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Denise Wild, owner of Love Sewing and the Sewing Studio (Della Rollins/DELLA ROLLINS FOR THE GLOBE AND MAIL)
Denise Wild, owner of Love Sewing and the Sewing Studio (Della Rollins/DELLA ROLLINS FOR THE GLOBE AND MAIL)

The Challenge

Is it time to hire a publicist? Add to ...

Every week, we will seek out expert advice to help a small or medium-sized company overcome a key issue it is facing in its business

Denise Wild never intended to start a business. But after teaching friends how to sew – a skill she’d picked up as a child – she began to see a gap in the market she might fill.

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In 2004, she launched The Sewing Studio, which offers beginner hobby sewing lessons in Toronto and New York.

The company also runs Love Sewing, which posts daily sewing and fashion articles, and recently launched a line of products, including sewing-machine bags, a sewing kit and a wrist pin cushion. that she has begun selling through small sewing and craft retailers.

A former fashion-magazine editor, Ms. Wild firmly believes in the power of publicity. Although her company is small – annual sales hover around the half-million-dollar mark – her contacts in the media have helped her land coverage in many magazines, newspapers and blogs over the years, as well as TV appearances on nationally broadcast shows.

Media coverage will be increasingly important to Ms. Wild’s company as she prepares to launch her latest initiative: online sewing classes and an instructional DVD.

“Up until this point, the only people who could benefit from my business, aside from those who read the articles on LoveSewing.com, live in Toronto or New York City,” she said.

The online classes and DVD will be aimed at a wider audience, “including people with a busy schedule who can’t make time for classes, and people who live far away, yet still want to learn from the Sewing Studio.”

Ms. Wild considers publicity an important element of a marketing plan for her new offerings. But the busy entrepreneur no longer has time to take care of it herself.

“Larger projects are keeping me really busy these days,” she said. “I have limited time and I know it’s best that I stick to what I do best and leave other things for other people."

Yet she’s hesitant to hire a publicist. She’s not sure she’ll find precisely who she wants – a fellow sewing enthusiast with a proven publicity track record – and she isn’t sure the timing is financially right for her small company to spend money on it.

The Challenge: Is the time right for the company to hire a publicist?

THE EXPERTS WEIGH IN

Saskia Brussaard, president, Crave PR, Toronto

Ms. Wild needs an experienced publicist who knows PR and communications, and has an interest in her business, but it’s more important that the publicist has experience and an interest in working specifically with small businesses. It can be a challenge working with small companies – they often don’t have their key messages refined; they use their gut instead of market research to understand their customers, and they’re sometimes still in the process of defining their brand.

In regard to timing, she should ask herself is she has the time to invest in getting the publicist up to speed. You can’t expect to hire someone and the next day they are pitching. She needs to spend time briefing them, then they have to put together a strategy.

And will she be available for interviews? It’s not like an accountant: “Here’s my receipts, let me know what I owe.” A publicist is part of your marketing team.

Jen DeTracey, founder, Lift Strategies, Vancouver

Based on their revenue, the likelihood is that their total marketing budget is probably $50,000, max. The question is, how much of that can they put towards PR?

The company is rocking in the social media world; they have a really big Facebook, Twitter and YouTube following. Maybe Ms. Wild can take that fan base and promote the online classes and DVDs to them herself. Leveraging social media, plus their blog and e-mail lists is something they can do themselves, for free.

Since Ms. Wild already has contacts in the media, she could consider bringing in an intern – someone savvy and young, with some understanding of sewing. A young person would be social-media comfortable.

Sammie Kennedy, founder and chief executive officer of Booty Camp Fitness, Toronto

This came up when we decided to launch our DVD in to the U.S. market. We have an in-house publicist – just like how [Ms. Wild]has been handling things in-house – but she has relationships in Canada, and moving into the U.S. is a whole different beast.

We knew it was the right time to hire a publicist because, otherwise, we knew we wouldn’t have time to access the people we needed to in order to be successful. We looked at our financial goals and the number of sales we’d have to make to at least break even.

You have to spend money to make money. I’ve believed that since I started my company. Can [Ms. Wild]afford to hire a publicist? The question is, can she afford not to?

To choose a publicist, we asked people we knew for referrals. That’s the best way to outsource, because you have the confidence that somebody else had a good experience. When you meet them, ask them what they’d do for you. I look to see what they bring to the table that’s different, unique or something I haven’t thought of before.

THREE THINGS THE COMPANY COULD DO NOW

Rethink its criteria

Instead of choosing a publicist who’s a sewing enthusiast, look for someone who has experience working with small businesses.

Consider an intern

Cheap or even free, an intern could use Ms. Wild’s contacts from her time as a magazine editor to generate publicity.

Decide whether a publicist makes financial sense

Determine whether the outcome is likely to generate the revenue necessary to at least break even.

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