I received an email today from an entrepreneur looking for some PR advice. A contact of his in public relations has offered to write up a press release for his business free of charge. She would also give him an email list of Canadian media so he could send out the release himself; or she would charge him a certain amount to send out the releases herself and track the responses.
My correspondent wanted to know if a press release looks better coming from a PR company or an individual. Here's what I told him:
Your friend is giving you a good deal. A free press release is quite a bargain!
I'm not a huge fan of PR agencies, but I think they do add value when it comes to wide releasing of a press release. Their name on a release, representing you, is generally better than you sending it yourself: it makes your business look bigger and more successful.
But the crucial question is, who will do the follow-ups? Journalists rarely respond to press releases: they just don't have time. Often they don't even read them. It usually takes a follow-up call or email to get their attention and make sure they actually look at your release. If you have time to do that, fine. But the question you should be asking is, is there other, higher-value work you could be doing in that time instead? I bet there is.
One other question is: which are the key media outlets you would most like to appear in? Your time is probably better spent thinking up how you could break into those outlets. You need a customized pitch that has been thoroughly thought through. And this is where a call to the media from an entrepreneur, to my mind, is more powerful than one from a PR person: when you have a specific story idea to pitch that you yourself can explain better than anyone else in the world.
For the more generic work (sending out emails, following up). I think you are better off to use a pro.
Cultivating key media relationships is an important business task. For mass-market PR work, however, most entrepreneurs have more valuable things to do with their time.