MODERN heard from Public Relations guru Katherine Rothman, CEO of KMR Communications, offering her expertise on the need for PR today in the salon industry. Although social media has made it easier for salons and stylists to connect quickly and directly with consumers, Rothman believes the need for professional public relations exists more than ever. “The US hair care service industry includes about 80,000 establishments -76,000 beauty salons and 4,000 barber shops - with combined annual revenue of about $20 billion,” Rothman says. “These statistics show that the salon business is incredibly lucrative but extremely competitive. The question is always, how to stand out from the crowd in a way that is credible.” Rothman states that the aim of public relations is to “aid in the promotion of your business and garner brand-loyalty and confidence. But it's a long- term strategy rather than a quick effort.”
Here Rothman responds to MODERN's five questions:
- WHAT ARE SOME OF THE BENEFITS A SALON SHOULD EXPECT FROM HAVING PROFESSIONAL PUBLIC RELATIONS REPRESENTATION?
- Generate a greater understanding of your products and services among the public.
- Create awareness of your company's success stories and expertise.
- Increase your search engine optimization.
- Increase social media following.
- Increase perceived excellence in comparison to competitors.
- Attract the best talent. Seasoned stylists want to work in successful, high-end salons with a great reputation.
- Cost-effectiveness – PR can be an economical way to reach a large audience in comparison to traditional paid advertising.
- Build and establish a well-branded image to increase your bottom line.
- Attract Potential Investors- Savvy investors like to bet on winners. While a great business plan may capture their attention, being able to incorporate PR into a plan and show media coverage to a potential investor might make them reach for their checkbook faster. 2. WHAT MAKES AN AGENCY PERFECT FOR A SALON?
1) An agency that will be proactive with you and with the media and who will remind you of upcoming deadlines, interviews, and events is perfect for just about any salon. The agency should be coming to you with press release ideas and campaign ideas, not the other way around. The PR firm should be reminding you of deadlines within your campaign's agenda and even doing some “hand holding” if this is your first venture in PR.
2) An agency should not say “yes” to the client just to placate them for the moment so they will receive their monthly retainer fee. If a client has an ineffective idea for a campaign, promotional tactic, social media imagery, product packaging, etc., the PR firm needs to be bold enough to steer them away from bad decisions and advise the client accordingly. It may not make the client happy at the moment, but it will save the client loss of money and customers in the long run. The onus is on the publicist to tactfully explain why the idea is faulty and why another idea will be more productive. A publicist is a strategist in your corner waiting to brainstorm with you to help your business reach its goals.
3) A client should expect the PR firm to thoroughly canvas every area/platform of the media that is a good fit for the business and do so every week that the client is on retainer. A PR firm should not just rely on reactive PR, (editors coming to them) but should engage in pro-active PR and target as many appropriate editors every day of a campaign with creative and original angles for their client.
4) Most senior level PR people are great talkers. You also need management level people who are good at listening and willing to do so. Just because you own a salon does mean your goals are identical to every other salon that firm has represented. It is important that at the outset, your goals, desires, and initiatives are understood. If what you aspire to is not something that can be achieved via PR it is important that your publicist explains the reasons and alternatives as to what PR can achieve for you. This will allow you to make an informed decision about whether to move forward. It is incumbent upon that PR pro, to be honest with you and suggest an individual or company who would be better suited to that role should it become clear that they are not the PR firm for you.
5) Status Reports. Whether these are done weekly or monthly you need and deserve to have some form of accountability from your PR firm. These reports should include everything from media placements they have secured for you, an overview of the outlet, circulation/Unique monthly visitors, and a professional PDF clipping of that placement. The report should also include placements that are legitimately pending, as well as a snapshot of the activity performed for you during that week/month. Lastly, the report can include “housekeeping” items such as photos the firm needs from you, products, bios, or any other information they need to do work on your behalf. In cases where the salon has a product line that is being pitched to the media, that firm should have a comprehensive product tracker that gives you access to pertinent information like how many products have been sent out, to whom, when and in what demographic of the editorial field.
