PR invariably gets a bad rap.

We think of it as the hype itself.

But no one disagrees that unbiased third parties singing your praises to the right audience moves markets and customers like nothing else.

Even those who proselytize the social web as new marketing (not I), who state that the press is indeed dead (not quite true) will go weak kneed when their restaurant or gadget, company or service ends up front and center in the New York Times.

Or the Financial Times for that matter. Or the focus of a post in a massive blog community. Or the industry pub that’s really a big deal.

I’ve never built a company or brand where PR as a strategy was not a major piece of the puzzle.

I’ve also never hired an agency that I didn’t think would change the world’s view of my product. And in almost each and every case, I ended up firing them for not getting the job done as time went on.

My experiences are not unique.

On one level, agency structure is the built-in problem. How we pay for and work with them today is about the same as it was decades ago.

The model just sucks.

It’s painful and pricey for the small company. It’s laborious and problematic for all. It always purrs along during the honeymoon before it crashes.

I have many friends who are pros in this field. I hire them. Fire them. Love them as people and professionals, but the model is a problem—and there is not a good or new solution that I’ve seen.

It’s one of those pieces of the marketing  puzzle that at the right time is the perfect choice.

It comes with a bit of pain, a price that always feels like too much, and a process that continues to make me crazy. But the results really can change the playing field.

I have four simple questions to keep me honest about whether bringing in the PR specialist is the right choice.

-Can you crisply state what you are about?

PR mavens help craft stories to connect your company value and a specific market interest. That’s their craft.

As simple as it sounds, if you can’t clearly articulate in a straight and crisp way what you are about, wrapping it in a story to another community of listeners just won’t work.

The real experts get this. They can’t help you be successful without it.

When you get turned down by your agency of choice this is usually why.

 -Are you absolutely clear on your intent?

We don’t always know, especially at an early stage, exactly what we are about as a company. We are often targeting a market shift before we can really satisfy it.

If that’s your stage, this is the wrong strategy. If your goal is ineffably to simply build brand, rethink is my advice.

If you are taking your product and brand to new markets, vertical slices of a broader horizontal segment, connecting what you do to a broader market movement then nothing does this better than PR.

Visualizing specific success in new contexts is my litmus test for a PR campaign. It’s a horrid strategy to go fishing with.

-Are you hiring a specialist or a generalist?

If your PR campaign’s goals sounds like the job description of your marketing person, you are probably contracting out what you should be hiring in.

If you are retaining your PR person for specific knowledge and contacts, but also expertise on the  behaviors of a specific market, you are checking the right box towards this decision.

All markets are ecosystems, not simply a podium to stand on and shout from. The right person will make that clear in the first conversation.

They can learn your product to the point necessary.

You need to insure that they really know their market cold and understand the nuances of the consumers.

-PR is about partners as much as about press

We all want our New York Times morning. We want it badly.

But we all work, market and sell in interconnecting networks. Each partner is part of a community of consumers, a publisher in their own right and part of your story to that unique piece of the market.

The press and industry pundits are unaffiliated and objective to a degree by definition.

Partners, by design, are the complete opposite, but are in many ways equally powerful.

When your financial institution recommends a brokerage firm, they are brokering trust. When your gym hosts lectures from nutritionists, they are leveraging your choice of them to their partners’ products or services.

Partnership PR moves the needle when it works.

Common goals across different communities of customers is a strategy that may not be as explosive as a piece in the Wall Street Journal, but it can deepen your brand before your eyes and supercharge customer acquisition with surprising speed.

The pros get this and work both channels.

When my PR person suggests that I consider them for marketing work, I know I’ve made a questionable choice. When they start building strategies that touch on partner marketing and shared ecosystems, it invariably means that the smart thinking is in the room.

PR is dysfunctional by its very nature

We love the results. We struggle to be realistic about our goals. We believe our dreams as real. We confuse our manic drive for market acknowledgment with a tempered sense of whether we really are what we want the headline to read.

We just want it because we need it. We want it because we just do.

It makes you think about the famous Woody Allen joke from Annie Hall:

“…a guy walks into a psychiatrist’s office and says, hey doc, my brother’s crazy! He thinks he’s a chicken. Then the doc says, why don’t you turn him in? Then the guy says, I would but I need the eggs.”

The brother and the chicken. People and relationships.  PR and the market’s nod to how wonderful we want to be. Sometimes they fit, often they don’t.

‘We just keep going through it coz we need the eggs.’