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Hiring a Freelance vs. an In-House Publicist

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Did you just see an author on Oprah discussing a subject that one of your books addresses and does a better job covering? Why was that author chosen and not yours? Chances are that the selected author has a publicist.
Publicity is basically free advertising. Freelance publicists base their rates on what the publicity they have obtained for you would have cost if it had been purchased as an advertisement.
Therefore, budgeting $30,000 a year for an in-house or freelance publicist is small change if that publicist procures a mention for your book in Better Homes and Gardens, which has a circulation of 7,615,315 and a display ad rate of $138,000. Of course, one would hope that the publicist would get many more interviews and features for that book than just the BHG mention.

Qualifications

When hiring an in-house publicist, look for someone who has previous public relations experience. Writing skills are a must, as a publicist must be able to quickly create press releases, author bios, and sample interview questions. Depending on your geographic location, it may be more difficult to find candidates with established media contacts.
One of the main benefits of an in-house publicist is that he/she is physically in your office, under your supervision, 40 hours a week. If you need someone to write catalog copy or call bookstores, the publicist can always fill in. When hiring a freelance publicist, put in the contract how many hours per week he/she will devote solely to your project (and this should not include time spent on mailings).

Media Relations

Remember that it takes time to establish relationships with the media. A freelance publicist should be able to provide you with samples of radio, TV, newspaper and/or magazine coverage he/she has obtained for previous clients. If your in-house publicist does not have experience in media relations, expect that their first six months on the job will be spent figuring out who the best media targets are.
Unfortunately, the average length of employment for an in-house publicist seems to be less than two years. Just when the publicist is going strong and has established a rapport with the media and your authors, he/she will probably move on, if there is no opportunity for advancement within your house.

The Bare Necessities

If you are starting your publicity department from scratch, you will need to purchase Bacon’s or a similar media contact guide (allocate about $1,000 for radio, TV, magazine, and newspaper directories). Your in-house publicist must develop databases, mailing procedures, and find a reliable travel agent and media escorts for author tours.
Decide in advance how much time you want your publicist to devote to actively seeking out publicity for your authors. If your publicist must also coordinate mass mailings, update databases, and organize broadcast faxes and travel arrangements, this takes away from time spent talking to the media. Consider an intern! Interns can be retained on a stipend payable at the end of their internship, or for a low hourly wage.

Accountability

By checking an in-house publicist’s phone records, you can easily trace how much time he/she is devoting to publicizing your books. A freelance publicist is a bit more difficult to keep tabs on. Ask your freelance publicist to provide you with monthly updates detailing which media he/she has contacted and what the media’s response was.A clipping service, while rather pricey, is a must if you want to track publicity on a national basis. It is difficult to get magazine editors to send tear sheets and next to impossible to talk newspaper and wire service reporters into sending them.

Prioritize Projects

The primary advantage to hiring a freelance publicist is that you may contract him or her for a book or group of books that you want to focus sales and marketing efforts on, and when the push is over, the publicist’s contract is over. In contrast, an in-house publicist still draws salary and collects benefits during the down season.
If your in-house publicist is experiencing overload and cannot devote a significant amount of energy to a big book (or does not yet have the established media relationships necessary to create a big publicity splash), you may consider hiring a freelance publicist to fill in the gap.
Establishing an in-house publicity team represents a larger initial expense but may be cheaper in the long run, as many books may be publicized for a known fixed cost. A freelance publicist is advantageous for individual projects or if you are not yet ready to add additional employees to your staff. Whichever route is chosen, publicity remains an integral part of every book’s marketing campaign and success.


Katherine Brandenburg is President of Avalon Marketing & Communications at 5611 Abbey Court, Suite 6, Lincoln, NE 68505. Phone 402/466-4531.

 

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