6) Accessibility. The absolute maximum any client should have to wait before being responded to is 24 hours. At KMR Communications even this time frame is way too long. Salons and beauty businesses have unique challenges and getting lost in the shuffle of a larger or non-specialized firm can lead to opportunities lost and errors made. Your PR firm is there to consult with you and collaboration needs to be a staple of the campaign. As a boutique firm specializing in beauty, we strive to be there quickly, whenever a client has a question, concern or a problem.
7) Public Relations firms should be providing feedback to clients throughout the duration of their time together. Glaring errors should be addressed by the PR firm on day 1. For example, if a salon has a website where the interior shots are fuzzy and unflattering, it is the publicist’s responsibility to make them aware of this and even go so far as to find a more professional photographer if necessary. At KMR we never take the stance that, “we are just responsible for the media coverage.” We want to see our clients in the best position they can be to take full advantage of media the moment they sign with us. That means that every element is meticulous from the outset.
3. HOW MUCH SHOULD PR COST?
That question is like asking, “how much should a handbag cost?” One can purchase a handbag for $20.00 or $25,000! Most salons are boutique unless they are part of a chain or franchise and are not going to have the budget of a fortune 500 company. It would be appropriate for a salon to be with a smaller PR firm that is going to charge lower fees, where most likely they are going to receive more personalized attention, not be a small fish in a big pond, and the fee schedule will be more affordable. While bargains may be good for shopping, too much of a bargain when it comes to public relations can be a red flag.
When looking at the pricing of public relations services you need to have a notion of what is average. If a salon receives a monthly quote of $500-$2,000 per month something is amiss. This is likely a “PR firm” of recent college grads who will be learning on your time and dime. Common retainer fees for boutique firms nationally are usually in the realm of $4,000-$5,000 per month. For fortune 500 companies, the range is typically $15,000 to $20,000 and up for the monthly retainer. Salons would not be able to sustain that. What most credible PR firms do in the proposal phase is delineate the labor and scope that the campaign will cover. A salon with a product line will need much more than reactive media representation. These types of details influence the pricing. You will want to assess what agency has the talent, media connections, writing talent, experience, and accessibility to make a success out of your campaign.
4. WHAT SHOULD A SALON HAVE IN PLACE WHEN ENGAGING A PR FIRM?
1) A professional user-friendly website is a must! A PR firm can do great work for a client and build up their rapport with the media but if you have no place to “capture” your audience you will not reap the best possible results for your business. In addition, without a website, you do not look as legitimate to the media. Media also like to do their due diligence and research a client, and a website is a place for them to do that.
2) You need to have healthy finances. By healthy I mean, do not take a loan to do PR and use your last dollar. Do not engage a PR firm to save your floundering business. PR is not a lottery ticket/get rich quick scheme. PR is meant for those who have reached comfortable stability in their business and want to take it to the next level.
3) If you have a product line, such as a hair care line, make sure that you can afford to send samples to the media. Bloggers/ beauty editors will never write about anything they have not tried themselves. Authenticity is the name of the game. This means you need to be able to part with at least 30 of each SKU per month for media reviews.
4) Make sure you have your act together internally. Make sure your website is functioning properly, especially if you have e-commerce. There must be a designated point person at the salon who will liaise with the PR firm and get them information and media quotes. Media operate on tight deadlines. If these deadlines are not met, you will miss important opportunities. Make sure that your salon is functioning like a well-oiled machine. The goal of PR is to expose you to new audiences. If your business is suffering internal turmoil it can keep you from converting successful PR results into new clients for your business. If PR efforts get customers in the door, but their first experience is not positive, they will not return, and even worse, they might post negative reviews online.
5) Make sure you have the time. Although the bulk of the work is executed by the PR firm, there are times that media needs questions answered by the experts themselves, the PR firm needs a press release approved by the client, the PR firm may need to fill you in before an interview. If the client is too busy running their business to engage and reply to the PR firm, the results for that client will be less than ideal. Proactive clients always achieve the best and most consistent results!
5. WHAT ARE SOME OF THE QUESTIONS YOU SHOULD ASK YOURSELF (OR THINGS YOU SHOULD KNOW) BEFORE SEARCHING FOR THE PERFECT PR PERSON OR FIRM?
