As a craft distiller, you’re likely familiar with public relations — or PR — as a marketing tactic but, as with all marketing tactics, it can often be confusing to know where it fits in the puzzle. I often hear comments like, “We know we should do this at some point, but when? Why? What do they actually do? How do I think about ROI? Are there different kinds of publicists?” While there’s no one easy answer here, you should have a high-level understanding of PR so that you are better equipped to employ it as one of the many marketing weapons in the battle to grow your brand.

Public relations is how companies and brands communicate with the public and media. A PR specialist, or publicist, communicates with your target audience directly through influencers or indirectly through media to create and maintain a positive brand reputation and a strong relationship with the public, particularly the brand’s target consumers.

Why Hire a Publicist?

So why should you even consider hiring a publicist? Why not just reach out to influencers and media yourself as the scrappy entrepreneur that you are?

First, at some point, you just can’t do it all yourself. And PR is one of those particularly tricky marketing areas of expertise that looks simple from the outside but wastes so much time for subpar results when you actually try to do it yourself. It can be done, of course, but it takes some real time, training, discipline and effort to get good at it. Why is that? Well, that’s our second reason for considering to hire a publicist.

Good publicists already have an existing relationship with the media. And if you’re considering them as your publicist, then they have a relationship with alcohol, food and travel-related media in particular. They know who to talk to, how to best get through to them and have established trusting relationships. You know what that means? That media contact is much more likely to open their email about your brand, which is the first thing that needs to happen if your news is ever going to get published!

Third, publicists have objective market knowledge. They know the path to success when it comes to getting news picked up. They also know what your competitors are doing, which means over time they can help you decide when to push which topics to drive the best results. Because of their objectivity, they can also help you gauge what is truly newsworthy, how to make items more newsworthy and who in the media will think it’s most newsworthy. That is hugely valuable and can save you from wasting time researching and sending hundreds of press releases when you could have gotten the same results sending 30 to different people a week later. Tactics only work if there’s good strategy behind them.

Lastly, publicists help you pull your head out of that copper still long enough to ensure the timing of your brand, launch, promotion or other news is appropriate. The best time to pitch a news story is not usually right when it’s about to happen. Yet, being the busy entrepreneur you are, that is usually the first time craft makers start to think about marketing. Right as the news is about to happen! Your publicist, on the other hand, can look at your product and promotion plan for the year and match that up with trends, holidays, seasons and more to make sure you’re promoting topics at the right time to increase the likelihood of publication. They figure out if it should be a local or national press release, how many product samples to send, how often and when to follow up, how to deal with unexpected news or crises and more. Which means you can spend a lot more of your time making the news that is your incredible booze happen, while they worry about sharing the news at a time when it will most benefit your brand.

What Does a Publicist Do?

Now that you see why a publicist might be helpful, let’s talk about what a publicist does and what’s in that magical media tool kit of theirs. Because that media tool kit? Even if you don’t have a publicist, you can do yourself a favor by creating something similar so that you’re ready to move fast when PR needs do arise.

A publicist has many skills, but primarily he or she will:

  • Write, distribute and follow up on press releases and pitches (less formal than press releases)
  • Create and execute special events designed for public outreach and media relations
  • Design and execute public relations strategies
  • Handle public relations for crises or other unexpected news
  • Conduct market research on your brand or competitors
  • Expand business contacts via networking and events
  • Some publicists or PR agencies may also have copywriting, blogging, messaging, speech writing or social media services that they offer. Keep in mind though, PR is a subset and specific expertise within marketing. Just because they are great at PR does not mean they are great at consumer-facing marketing, so always make sure to ask for examples and references if you’re considering having your publicist expand their scope of work beyond PR.

Now, let’s talk about what’s in that media tool kit that allows them to handle PR effectively for your brand:

  • Professional images of people, places and products
  • Website links complete with key information and beautiful imagery
  • Social media channel and following information
  • Sell sheet/fact sheet
  • Company overview
  • FAQ
  • Founder’s bio
  • Key milestones and launches planned for the next 12 months
  • List of any key publications or media contacts or people who already have a relationship with your brand

It’s important to understand the importance of the media tool kit because when you first hire a publicist, they’ll turn to you for all of these items to get started. I know how disappointing it is when you finally decide to hire someone and it creates more work for you instead of immediately taking work off your plate. Preparing for the media tool kit ahead of time can help you free up that bandwidth faster. Of course, any time you need a press release or pitch, you will also have to spend some time providing the key details and photos to your publicist and then reviewing drafts and providing input.

So You’re Ready to Hire a Publicist… Keep These Final Considerations in Mind

Like most experts you can hire today, there are a wide range of options, so there are a few important considerations you should keep in mind when deciding who to hire.

First, are they a solo practitioner, smaller partnership, medium to large agency or someone you can hire to be in-house? These different organizational styles lead to different cost, resource and skill areas that you should probe into while interviewing. Depending on their answers, it can also be helpful to understand if they have a network of other publicists or other marketing experts they work with or can refer you to if needed.

Second, how do they get paid? Do they work on a project basis or on retainer? If you know you have a big year with a lot of PR needs coming up, a retainer might work best. The downside of retainers is they can often have high contract minimums required in terms of cost and length. So before entering in on a retainer, make sure you actually have enough use of a publicist to warrant that length of time and cost.

If hiring a publicist on retainer isn’t for you, you may want to consider project basis. While this approach always seems like the best option given the lower commitment needed, this approach can actually end up being more expensive than a retainer if you’re not careful. Hiring on a project basis can also mean that they may not be available when you have a project arise in the future. So if having the same publicist consistently available for all of your needs going forward is important, keep that in mind… you do tend to get better value and increased efficiency the longer a publicist knows your brand. So finding a new publicist every time you need one usually isn’t ideal.

Regardless of the pay structure, project or retainer, make sure to always explicitly ask about any additional fees, markups or costs that you may not be thinking of now. No one likes unexpected costs.

Third, how do they measure and report on ROI, or the results you are getting for what you are paying? This is important to discuss up front so that everyone is clear on the success metrics. If your definition of success is revenue but consumers can’t buy online, how on earth can you expect your publicist to link sales to their work getting the news published? While success metrics depend on the campaign, for PR, common metrics may be the number of placements, the number of impressions or the number of link clicks within a certain period of time. It’s important to get clear on the definition of success before signing on with a publicist or any other marketing expert for that matter.

When it comes to finding great marketing experts, it’s often hard to know where to start. A great way to ensure you’re getting top-notch PR expertise is to build your own virtual network of marketing experts. Join alcohol-marketing communities, take online marketing classes and talk to your distiller friends about marketing. Think back to a favorite, broader marketing partner you’ve worked with in the past. Ask them for publicist and other referrals. Learn enough to be dangerous so you can think about where you can handle marketing yourself and where you should hire someone. Wherever you end up, it’s always important to ensure all of your marketing experts, internal and external, work together on behalf of your brand. For smart, scrappy distilleries this allows you to have your very own marketing team supercharging your brand to success… with you as the unstoppable quarterback leading the way.