A PUBLIC RELATIONS SUPER-HEROby Naomi Mannino
What IS public relations exactly and how does it relate to MY business?
“Public relations is a brand image and positioning tool. It lets people know who you are and what your salon or product is about in a certain focused way,” says 20-year PR veteran Madeline Johnson, President of MJRPR who has handled public relations for some of the biggest celebrity stylists, salons and salon products. “Yes,” explains Janice McCafferty, CEO/Founder, Janice McCafferty Communications, Inc., a hairstylist herself with over 20 years experience handling PR for some of the biggest hair brands in the industry, “Public relations is simply a public awareness of your brand: you, your salon, your product.” Jen Berson, President of Jeneration PR adds that public relations can bring awareness of your salon, skills, or product to a consumer base by shaping the message that gets out to the media.
Another perk of public relations is that it provides a type of free advertising — and we all know the cost of ad pages. “If you can get a mention or write-up in the press, it more than covers your fees. It´s a win-win situation — a smart move on any company´s part,” advises McCafferty. Jen Berson agrees, “PR dollars get SO much more bang for the buck!”
A public relations representative can also help you focus your goals. “Public relations is an on-going process,” say principals Sharon Esche and Alexander Irving of Esche and Alexander Public Relations.
“In terms of media acceptance, clients are either in the process of getting there, being there, or staying there. Each stage requires strong, consistent press support and fresh new PR perspectives and ideas.”
How do I know if I NEED representation?
Every successful business owner should have business goals in place. Do you have aspirations as a platform artist? Do you want to see your work in magazines? Do you want to see yourself on TV? Are you located in a big city? Do you want to be the talk of the town? Are you launching a product line or opening a salon in the near future? Do you want to keep your salon or product top-of-mind?
The experts agree that if any of these are your goals you will need public relations representation because you will need to attract the national and local media (newspapers, magazines, TV, radio) in order to spread your message. “A PR agent (or rep) can get the taste-makers, or influential people, to come in to your salon and talk about it,” says Jen Berson. “Your PR rep can create the buzz by bringing your business and YOU to the forefront of a story, whether it´s in your town or in your industry, and get everyone to talk about it in a way that benefits your business plans.” Joshua Bernard, hairstylist, platform artist, salon owner, and now creator of RetroChic Hair Products asserts that he could never launch the RetroChic product line on his own, even though he´s a successful platform artist and has owned his owned salon for 14 years. “How I else would I get my product in the major national consumer magazines? I want every stylist to see my product and know who I am and I want every consumer to want it.” That´s a broad base of coverage, agree media experts, but his PR agent, Janice McCafferty says, “My job is to know which publications and which editors are the ones with the readership and editorial RetroChic needs to attract — and I have relationships with them all!”
What can a pr rep do that I can´t do?
Even if you´re a small town salon with no fame aspirations beyond building your own local clientele, just finding and knowing who to target in your own local media can be a very time-consuming endeavor. “It´s so time-consuming that we bill our services by the hour! As a stylist or salon owner, do you have several or more hours a day free to devote just to relationships with editors and creating materials that are relevant to them?” asks Johnson. “A stylist may know trends and hair styling, but do you know how to present these ideas in a way that´s useful to editors?”
Berson adds, “Even if you did know who to contact, it´s a skill to be able to create materials that editors want to read, that are relevant, trend-right, and that they can actually use. You have to make it easy for the media to grab those story ideas — and include images. Plus, it´s so important you´re contacting the right person: it has to be a sincere, targeted, personal pitch!” Johnson continues, “You definitely can´t do it on your own if one of your goals is to see your name and hairstyling in top consumer beauty and fashion magazines like Harper´s Bazaar and Vogue or if you´re trying to get on The Today Show or Oprah!” exclaims Johnson.
And when it comes to bloggers, you can´t just go blindly sending out free products and offering hair appointments to all the 54,700,000 beauty blogs that come up in a Google search. Who should you target with your free products and targeted pitches? Only the PR reps know the most influential bloggers by industry word of mouth, and additionally use and analyze tools like Alexa Ratings and Google Analytics to determine relevance.
How do I choose a Public Relations Representative?