What is your budget? Don’t go looking without a well thought out budget! - Boutique PR agencies are the ones that charge the lowest retainers, usually ranging between $2000 and $5000 in the United States. Retainer fees for start ups tend to range between $5000 and $10,000. There are firms that handle large corporate clients/entities that can start at $20,000 per month and go up from there. Many clients seeking PR services are enticed by freelance publicists who may charge $1000 to $2000 monthly on a retainer. Depending on your budget and the number of clients a freelancer has, you may find yourself the small fish in the pond. A client never wants to be in the position of paying a retainer to someone who does not have the bandwidth to give your campaign proper attention. If a client has to come up with their own content topics, media outreach ideas, and PR stunts, then what is your publicist doing?
Do you fit best with a small, mid size, or corporate PR firm? - If you are a start up, small company, or an individual with a lower budget, you should seek out a firm that matches who you are and what your budget is. The kiss of death for a PR client is to be a “small fish in a big pond.” If you are paying a PR firm, $10,000 per month and you are their low man on the totem pole, rest assured their focus, CEO and A-Team will not be centered on your account. You are likely to be disposable to them rather than indispensable. If you opt to retain a smaller firm, you should expect more individual attention, guidance, and “hand-holding,” as these PR firms are accustomed to clients that don’t have multiple vehicles for promotion such as brand integration, social media advertising, and a marketing team. For a small company, the PR firm may be the sole method of promotion. A smaller or mid-size PR firm will understand how to work with a client on smaller budgets.
Do the firms you are looking for specialize in your area of expertise? PR firms are divided into two categories. One category is “the generalists.” These are often large firms that engage clients in many different sectors as diverse as beauty, hospitality, real estate, tech, crisis management, consumer products, food & beverage, travel, and pharmaceutical. The second category is specialists who have client niches that they stick to strictly in order to really hone their knowledge set of that arena and develop long-lasting relationships with the media. For example, a PR firm can be as specific as only handling restaurants and hotels. Other niche PR firms can represent a variety of niches that tie- together such as beauty, health, and fitness. Unless you have a huge budget to go with a large firm that has a division dedicated to what you offer as a client, you are better served with a specialized or niche PR firm who should have years of expertise with similar clients, a firm grasp of your industry, and a wealth of media contacts they can count on to cover your story. It is never a good idea to be a PR firm’s “guinea pig” client.
Is the CEO of the firm willing to meet or speak with you or are they farming that out to an account executive? Will the CEO be part of your account work if you sign? If not, who will? - In the world of PR, this is often referred to as the “bait and switch” technique. A company/individual has a meeting over the phone, Skype, in person and meets with an impressive PR CEO and his/her key team members. The prospective client is blown away by these PR pros. The key question is: “Once the ink is dry on your contract, will you ever see or hear from them again? Sometimes, unfortunately, the answer is no. If you are not a significant account to them because of your own inherit fame or budget, your account may be handed over to much more junior account executives. When you have a question, concern or want a strategy session, the CEO who was so available to you in the vetting process has magically disappeared. Have a firm understanding as to who the daily point person on your account will be and ask to meet/speak with them prior to signing. If having reasonable access to the CEO of the PR firm is important to you, get a handle on that before you sign.
How will you be updated on progress? Does the firm provide weekly or monthly status reports? - Some firms provide weekly status reports to clients and others provide monthly reports. Whatever the PR firm’s custom, there should be an organized, standard form of reporting/accountability that you receive as a client. These reports should show tangibles such as placements that have run in the media, stats like circulation, Unique Visitors Per Month and outlet demographics. The reports should also show opportunities that are ‘pending’ and an overall summary of the week’s activities along with professional clippings of media coverage that you can showcase on your website, social media or other marketing materials. Ask to see examples of a PR firm’s status reports to other clients, even if the PR firm needs to redact the name of the client to protect privacy.
Can they show you case studies? - If you are a cosmetics company, a dermatologist, a fitness trainer, a restaurant or whatever your business is that you are seeking to promote, a firm should be able to provide you with case studies of similar clients showing what they did for a client over a six month to 1-year period of time. Although a firm cannot guarantee you identical results, these case studies should give you a good idea of the quality and quantity of coverage you can expect.