - If you practice in a small town your agency costs will likely be reasonable, but they may not be necessary to get attention from your local media

    - If you practice in a large metropolitan area, the contacts and expertise of a PR firm become much more important. If you try to DIY completely without knowing what you’re doing, you may be ignored by the media.

If you do decide to use a PR agency, keep in mind there are multiple ways to do so. You can:

  1. Hire a firm to help with specific pieces, such as creating website content or pitching media. ( Here is a great media placement firm that only charges you if they get results.)
  2. Find a trusted consultant who can do work for you as-needed.
  3. Outsource all aspects of marketing (but keep in mind you will spend more and possibly have less control).

Ways to Minimize the Expense

There are many ways you can maximize the value of a PR agency and minimize your cost. At the very least, I recommend that you complete your own plan before interviewing agencies. Yes, they will advise changes, but doing it yourself will help organize your thinking, help you convey to them concisely what you want and give you a budget for a DIY program that you will be able to compare with the budget they recommend. At the very least you will save yourself some money—paying a PR agency to create a plan for you can cost up to $5000.

Here are some additional examples of the things you can do to minimize the costs of working with a PR agency:

  • Ask for pay-for-results opportunities.
  • Determine if you’ll pay hourly or project-based. State in your contract what is or is not acceptable (e.g., an agency may charge you hourly each time you request a revision).
  • Write everything yourself and just pass it by the PR agency for editing. After you see a few of their edited pieces, you will probably even be able to forego that.
  • Assign a well-organized staff person to be responsible for the marketing of the practice (this can be you if you are good at delegation and follow-up). He/she will establish expertise over time that allows you to diminish the role of the PR firm. Also, having one contact for the agency who is responsive and manages them well will reduce your costs more than you can imagine.
  • Create your own media kit – write bios for the key professional(s) in your firm, write a brief overview and fact sheet about your practice, write key messages you’d like to convey about yourself and your practice, including what makes you different from other practitioners in your area.
  • The more you self-educate—before you hire an agency and after—the better you will manage them and that will save you money. Just reading this website will help you immensely as you interview, hire and manage a PR agency. If you’ll allow me a plug for my own e-manual, if you follow the steps outlined in PR for the Professions , you will have a pretty good marketing plan in place by the time you finish this quick read.
  • Learn what your firm needs from you and provide it initially or promptly to increase their efficiency. Pay attention and learn from what they do so you can do it in the future.

Specific tasks you might consider outsourcing to a local PR agency that can be well worth the money spent:

  • Distribution – they have a well-developed, current media list
  • Pitching stories – they know what the media is looking for and how to create a “hook” or angle for the information you want to share
  • Media training to prepare you for your first interviews
  • Editing your articles, press releases, etc. It will cost you a lot less for them to edit your drafts than to write new material.

Selecting a PR agency

Outsourcing does not have to mean a huge expense; it is all about your return on investment. Cover the basics: begin with some online research (you may be surprised at how many local resources there are), search for a firm that can offer you guidance and examples of past work, check references and research the vendors online to see what other business owners—especially other professionals—have to say. Once you have a short list of potential firms, ask each a set of questions:

  1. How many years of experience do you have?
  2. How many clients have you had that are professionals in my field?
  3. Have you marketed to my audience before?
  4. Can you share some relevant case studies?
  5. Can you provide a list of references?
  6. Will I have a dedicated contact person?
  7. What is the budget range of your existing clients and how many clients do you have in each category? (This will help you determine if you will be a big fish or a little fish to them, and thus how much attention you are likely to receive and whether you will be working with their best staff or their less experienced staff.)
  8. What size budget (rough estimate only at this point) should I expect to pay for my size practice to meet the goals we have discussed?
  9. What other expenses should I expect? (e.g., most firms will charge a 15-20% mark-up on any expenses they incur on your behalf, including media distribution and research expenses, travel, etc.)
  10. How do you charge—hourly, project bid, monthly retainer, pay-for-results?
  11.  Other questions may be applicable to your specific situation (e.g., do you understand HIPPA and how it will apply to marketing?)

Keeping it simple still wins the day

I certainly do not want to discourage you from a DIY practice marketing program. The purpose of this website is to show you can do just that! Keep in mind that a DIY approach doesn’t have to be complicated or stressful. It simply draws on what you know and shares that with people in your community. Think about your audience and how you can provide a public service by bringing your expertise to them.

If you’re a physician, for example, your patients may be confused about new medical guidelines or worried about the most recent outbreak of the H1N1 virus. Consider how you can increase visibility for your services while quelling those fears. By positioning yourself as an expert on the topic, perhaps by writing an article for your local paper that informs readers about the symptoms and treatment options, you will draw more attention to your practice and may even want to list it as a place where these services are available.

Can you do that? Certainly you can. Will you, may be the bigger question. For you, keeping it simple may mean you’ll want to start small with a DIY PR program or it may mean you’ll hire a PR agency to help you achieve some or all of your practice marketing goals. The important thing is to make a decision and act. I hope this website will continue to guide and assist you, whichever path you take, and that you will return here to share your experiences and recommendations with others.

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