microphonesFor the right company with the right objectives, public relations can be one of your most valuable, high return investments.

But for the wrong reasons, PR can be an huge waste of time, resources and cash.

Although it’s never a black & white decision, here are five warning signs that you might be choosing to invest in a PR firm for the wrong reasons.

1. Your board says you need one
They may have been successful with PR at their last company or another company they advise, but each situation is different. And what worked in PR even 6-10 years ago is very different today. Public relations is a tactic, not a solution. Make sure your board understands the clear line between execution and intended results, as well as the other alternatives that could achieve the same result with more efficient solutions elsewhere.

2. Your CEO wants to be famous
Turning your chief executive into a recognized industry expert and thought leader can be a fantastic strategy. But it won’t convert quickly into net-new leads and sales most of the time. Plus, if your CEO is interested in seeing his name in print despite the source or targeted audience, you might have a massive mis-match between placements, intended targets and results.

3. You want to drive traffic and leads
I’m often surprised how many people turn to PR to drive increased Web traffic and qualified leads. Yes, good PR can deliver both of these things. But it’s rarely the most efficient and cost-effective means of doing so. If you’re hoping a TechCrunch mention is going to solve your sales pipeline problems, or driving more traffic than a consistent content marketing strategy, you’re dreaming.

4. You need analysts and other influencers to know about you
It used to be that this meant developing formal relationships with the larger analyst firms. And those firms still exist, and still hold a lot of influence with your buyers. But today you also can create direct influence with “amateur” analysts and influencers, those with active blogs or who frequent the industry speaking circuit and have significant influence over their peers. These relationships often work best when they’re developed by your in-house staff and executives, not an outside PR firm.

5. You want to replicate the PR success you had 10 years ago
Simply put, PR is very different than it was just 10 years ago. The channels are different, the strategies and tactics are different. Just because you needed a PR firm 10 years ago to unlock the value and ROI of public relations doesn’t inherently mean you need one today. Be clear first about your objectives, work with other executives and trusted outside sources to work through your likely PR priorities and focus areas, then determine whether or not a PR firm is the right means of execution.

Curious to hear your perspective on this as well. What reasons have I missed? If you’ve hired a PR firm and been happy with the results, where have you focused to do so?