PR and communications consultant Julia Kendrick explores considerations for investing in PR services
The question of when to invest in ‘proper PR’ – i.e. help from a specialist consultant or agency – is one that many clinics agonise over. Some believe they get on just fine without any PR support at all, while others do their PR in-house – with varying degrees of success and satisfaction. For many clinics, they simply cannot afford the additional outgoings on top of overheads. On the flipside, I can’t count the number of times I’ve been approached by prospective clients saying, “We just want some PR” but this is the sum total of their thinking thus far; no brief, no timeline, no budget. This renders the next steps of a PR consultant somewhat difficult. There is no one-size fits all answer as to when is the right time for PR support in your business, but this article outlines the key considerations so that if and when you make the leap, you have the best chance of securing a successful supplier partnership.
There are plenty of PR and marketing elements that you can deliver without specialist support and it is certainly possible that you as a clinic or practitioner can do your own PR – to a degree. For example, with training you can create your own marketing materials, run local launch events, build relationships with press and influencers from the ground up, and manage your own social media channels – posting regularly, building engagement and generating a compelling brand reputation. However, there is a huge caveat; doing your own PR and marketing requires time and expertise. If you can dedicate the time to train yourself up and put the right marketing tools in place to deliver the PR activities, whilst still running your aesthetic business, then you can minimise your need for hiring an inhouse marketing manager, or an external PR service. However, for most busy practitioners this is a tall order. The critical factor of whether you should invest in PR support is not money, it is time. Your time is valuable and should be spent on the activities that bring in the most revenue possible.
Before searching for PR support, there are two key elements to consider:
By providing clear direction to the potential PR supplier, you can also ensure that they have the right capabilities to support your business. Key objectives to consider are:
Don’t simply ask, “How much will it cost?” as the standard response is usually, “How much do you want to spend?”. It is critical to have a clear idea of your available budget to give the PR supplier a ball-park to work with. Whether you can afford a few hundred or a few thousand pounds per month – consider what this cost equates to. If you brought in one new toxin or filler patient per month, would you have covered the outlay? And what are the chances that your PR activity would only attract one extra patient? The likelihood is you would be bringing in many more, so the value of that PR spend becomes tangible in terms of revenue and reputation. There is no accurate rule of thumb for revenue percentage to spend on marketing (no matter what Google tells you) as this is highly dependent on your industry and net profit margin after expenses. If you give vague guidance on budget, the supplier will likely come back with services either way above or way below your desired level – wasting time for both parties. Whatever you can afford, be clear about this up front, as this facilitates a realistic response. If there is a mismatch on desired services versus available spend, the PR supplier can at least come back with a compromise, which will better fit your desired budget.
There are several ways to find a good PR supplier; peer recommendations are a great place to start, so do ask your colleagues and connections. Ensure you get a clear picture of the work conducted, the results achieved and what the working relationship was like. Bear in mind, the PR supplier may not work with you if they are currently representing one of your peers (i.e. they are conflicted out, which means their contract prohibits them working for a similar business in the same region). Other options include public relations guilds or professional bodies such as the Chartered Institute of PR, the Public Relations Communications Association and the Healthcare Communications Association. Many of these have individual or agency directories, listing accredited suppliers based on industry sectors. PRs must pay to be members of these bodies and must adhere to their codes of conduct1,2 – so you get an unofficial ‘quality’ check if a supplier is associated with one of these bodies. Bear in mind, medical aesthetics is a specialist area and it can require both pharmaceutical-level communication capabilities as well as a consumer beauty approach. Most agencies focus on either one or the other (large agencies may have different divisions under one roof). Few have direct experience in this specific sector, so you will need to take this into account within your selection and briefing process, checking whether they have the relevant experience, if they have worked in the industry or with similar companies to yours and if they have the right relationships.
Once you’ve identified some potential PR suppliers, reach out via phone or email to assess whether you would be a mutual fit. This will determine whether your business fits well in their portfolio and expertise, and whether their approach, values and style of working aligns with your own. If this isn’t aligned early on, it can be difficult to achieve an effective working relationship and lead to difficulties in getting your desired PR outcomes. The key point here is to give a top-line mini brief about your business, outline your broad objectives and anticipated budget. I always appreciate it when a client gives a brief overview of their business, even if it’s just a few lines in the email, because it helps assess the challenges they may be facing and how to best support their needs (or in fact, if there is somebody better suited that the PR can connect them with). Your mini brief should clearly outline your PR objectives, expectations and challenges, alongside clear timelines, the budget available and expected deliverables. The more specific and clear the brief, the easier the fit will be to identify which PR suppliers meet your requirements. As a next step, request a call back to discuss your needs in more detail and if you feel it is necessary (or if the PR proactively requests one), provide a more extensive written brief.
As noted throughout, the key to a successful relationship with your PR is clarity and accountability from the outset. If both sides are clear on what is going to be achieved, how, by when and at what budget, then you have the best possible chance of a fruitful and successful experience. Bear in mind that PR takes time to deliver results, create traction and build profile. Success is also not just limited to media coverage – it could be about increased opportunities to profile yourself, building a position of authority, improving relationships with press, influencers and brands, not to mention successful issues management. With digital activities, tracking is amplified to give a clear idea of ROI through increased website hits, newsletter opens, social channel growth, post sharing etc. All of these elements should be managed in a way which frees up your precious time to do what you do best, and drive that revenue. If in doubt, you can always start with a trial – I advise a minimum of three months. This is because this is the minimum amount of time you need to allow to see some of the PR outputs, even in the ‘short lead’ press i.e. online, daily and weekly titles. Remember, monthly titles like the top women’s press (Vogue, Harper’s, Tatler etc) work at least three months ahead, so even if something is secured quickly, you won’t see it in print for a significant period of time.
Outsourcing PR and marketing is an important business decision which should ultimately free up more of your valuable time to deliver primary revenue-generating activities. To maximise success, identify potential suppliers through peer recommendations or professional bodies and approach them with a clear brief that outlines your needs, expectations and budget. Assess candidates via telephone discussions and chemistry meetings to find your best possible match. Keep your channels of communication open to learn, assess and adapt your approach for best possible results.