Thinking about hiring a PR firm? Lilian Raji, founder of The Lilian Raji Agency, a luxury goods public relations and marketing company, discusses how to know if your jewelry business is ready. She talks about what a PR company can do for your brand and shares real world stories.
Are You Sure You’re Ready for Your Close-Up?
When people talk about PR, they are really talking about media relations, which is a subset of public relations. A publicist is a media relations expert; a PR professional, however, takes a 360-degree approach to your business by developing communication strategies to persuade potential customers to buy from you. Dealing with the press (or media) is one these strategies, but so is social media, branding, influencer outreach, special events and more.
Many companies are not ready for a public relations agency no matter how long they’ve been in business. Unless you’re generating a certain amount of revenue, PR should be the least of your focus. As a PR professional, I’m often telling people they’re not, in fact, ready for their close-up.
Early in my career, I never questioned when a company said they were ready for PR. Back then, I focused exclusively on media relations and didn’t have the breadth of expertise I have now. I didn’t realize just how ineffective media relations could be when a company needed customers immediately. Time and time again, I saw sales never caught up quickly enough to justify the continued investment into PR.
Miguel Adrover was THE hottest up and coming designer of the late nineties and early aughts. You couldn’t open a fashion magazine back then without seeing one of his designs. He had the type of press known only to A-list celebrities but had a weak distribution channel with limited sales. Where is he now? Nowhere to be found, at least not without digging deep into Google.
Media Relations Take Time
Lesson 1: If you’re looking at media relations to catapult your sales, you’re going to be sorely disappointed.
Media relations takes a minimum of three months to ramp up, with your publicist spending the first month thoroughly learning about your company so she can speak eloquently on your behalf. Next is competitive research to determine how to position you, followed by identifying which publications would best fit your long-term strategy. Only after a comprehensive plan has been developed does she connect with editors and writers to determine how your jewelry may be a good fit for something they’re working on. Quite often, the “good fit” may not be visible for three to six months down the line.
Let’s say she’s able to get the strategy done within two weeks and is then able to get your jewelry in front of Vogue’s jewelry editor within the third week. The editor loves your collection and wants samples for a photo shoot happening next week. All goes well, the shoot happens, but the spread is scheduled to appear in the notorious September issue. Which, by the way, would be a tremendous coup as it’s the most important issue of the year because it begins editorial focus on holiday gift guides. However, it’s February, meaning it will take seven months before anyone sees the pictures. If you were depending on this publicity to help with Valentine’s Day or even Mother’s Day sales, you’d be out of luck, although it would help with holiday season sales.
This, unfortunately, is also dependent on if Vogue even uses the pictures from your shoot; a decision only Anna Wintour can positively guarantee. A lot happens between the photo shoot and the day the issue comes out. But let’s say you luck out and your jewelry made the cut. You still have absolutely no control of how your jewelry will be featured.
Take for instance when an editor at W Magazine wanted to borrow my French client’s $60,000 necklace for a photo shoot with the actress Rachel Weisz. The necklace wasn’t part of my sample line but was available in a store in Boca Raton. The editor needed it the very next day for an already scheduled shoot. I had to call my client in Paris at what was 9pm their time to get approval to pull the necklace from the store and arrange for secure, insured transportation to overnight it to the editor.
In doing all of this, there was always a risk the editor could have chosen one of the many other necklaces they pulled from other PR people. It’s rarely ever just you as the only option for a shoot. Fortunately, everything worked out (or so I thought), and the editor confirmed the necklace was used.
Four months later, I buy a copy of the magazine with Rachel Weisz on the cover, only to discover the necklace was hidden underneath the jacket she wore. I knew it was my client’s necklace because I recognized the chain peeking out from under the collar. But this breathtakingly beautiful necklace really needed a décolletage all to itself if it was going to entice someone to buy. In this case, my hard work was wasted. Luckily, a New York Times article and a Robb Report magazine article came out around the same time and the client never asked what happened with W.
If the client is reading this now and remembers – surprise! That’s what happened! Hee hee.
PR can introduce your collection to potential customers, but the process takes time, a lot of effort, and a lot of praying to the saints that your editorial coverage will showcase your jewelry in the best possible light. Don’t try to hire a PR agency or publicist if you can’t afford to wait for results.
Can you Cover the Costs?
Lesson 2: Before you start looking for a PR agency, make sure your revenues will cover at least six months of their retainer. You should also have a budget for a sample collection they can keep in their office, along with other expenses that will come up.
I know this sounds a lot like trying to decide if a chicken will emerge before an egg, where you need people to know about you before you can generate sales to hire a publicist to help get people to know about you, but the reality is media relations cannot guarantee sales. All a PR person can do is bring people to your door; the sale happens only if those people like how you present yourself. And herein lies the difference between a publicist and a PR professional.
In the first month of your engagement, the PR professional will audit every aspect of your business in relation to how potential customers see you. She will advise you of necessary changes to your website, your packaging, your social media accounts – all the ways you communicate with target customers. A publicist, on the other hand, is only focused on building that bridge between you and the press. All she cares about is that the press like you and cover you. A PR professional cares about this as well, but she also cares about how consumers perceive you.
