Can I Do My Own PR?

Last week I was in New York City to speak on a Fashion PR 2.0 panel about the use of social media in PR and marketing for the fashion industry. During the course of the evening, many interesting questions were asked. One in particular that stood out was from a budding fashion designer who asked, “Can I just do my own PR?”

Let’s take a quick look at a few things you can do yourself:

- be your own legal representative

- bake your own wedding cake

- file taxes

- be your own Realtor

- sew your own clothes

Obviously, there are many more things you could do yourself. But you choose not to because it’s not your area of expertise, you know someone else can do it better (i.e., the professionals), you don’t have the right amount of time or resources to do the best job, or a variety of other reasons.

With the rising popularity of social media, many people are implying – or outright stating – that PR as a profession is dead and that everyone can do their own PR. This sentiment is just silly. PR is not dead. It’s not a dying profession. Social media isn’t killing it – if it were, PR would just be about the tools, and not the people. If anything, social media is simply forcing an improvement in PR – thankfully.

That’s a key point people are missing – PR is about the people and how they execute their professional skills, not the tools they use. Think about it – social media is just making it easier to connect with more people, more often – but even before social media, the main tools for PR professionals were mail and phone, and before that, postal mail and fax. These are tools that – like social media – anyone could have used to execute PR in the past – so why suddenly does everyone think that just because it’s easier to communicate, everyone is good at it?

Trust me, I’m well aware that there are many, many PR professionals that do a bad job. I’ve received horrible, off-topic pitches myself as a blogger. But is this really different than any other industry? Or is PR as a profession just more visible to the outside world and thus more of a target to have bad work exposed?

PR isn’t brain surgery. I’ve always said that. It’s not impossible for anyone to do. Of course you can do it yourself. It doesn’t mean you’ll be good at it, or as lucky as Jason Calacanis was, and it might take time away from what you’re really good at – or worse, you might cause yourself more damage than good. So while hiring a full service PR and social media agency isn’t right for everyone – certainly a budding fashion designer would be better off hiring a consultant to start – it doesn’t mean that doing it yourself is the right option either.

People seem to view it as an “either/or” situation. Just because you hire a PR firm doesn’t mean that they are the only ones promoting your company. it also doesn’t mean that they don’t believe in your brand, understand or even use your product. We use plenty of our client’s products and are avid brand advocates even before – or after – working with them.

Good PR and marketing firms help everyone involved to properly promote the company – and to keep messages honest, transparent, consistent and persistent. It doesn’t mean the CEO shouldn’t also be participating in conversations – together, PR firms and their clients can all work together to spread brand enthusiasm and “be amazing, be everywhere and be real.” PR isn’t a synonym for fake – and the implication is tiring.

Rather, if you are already involved in social media, use it to ask the community about good PR firms or some great consultants. Keep in mind, however, who you are asking – be sure they are either reporters who work with these executives, or that they are industry executives who have had more than one job and truly understand both sides – corporate and agency – of PR and communications.  Just because someone has a lot of followers on Twitter doesn’t mean that they know corporate communications or how to help with other areas of PR such as crisis communications, marketing and sales positioning, corporate branding (as opposed to personal branding), and other crucial facets to great and successful marketing. Trust me – personal brands are one thing, corporate expertise another.

What do you think? Should everyone do their own PR? Can they?