Don’t get caught with the Publicist from Hell.

That’s easy to do if you’ve interviewed several candidates in-depth, you’ve chosen your top candidate and want to get started, but you miss the critical step of checking references before you sign on the dotted line. Don’t let yourself become so giddy with excitement over an exceptional candidate that you skip this step!

Many people, especially authors, have. And thousands of wasted dollars later, they’re sharing all the ugly details in online discussion groups and at the corner cafe.

Check References for Your Top Candidate

If you interview four or five publicists, don’t spend time checking references for each. Only ask for references from your top candidate, or the top two candidates if everything else is equal and it’s a toss-up.

Ask if you can have the names, phone numbers and email addresses of three current or former clients.

Email first to arrange a good time to call. But don’t interview them via email. You can learn far more in a phone conversation. Here are questions to ask the publicist’s clients, excerpted from my ebook, How to Hire the Perfect Publicist:

  • What kind of job did the publicist do for you?
  • How many media placements did you get?
  • Of those mentioned, which were the most valuable and why?
  • What did those placements do for you? (A CEO might like the cover story he got in Business Week because it stroked his ego. But ask about the VALUE of the cover story. What, specifically, did it accomplish?)
  • Was the publicist knowledgeable about online publicity and social media?
  • How were the publicist’s efforts in those areas measured, and what was the result?
  • Overall, what measurable results did you see from the publicity campaign?
  • Did the publicity build on itself long after the publicist was gone? If so, how?
  • What kinds of additional value did the publicist bring to your project?
  • What did you like best about the publicist?
  • What did you like least?
  • Did the publicist need improvement in any areas? If so, which ones?
  • What’s your best piece of advice on how I should work with him or her?
  • Would you work with the publicist again?
  • What other advice do you have for me if I hire him or her?

Another Sensitive Question

When you ask your top candidate or candidates for references, also ask for the contact information for any client that ended a project before it was completed. The publicist might not want to give you this information, but it never hurts to ask.

But be careful here. A client’s expectations are sometimes far beyond the publicist’s abilities. I know an excellent publicist whose client stopped working with her after only a few months, after she got him excellent media placements. He was disappointed that the publicity didn’t reflect on his bottom line. I think that’s an unrealistic expectation. She did, too. A three-month publicity campaign barely has time to build traction.

In asking for the name of a client whose project ended abruptly, you’re looking for information that might raise a red flag. Examples include disagreements over time billed on invoices, or the failure by the publicist to return phone calls within a day or two, or the inability of the client and publicist to work together harmoniously.

Rely on Your Social Media Connections

Special-interest groups on sites LinkedIn can be excellent places to ask for feedback about a particular publicist. You can throw out the question there, but ask that anyone with information to share contact you privately.

If your top candidate passes these tests, chances are pretty good you’ve got a winner.

If you’ve worked with a publicist, what other questions would you add to my list? If you work as a publicist, what other ways can clients make sure they’re getting the very best candidate? The Comments section awaits.