How to Choose the Right PR Solution in a Crowded Market

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By Maura Lafferty (Chief Happiness Officer, Maura Lafferty PR) A couple of months ago, I picked up a copy of Bait and Switch, Barbara Ehrenreich's follow-up to Nickel and Dimed.

Like the original, she goes "undercover" as a middle-class laid-off worker seeking a lower-level corporate position. The story details several months of job-hunting and the various travails she comes up against, including the dreaded consultants who try to make money off job-seekers' desperation. Some are mildly sympathetic, especially the guy who lost his own job and got into "coaching" to bridge the gap, others are just out to make a buck, and none of them provide any actually useful help.

The story details an all-too-familiar experience that many of us have faced in the last few years. With the economy shifting, little support for jobs creation, and most of us left to our own devices to bootstrap our vision with only the support we can hustle, it can be tricky to avoid the snake-oil salesmen. As a solo-preneur in a service industry myself, I have to constantly make that distinction between whether each new "opportunity" or investment will pay off or just be a drain on my stretched resources that could be used towards paying the bills.

PR is an especially tricky area for this. The media portrays PR and marketing consultants as spin doctors. Words like "flak" and "infamous" are common associations, and the most frequent conversations we have around PR are when Charlie Sheen's reputation is in the toilet, or a publication like TechCrunch shames a PR firm for making their client look bad.

Like many of the musicians I work with, startup and small business leaders are nervous about entrusting their message to anyone who might be remotely associated with these kinds of consultants. It can be terrifying to think about relinquishing control to someone whose work you don't understand, in an area that has traditionally struggled to create an established standard of measurement.

One of my favorite resources, both when it comes to knowing what criteria to look for, and in teaching myself how to avoid being *that* consultant, is the Bad Pitch Blog. Founded by two experienced PR and marketing consultants, Richard Laermer and Kevin Dugan, the blog is in its fifth year of holding the field accountable by running case studies of both good and bad examples of publicity stunts.

Richard Laermer will be coming to San Francisco next week, September 6, 2011, to anchor a panel that will discuss "How to Choose the Right PR Solution in a Crowded Market." He'll be joined by 3 other speakers -- Rory O'Connor, Senior Vice President at multi-national firm Fleishman-Hillard that takes care of clients like Visa, Epicurious, and Genentech, Stuart McFaul, president and founder of boutique Spiralgroup, which has successfully launched projects for Root Candles, Hitachi, and SimplyHired.com, and Matt Rozen, whose track record at Adobe includes establishing the Flash Platform social media program, and driving the design and creation of the main Adobe blog.

Hosted by Adobe, this event will look at the key questions that rarely get asked: do I really need PR? How do I choose the right solution? Are press releases useful? Is my PR firm scamming me? What are they doing for all that money I pay them?? We'll address the questions that come up at different stages of organization growth, and will crowd-source questions on hashtag #RightPR before the event.

I hope that Women 2.0 members will bring their toughest questions to the table.

Women 2.0 members get a special deal with coupon code "founderfriday" when you register here. Editor's note: Got a question for our guest blogger? Leave a message in the comments below. About the guest blogger: Maura Lafferty hails from a classical music background, with experience in marketing, customer service, community management, audience development, and PR. Her twitter feed has generated a dedicated following upwards of 2,000 musicians, artists, marketers, and PR colleagues. Maura blogs at Là ci darem la mano. Maura holds a Bachelor of Arts in Oboe Performance from the University of Maryland. Follow her on Twitter at @mlaffs.