By Doreen Clark
PR is a tough nut to crack—but you understand its value. You go to your team and propose adding it to the strategy for the next year and you are met with opposition. You learn that one member of your team has worked with an agency before and “it failed miserably.” Another member has the perception that PR is a “waste of time and money.” Your request seems to fall on deaf ears.
What your team may be trying to say is that PR is more difficult to measure than marketing. True. PR is less controllable than advertising. True. And, PR is less predictable than other strategic efforts. True. But that does not mean that it isn’t necessary or that it isn’t a valuable tool when it comes to boosting visibility, increasing credibility, and promoting thought leaders.
PR results can be unparalleled and the rewards can surpass expectations, if done properly. After all, a strategic plan is not truly comprehensive without it. Though budget has an impact on everything that a company does, when it comes to PR and marketing, it should not be an either-or decision. Here are 5 questions to ask regarding your company’s less-than-stellar PR results. The answers may shed some light on what was done and what can be done to get your team back on the PR train.
1. Was your plan personalized?
It’s easy to understand your current company landscape and where you want to go, but is it possible that the PR strategy was treated as if one-size-fits-all? Maybe you knew that you wanted to do interviews. But was it pre-determined as to what you would talk about? Was your messaging clearly understood? Were your areas of expertise clearly defined? Did your messaging fit with the audience that you were targeting? Your company is unique; therefore, your plan should follow suit.
2. Was there leadership buy-in?
When thinking about PR, the desired result is often where the attention goes. But what goes into getting that result? Were the thought leaders available when it came time for an interview? Was your team able to answer follow-up questions from the media in a timely manner? Were the proper resources made available for your PR team, from photos to supplementary information that was referenced in an interview? After all, if you mention it, you need to be prepared to send it—and quickly. The bottom line is this: If your team is pitching the media, are you ready and available (on their timeline) when they bite? It is extremely important to deliver to the media what you say you will deliver or a bridge may be burned—and in PR, if you don’t have relationships, you have nothing.
3. Was there flexibility for change?
A plan that can’t be adjusted will not be successful. The reality is that things happen in the world, and in business, that aren’t always anticipated. Change keeps things fresh—and your PR team on their toes—but it needs to have a process that can keep all of that in check. What if a breaking news story comes out that your organization can add comment and expert insight to? Did your plan allow for a way to be spontaneous? If not, this would be chalked up to a missed opportunity. If you have enough of those, the perception can be that the plan didn’t work when really it was just a lack of flexibility. Though you need a big-picture view, you also need a short-term glimpse. If your agency didn’t use a 90-day plan that could be tweaked, it would keep your program at status-quo—even when things around you were changing.
4. Was it an investment over time?
PR results are not an overnight—or over a week, or even over a month—thing. The more time, the more consistency, the more energy, and the more investment made in creating relationships, the better the outcome will be. Was your company looking for a quick fix to an internal problem? If so, the PR program may have been doomed right out of the gate. After all, when you are looking to pull a rabbit from a hat, a lot must go on behind the scenes. Everyone wants the “ahhhh,” but with time, preparation, and relationship-building, good things will come.
5. Were the expectations realistic?
If you pitch the media, a story will result. Maybe, but it’s not always that easy. However, if you don’t pitch you will get exactly that—nothing. Did your company have clear expectations regarding PR? If not, this is a problem from the beginning. You can bring a camel (the pitch) to water (the media) but can’t make it drink (write an article). That is reality. That doesn’t mean that your PR team is not doing their job; it means that a degree of the process is out of their control. However, eventually, if the water is good and the camels are thirsty enough, they will drink. They may even remember where the water is the next time. Did your PR agency guarantee a set amount of results? Did your PR agency guarantee a specific outlet would bite? Though a PR agency wants this as badly as you do, and you have to have goals, it is unethical to make a guarantee of something that is, at least to some degree, out of their control. Shoot for the moon. Try to get more results next month than you got the previous month—but be realistic. When an exceptional story is published, mentioning your organization, the wait will be worth it.
Public relations can feel like a leap of faith for some organizations and the lack of control can be a factor against public relations for others. The bottom line is that PR should be a consideration for any company, B2B or consumer. It should not be about whether to incorporate PR or not.
Maybe the question should be, what components of PR should be part of the strategy? If your organization has used PR in the past and the results were not what you had in mind, it’s possible that personalization was not considered, leadership was not as available as originally anticipated, there was no platform to allow for change, a fair amount of time was not allotted, or the expectations were not realistic. Or maybe you just had the wrong agency. Regardless, PR can take your company to the next level. It can work side by side with your marketing efforts and it can generate interest that would not be there without it.