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Hiring Someone To Promote You?
What To Expect (Lessons Learned)
By Bettye Zoller
Voice Talent & Coach
A hot topic on Internet voice-over forums and web sites these days is a debate about the value of spending advertising dollars on public relations / marketing firms to market voice-over talents.
Oh sure, the value of these firms to actors in film, TV and theatre ... to singers in all media ... to book authors ... to the fashion industry ... and to just about anyone who sells anything in the marketplace ... or to people seeking that “fifteen minutes of fame” has been proven without doubt.
So, should a voice talent hire outside promotional help?
Few can afford it, but if you can, is it a wise investment?
Over the past 20 years or so, when I finally could afford to think about plunking down large sums on marketing and publicity as a voice talent, I interviewed with and eventually retained several PR marketing firms and individuals.
These individuals said they could advance my visibility in the marketplace.
Probably the most important lesson I learned about this effort was that while my visibility did increase, the firms and individuals did not seem to have the connections to advance my cause with those who HIRE voice talents.
That remained up to me.
What they did, mostly, was to garner publicity for me in publications, by arranging radio and TV interviews, scheduling book signing events, and arranging speaking events.
This was helpful. But I admit that I initially felt queasy about my decisions to invest.
Let me share what I learned through several experiences. Draw your own conclusions.
A high-rise building in New York City.
The guard at the marble front desk in the cavernous lobby wears a uniform with epaulets on the shoulders. I expect the “changing of the guard” at any moment.
I try not to fall down as my heels click across the slippery floor to his throne. His Majesty inquires about my purpose for visiting and checks my family tree (only kidding).
Next, I take the elevator 15 stories up to visit the PR firm in the clouds.
Boy, are they in the clouds! A woman dressed in what looks like designer duds takes me to her office furnished with oriental rugs, antiques, oil paintings. I feel as if I’m in the movie, The Devil Wears Prada.
Right away, I know I’m not going to be able to afford to retain them.
After a brief conversation about my general publicity needs, she shoves an informational packet in my hands and says, “Our base fee is $6,500 per month. There are extra fees of course.”
My mouth is dry. I need water!
“Why don’t you take this packet home and look it over and get back to me," she says. "Then we will determine if we will accept you as a client.” (Accept me?)
Feeling like a wet puppy, shoulders hunched, I crept back to the elevator.
The packet looked like something the Queen of England would distribute.
I ran my fingers over the velvety paper stock. Later, I borrowed some ideas from that packet to use in my own publicity folios!
I never went back, of course. 
I learned that the leading PR firms are simply out of reach to us mortals who are not Angelina Jolie or Paris Hilton.
This experience took place about 10 years ago. At today’s prices, that firm’s retainer fee is probably somewhere around $10,000 or more per month!
A friend - who had worked at a major PR firm before returning to free-lance status - phoned, attempting to solicit me as his client.
I liked the fact that radio was in his background and that he was, like me, a voice talent. He was well dressed, glib and well educated.
By the end of our conversation, I decided to retain him. His monthly fee was $1500. His contract was for six months, not one year.
I was pleased by both.
The contract stipulated extra charges monthly for postage, mileage, entertaining clients and office supplies.
And after six months, his monthly fee increased to $2500.
I discovered that those monthly expenses could be pricey. The “entertaining clients” expense was particularly troubling, as he tended to take clients to expensive bars and eateries.
However, in each case, he fully documented the intent and the results of the meeting, so I paid without question.
But soon, that changed.
I signed another six month contract. He had accomplished several goals on my behalf during the initial six months.
And his expertise in print design was a big plus. His mailers were impressive.
He designed my CD labels, postcards, letterheads and other promotional items.
He was a perfectionist who spent weeks deciding on paper stock, typefaces, the composition of a flier. He insisted on expensive printing services, however, and the printer’s bills were enormous.
Still, my public image improved enormously.
I got new headshots at his request. The expensive cards and mailers were wonderful. I now had a logo embossed in gold.
At his urging, an artist created a cartoon-like sketch of me that I still sometimes use today.
His work was paramount in getting notice. My branding was gorgeous. If my PR representative had kept up this pace, I believe my money could have been well spent.
The first two months of the second contractual period at the new higher monthly fee were hopeful with plans laid and grandiose plans.
In retrospect, I suspect he got commissions from a host of suppliers. So be it.
Unfortunately, many of the print pieces bore his name as “public relations management.” When I left him, all these pieces were useless.
So learn this lesson now! Make sure someone else’s name on your print pieces is a sticker and not printed on the item itself.
You may switch agents or PR representatives. You may choose to use those expensive materials for more than one purpose.
Protect your investments! Peel off the old sticker and you’re good to go.
In the third month, I fell ill with bronchitis for a week and his monthly retainer check was three days late.
He was livid, yelling at me on the telephone. I told him to come to my house to pick up the check. He did.
After that, my opinion of him changed. He obviously was in dire need of money despite his expensive clothing and car.
I subsequently found out he had lost his house and was deeply in debt. His ex-wife was suing for back child support.
People phoned me for recommendations because he was trying to secure new clients. He did not return calls promptly. I became dissatisfied and told him so.
I had two months left on my second six-month contract. He missed deadlines. He provided very little return on my $2,500 per month (plus expenses).
Nevertheless, an attorney advised me to finish out the contract to avoid legal fees.
When I complained to my PR rep about his lack of action, he became defensive, speaking in a hostile, argumentative voice.
The lesson: Be careful doing business with friends or colleagues. As the English say, “It can be a sticky wicket.”
And as mother said, “Never ruin a friendship with business.” I lost a friend and lots of money in this horrid experience.
Bettye Zoller is one of the nation's best-known voice, speech, acting, and voice-over coaches, and is a winner of ADDY, Clio, Golden Radio and Audie Awards. She holds advanced degrees from three universities, has served on university faculties for 30 years, and currently is the Feagin Artist Guest Professor at Tulsa University, and presents workshops sponsored by Women in Film and Television. She is a professional audio engineer and producer, and a Simon & Schuster audiobook author and reader. Her VoicesVoices recording studio and training facility is in Dallas, but she also teaches by invitation worldwide.


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