When it comes to pricing, fees really do run the gamut. I could easily say “you get what you pay for,” which is true 99 percent of the time, but on occasion, you can find a diamond in the rough. I was once that diamond, charging $500 per month as a publicist when I first started in 2002, then graduating to $3,000 per month, and now five figures per month as a PR professional.
If you’re looking for just a publicist to get your jewelry into the top publications, both online and off, expect a minimum of $3,000 per month, and that really is if you’re able to find a diamond in the rough. When polling my publicist colleagues for this article, the average retainer was around $5,000 per month. Your monthly revenues should be at least six times this as most agencies will require a minimum six-month retainer. You should be able to commit to this requirement without struggling financially.
Your agency will need a sample line to keep in-house, so always factor the costs of producing a duplicate collection that will remain with your agency. Opportunities come up every day, often with an editor needing the necklace or bracelet your PR person wowed her with within 24 hours. Having to track you down to get the piece is a recipe for disaster. Set your agency up to succeed for you.
Pick the Right PR Person for Your Brand
Lesson 3: It would be better for you to reach out to the press yourself than hire the wrong PR person.
A college friend contacted me years ago because her jewelry client needed a PR person. After reviewing pictures of the collection, I told my friend I couldn’t work with the client. The jewelry was poorly designed, with low quality stones and settings that could only have been done by an amateur. Yet the client believed someone would pay $35,000 starting price for her jewelry!
I gave my friend a laundry list of what the client needed to do to save the collection and even offered to speak with the client at no charge so I could answer any questions that may come up. The client refused to speak with me and instead hired someone willing to work with the collection as is. My friend would later confirm that person never got the client any press but did happily add $60,000 of the client’s money into her bank account.
Which leads us back to the third lesson: when you’re vetting a publicist or an agency, make sure they are committed to helping you instead of just taking your money.
The candidate should be asking you penetrating questions about your company, your distribution channel, and even your business model. I’ve offended many potential clients with my intrusive questioning because I don’t want to waste their time and money working on something I know is not going to succeed. When I see problems in a business model and the client isn’t willing to do what is necessary to make changes, I will always pass. For me, my reputation is everything, and I will never risk it by accepting a client for whom I know I can do absolutely nothing.
In the case of my friend and her client, I knew that if I presented the client’s jewelry to any of my jewelry editor friends, they would laugh me out of the room and begin questioning my taste. It came as no shock that the hired publicist wasn’t successful – she had nothing to work with. She either didn’t understand what editors look for, or she only cared about the money. Either way, the end results were the same for the client.
It's all About Storytelling, Not Who you Know
Lesson 4: Press connections mean nothing. Someone who understands your business and knows how to tell your story is all that matters.
Some people think asking who the PR person knows is a way to guarantee results. It’s not. A jewelry writer at the New York Times has covered every single one of my clients since we first met 14 years ago, except for one. That one hasn’t fit into any story she’s worked on in the past three years. It has nothing to do with our relationship, and everything to do with the client not being a good fit for any of her writing assignments. Yet that same client has been featured in WWD and other publications by me reaching out to someone I didn’t already know.
It’s not about the relationships, it’s how well the PR person can tell your company story to anyone, especially strangers. The publishing industry has had so many resignations, layoffs and reorganizations that I’m frequently introducing myself to someone new.
When you’re vetting the agency or publicist, ask them how they will approach pitching your brand. Don’t expect a full-blown strategy before a contract is signed. No reputable agency can do this until there’s a deep dive into your company. Those that do are giving you a cookie cutter approach that doesn’t factor the many variables of your unique business. Look instead for ideas that demonstrate they understand your vision and what you’re building.
I never meet with a potential new client without first spending hours researching their company. I then enter the meeting prepared to point out gaps in their existing communications strategy and what things they can do to fill those gaps, demonstrating from day one how well I understand their business. I know what problems they need me to solve before they tell me. This is what you should look for as you’re vetting. This is how you know the candidate is thinking first about how they can solve your problems above everything else.
So, Are you Ready?
I’ve given you a lot already to consider in this article. If you’re looking for more, check out a previous article I wrote on this topic a few years ago. The information is just as relevant today as it was back then.
For those just starting out, I’m sure a $5,000 retainer is currently beyond reach. But this is a good thing. It means you need to focus on your business model and look at ways to generate sales on your own before a substantial investment in PR.
I always try to talk people out of becoming an entrepreneur, because if I can talk you out of it, it means you shouldn’t be doing it. If this article has scared you, then by all means, find another line of business. The jewelry industry is tough, competitive and not for the faint of heart.
But never forget how diamonds get their start. If you can withstand the pressure and make strategic moves along the way, you may one day find your earrings on Beyonce’s ears. And yes, that too comes from the work of a PR person.
You can find Lilian at www.lilianraji.com, with a complete list of services offered.