I was interviewed recently by a journalist who asked some unusual questions. I don’t know if the interview will ever make print, but it did prod me to re-examine some things I haven’t really considered since I first started working in the marketing arena. How much does a publicist really cost? And how much should one cost?
Is there really a consistently accurate answer to either of those questions? Probably not, because paying for a publicist is paying for a service. Ideally it should be considered “staffing a weakness.” Since we don’t all share the same weaknesses or strengths, that’s obviously not the same thing for each person.
There are some authors who might be more successful arranging their own book events than we are, for two primary reasons. One – it can be their own highest priority, which usually means they have more of an investment in the outcome and can give more time to the effort. It can’t be the “highest” priority for any publicist or firm that has more than one client. Two – while there can be distinct benefits of a publicist working with the same DMMs or CRMs over a period of time that allows us to call in favors for authors who might not otherwise get a booking, there are also times when it’s harder for them to say “no” to the author than it is to say “no” to me on the author’s behalf. It doesn’t happen often, but it has happened.
So the first issue an author needs to identify is what their weaknesses are concerning book marketing. In what areas do they need the most help? Probably 50% or more of our clients at any given time either feel confident enough to book signing events for themselves, or have publishers that do that. They also have a pretty good handle on review markets. Their primary need is for someone to arrange broadcast media interviews, so that’s what we do for a majority of our clients. But even in that arena, it’s interesting to examine what people really want or expect in that realm.
By far, the most frequent mention is Oprah. I don’t think most really believe they’ll get an appearance on her show, but there’s always hope, right? Over the years I’ve even had requests to submit a few books to the Pulitzer committee. That’s always interesting. But the point is that it occasionally is abundantly clear that authors who are otherwise a little tight for cash would pay dearly for an appearance on Oprah or The Today Show or select few others. I understand the overall concept, but in making a realistic projected budget for marketing a single title, it would compare to betting your entire budget on a serious long shot to win a single race.
I’m always saddened when authors come to me after having worked with another publicist and they tell me roughly how much they spent and what they got in return. Most of the time we’re talking multiple thousands of dollars spent, with a handful of events to show for it. I’ve actually had one of those publicists (that I won’t name) call me to ask me how I managed to arrange so many events for a client for whom she’d only gotten a few. I spent nearly an hour talking with her by phone and must admit it was an enlightening hour. But it didn’t change my philosophy or my business structure.
There’s a tremendous appeal to being on a national television program when you think of how many people will see you and hear about your book, however briefly. But I believe it’s largely an emotional appeal and not necessarily a logical business move – at least not if it’s an either/or proposition. It would be very hard for something like that to be a detriment to sales, that’s not what I mean. What I mean is if you only have $5000 to spend on marketing, it could take that to get someone just to pitch you to a few top shows and certainly would take that if they actually get the booking. OR you could take that same budget and get a lot more coverage in a variety of markets. And any marketing guru will tell you that true results come from repeat exposure. The number of repeats varies according to who you ask, but most cite between 8 and 14 before the product starts to register on anyone.
So despite a background filled with military and law enforcement that created a marksmanship mentality in me (meaning I always like to clearly see the target and hit the bullseye), in book marketing I’ve had to adapt to more of a shotgun approach. Not of necessity, but because I’ve found through the years that’s what works best overall. By that, I mean not to put all the proverbial eggs in one basket. Sure it’s more exciting to be on a national TV show with bazillions of viewers than to be on a list of several smaller stations, radio or television, but your chances of getting on the latter are much better than the former, and those people buy books too. And really, if they have a DMA of 50,000 or even 10,000 that’s exposure to a lot more folks than you’ll get anywhere else.
By all means, hire a publicist to focus on an area in which you’re not strong, but don’t let that one area be the only area of focus overall. I’ve seen too many disappointed with results after the fact because they decided that stores aren’t worth the effort, and they don’t feel comfortable with broadcast, so let’s just do print. Or some variation of the same.
And maybe all that doesn’t really answer the questions I started with, but it’s background info to get to the answers. Before you can decide what a fair price is for anything, you have to know what the worth of the product is and whether it will work for you. I might research tractors until I learn which is the biggest, best and most bang for the buck, but if I don’t really need a tractor, it still wouldn’t be a good use of my money. Or maybe I do need a tractor, but I don’t need one with all the bells and whistles (if there is such a thing, and I suspect there is but couldn’t tell you for sure) so the added expense would just be an overspend.
How much does a publicist really cost? And how much should one cost? In today’s market, you can engage an independent publicist or firm for a fairly low hourly rate (although I’d really be careful with that), to $25,000 and more for a short campaign. Look very closely at services and what your money is buying. Often it’s buying the name and expertise or promise of such more than for events. And paying for name or expertise isn’t a bad thing; you want someone who’s been doing this a while and with reasonable results. But alas, there are some firms who’ve been in business for years and their names are recognizable in the industry, but they have a lot of unsatisfactory results and dissatisfied clients. You should be able to reasonably expect to get what you pay for. I understand there are no guarantees in this business, but I don’t know any reputable publicist who’ll knowingly take your money without expecting to give you something in return.
I know that we’ve had some clients through the years that were not fully satisfied with what we provided and that always makes me so sorry. Hopefully, I’ve learned from each of those experiences and it’s ultimately made us better at what we do, but it’s not something I ever want to repeat. In almost every case, and thankfully there haven’t been many, I can track it back to insufficient communication. Again, I take the large part of responsibility for that because I’m the professional and it’s my job to try to be sure I know exactly what my clients are looking for and to be up front with them if I don’t think it’s going to work quite the way they expect.
Bottom line, before hiring, do your homework. Usually that means asking questions and more questions. Trying to put aside the excitement of an upcoming new release and examining the whole process carefully from a business standpoint. Until you know what you need, want and can afford, how can you accurately gauge whether that firm is the best fit for you? In an economy where few have more money than what they need and advances for mysteries aren’t often as large as we’d like, it’s important that you get the best effort for your investment, so do your due diligence and spend wisely so there are no regrets!
Till next week,