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Why it's worth hiring a PR firm

This recent article, “How to Do Your Own PR,” on Inc.com caused me to reach back to Econ 102 to remember a lesson about capitalism.

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One of the tenets of a capitalist economy and labor is about adding value. Something or someone needs to add quantifiable value during an item’s production to earn a paycheck (or interest but that’s another post). That item can be a physical good or a creative product.

A window cleaner who’s cleaned your windows has added value. He or she earns a paycheck. A stockbroker who’s found a buyer for your Apple shares has added value.  He or she earns a fee. A dry cleaner who’s pressed your suit again has added value. And so forth.

As in most cases and the cases of the window and dry cleaners specifically, value is also a function of time. That means someone who accomplishes a task more quickly but still expertly can be said to be adding more value. You can clean your own windows or press your own suit, maybe very well, but if you choose to pay for those services you feel you can earn more value doing something else during the time you save.

That’s why we have shoe shiners, tailors, barbers, plumbers, mechanics and investment bankers. The panoply of professions that make up the American economy exists because people will pay for something to be done if it can be done better and faster. Getting both is a coup.

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A recent article on Inc.com misses this point when it argues that Public Relations firms aren’t necessary and that you can do PR on your own.

Public relations, like many professions, is one you can do, if poorly, with little training. It has no barriers to entry (you don’t need heavy machinery to produce PR work), and it really only requires a computer, an Internet connection and a working knowledge of the native language.

That fact makes PR an attractive service to be handled “on your own,” although the writer suggests hiring someone in his article, so I’m not sure how serious even he is about “on your own.”

Good PR firms exist because its professionals add value. They have access to more reporters; they’re fluent in the succinct language that journalists use; and they can do it all quickly and expertly.

But most importantly, PR workers practice the art of story idea creation. This is a point the author of the original article even makes. Art – By definition art is “a skill at doing a specified thing, typically one acquired through practice.”

The writer actually uses the term to describe what those PR professionals practice: the “art” of weaving together a story idea a journalist would actually want to write about and something that’s relevant and useful to your client. That he would describe it as “Art” scuttles his whole argument.

Certainly everyone can send an email to a reporter. Not everyone can do what good PR professionals do. Fewer still can do it expertly and quickly. Depending on how you value your time, it’s probably less costly to hire someone who already practices this art than to learn it yourself.

What James means to argue is that you should be careful about what PR firm you hire.  I’ll grant that many PR firms regurgitate clients’ marketing materials and ‘news’ in press releases and media alerts. That’s a commodity and is the most basic form of a product. It needs value-added to become valuable and that’s what good PR firms do.