Once having a media agent to sell your story, promote you or your business was something only for the rich and famous. Hired by a client, such as a celebrity, the publicist's role was - and still is - to get journalists to write about them.
But times have changed. Ten years ago my primary job a a journalist was simply to write a story. Yet more and more I am finding people are coming to me to gain publicity. They want me to market their story so a newspaper or magazine will buy it. And quite often they will even forego a fee in exchange for a plug for their new book or business.
So the lines between a publicist and some journalists such as myself who sells stories to the press, are becoming increasingly blurred.
Even celebrities - who used to always use a publicist as a middle man between themselves and the media - are changing their views. For example, last year I placed a celebrity story in the Mail on Sunday newspaper. No middle man was involved in that - I represented the celebrity's interests and wrote her story myself. She was very happy with her piece, which went over two pages of the newspaper. And she's not the only celeb I've worked with on this basis.
So what is behind this growing trend?
Well, undoubtedly one issue is cost. Employing an official publicist can be expensive. You might have to pay up front for the representation, with no guarantee of results. Or a publicist might take a large percentage of any fee you earn. By contrast, I act for clients for free. This is because I am paid by the publication for writing the story. Some people might worry that a journalist will not have the client's best interests at heart, that you need to employ a costly publicist to ensure only good publicity about a client is printed.
But that depends on the journalist you choose to go with. Obviously, going directly to a staff journalist on a newspaper or magazine is not going to be the best idea. This is because that writer will naturally be working on behalf of the publication only.
Nevetheless, with a media agent such as myself, this is not the case. When I am working in the role of publicist it is true I am looking to secure the best coverage for my client. However, I am not looking to simply place their story just once. I am endeavouring to build a long-term relationship with my client. This means ensuring they are happy with the feature I write for them or frankly they will not trust me again to write another.
Which brings us back to the question: What could a publicist do for the ordinary person who is looking for some positive press?
The answer is quite a lot. If you employ a well-connected writer and agent who is able to market you and your story properly, the sort of editorial double page spreads some 'publicists' can only dream of will be within your grasp. And an editorial campaign in the national press promoting your business, book, charity, or website - or even an article that simply creates an exciting buzz about you - can be yours.
Just remember these days you don't have to be a celebrity to have a publicist. Thankfully, neither do you need to be rich or pay vast sums of money to a middle man to gain positive coverage in the national press or even on national television.Alison Smith-Squire is an ethical media agent and journalist who runs sell my story website Featureworld, specialising in selling a story safely for the ordinary person.