Even the experts agree that there is quite a selection of choices from large agencies to small boutique agencies to in-house public relations, freelance, or part-time help. So you need to pick one that will be right for your goals. The more focused your goals are the better result you´ll have. “Definitely ask about their other clients and years in the business. Obviously they should have experience with hair product, salon and beauty clients… and for a very long time. An in-depth knowledge of the beauty and hair industry is critical,” explains McCafferty, who is also a hairstylist and has 20 years of public relations experience in the hair industry. All the experts agree on asking to see press clippings and asking for referrals from current clients. “Ask what kind of contacts they have. Do they match the media you want to attract? It´s so important to know each media market that pertains to your goals.”
Since PR is all about maintaining strong relationships with the media — editors and producers you want to get in front of — the most successful PR reps have editors constantly asking them for expert tips, seasonal trends, hair styling for photo shoots, interviews with salon owners and stylists that are their clients. They return to the PR reps that ‘service´ them the most reliably. “The most successful are trained to get the editors what they want when they need it,” says Johnson. “You need a specialist to write materials that editors want and need. Even simple fact sheets and materials that speak to the timeliness and trends they are writing about. Then, you need to have reps on the phone every day with lots of story ideas...constantly!” When meeting prospective clients, “Something I always do is to create a proposal of ideas targeted specifically to them,” says McCafferty. All the experts agree that bigger is not necessarily better either when it comes to choosing representation, depending on your needs. It´s more a feeling of matching experience, confidence, and trust.
How do I know if my PR rep is doing a good job (or a bad job)?
“The more hours you put into public relations efforts the better results you will get. So actually, you really do get what you pay for in this instance! It´s all about how many hours go into pitching and getting in front of the media with great story ideas,” says Madeline Johnson. Beyond that you should always ask how your PR rep tracks success. “Ask how they measure results. How much time per week will you spend on my account? How many staffers will work on my account?” says Berson. All the experts agree that communication with your rep is key. “It´s a two-way street with you communicating what´s going on in the salon every day and your rep letting you know who they have contacted and who has expressed interest,” says Berson who creates an ever-changing written plan for each client. This way, it is always handy to keep a client updated or to discuss any points at any time. “Once you sign on, you´ll get an overall feeling pretty quick — if your rep avoids you or your questions, you´ll know it. On the other hand, you´ll also be able to see their effort and passion — they should be passionate about you, your brand and the beauty business in general,” says Berson.
Obviously the ultimate indicator of results is press placements and media buzz which will translate into sales and bookings. But it can take time to see these results because the print publications are on a very long lead time — anywhere from three to six months. “Your first time out, your brand has to rise to the top of the slush pile. But within two or three months you´ll discover a bad firm because you´ll still have no results, no outcome,” says McCafferty. Berson says if your media person is savvy, she can have your product, stylist, or salon buzzing on the beauty blogs and social media within a few days. McCafferty cautions, “PR is all about relationships — if the rep you´re considering is NOT friendly, polite, knowledgeable, and service-oriented, they will not do a good job for you.”
What can I do to help my PR rep be more effective?
“If you have gone as far as investing in good PR representation, then you need to be willing to invest in the entire process: “You create trends and produce professional photo shoots using makeup artists and models to show off your collections to get your name out there. If it´s not done right, no-one will print it. You also need to be open to suggestions for photographs, models, makeup — your PR rep is the specialist and can give advice to create this trend release for you that will most certainly be picked up by the media you want to attract,” says McCafferty. And keeping the lines of communication open on your end will give your rep even more ideas for releases. “Did a celebrity come in to the salon? Did you just decide to carry a new product line? Did you hire a new stylist with a celebrity following? You may not know how your PR rep can use information that seems mundane to you — tell them!” exclaims Johnson, “and tell your staff what your PR activities are too so they know when an editor walks in the salon or an event is scheduled for later in the week!”
McCafferty adds, “Don´t forget, we hairstylists have a license to touch people: we make people feel good for the time they are in the chair and any stories of little America that show people with big hearts are always a winner!” Another way you can maximize the media placements your PR rep achieves for you is to use the social media: Tweet your media news on Twitter, post the links on your website, frame the articles and magazine covers and proudly display them on your salon walls, link them to your Myspace and Facebook profiles… show it off and promote yourself!” says McCafferty.
Our PR Super-Heroes:
Sharon Esche and Alexander Irving, Principals,
Esche and Alexander Public Relations
Madeline Johnson, President, MJMPR
Jennifer Berson, President, Jeneration PR
Janice R. McCafferty, CEO, Janice McCafferty Communications, Inc.