Q: I have a small catering business and I'd like to drum up some publicity, but I'm not sure how to go about it. Can I do the PR myself? Should I hire a PR agency?

A: The most important step is realizing that PR should be done in the first place. PR is a very important, but frequently overlooked, approach to marketing. For many entrepreneurs, there is no budget available for hiring an agency or outsourcing the PR, but there are several ways to achieve free or very cost-effective publicity.

The time it takes to plan and execute this PR vs. the time you could be spending on what you do best in your business has to be evaluated. You should also consider how effective the do-it-yourselfer can be vs. the professional with all the contacts, efficiencies, methods and tools to spread the word effectively. Will you be able to contact the necessary editors, distribute your press materials and get your articles placed between now and the time of your event, or will you need someone else to spend their time doing it, especially with tight deadlines right around the corner? Lets look at the various PR components that will work, whether done by an agency or done by you, the entrepreneur:

  • Press release
  • Press release distribution
  • Media interview
  • Editorial contribution
  • Guest columns
  • Letters to the editor
  • Feature articles
  • Article placement
  • Seminars
  • Workshops
  • Speaking engagements
  • Press conference
  • Market research
  • Media relations
  • Contact lists

If doing it yourself would mean there's a risk that your campaign will be improperly composed, poorly pitched, over-commercialized (editors do not like promotion; they like news) and misdirected with no follow-up, then you would be better off hiring a professional. Here are some key considerations that will help you determine who can best handle your PR campaign:

  • If you don't have the media contacts, hire someone who does. Most PR professionals have established contacts in the media that have been groomed and cultivated over several years, leading to a greater number of media placements in higher-profile places.
  • Writing is key. Can you provide the catchy headline that every editor is looking for? Can you provide the newsworthiness angle to your event, announcement or information? Yes to these may suggest a do-it-yourself campaign, provided things like time and efficiencies are available.
  • PR specialists/agencies generate publicity full time and know the ins and outs, shortcuts and secrets to getting the job done better and quicker. You could do your own auto mechanics, string your own telephone wire or rebuild your own computers, provided you had the right tools, the right amount of time, and of course the expertise to be efficient and cost-effective. If you could spend your time doing what you do best and get one more sale for your business, what is that worth to you vs. hiring a professional?

If you have the time, tools, talent and know-how to launch, maintain and follow up on your own campaign, then you should definitely do so. If not, there are plenty of public relations/publicity firms, specialists and services available. Only hire what you can afford. Remember to view this expenditure as an investment, and weigh that investment against what one more piece of business could be worth to you. Regardless of whether you do it yourself or hire someone, when it comes to launching a PR campaign, many businesses find they can't afford not to have one.

Alfred J. Lautenslager is an award-winning marketing and PR consultant, direct-mail promotion specialist, principle of marketing consulting firm Marketing Now, and president and owner of The Ink Well, a commercial printing and mailing company in Wheaton, Illinois. Visit his Web sites at http://www.market-for-profits.comand http://www.1-800-inkwell.com, or e-mail him at al@market-for-profits.com.


The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author, not of Entrepreneur.com. All answers are intended to be general in nature, without regard to specific geographical areas or circumstances, and should only be relied upon after consulting an appropriate expert, such as an attorney or accountant.