What am I paying for if I am not seeing media coverage of my company, product or service? This question comes up often, in even the best client relationships. Good – no, great – public relations practitioners know that what we do is not just about chasing media impressions. Do not get me wrong; this is important and is often one of the most tangible parts of a good PR practice. However, many people fall into the easy trap of measuring results, simply by the numbers.
PR is about more than tactical execution and earned media coverage. Strategists understand the P&L, see the business holistically, and create a path to success that aligns with the goals of the business. These folks have earned their seat at the table where decision making and planning begin.
Public relations as a profession has changed dramatically since I started almost 15 (!) years ago. I say this with bias and with the perspective of my own career, but I believe PR is a hugely valuable and critical arm of any successful company. I believe the best companies, with the best reputation, have the best public relations.
So then, why does it always come down to clip counts and impression numbers? PR has always been more art than science. The magic happens when collaboration, creativity + execution, meets distinctive, unique + compelling. Plug and play simply does not win. I wish I had a dollar for every time a CEO asked me what I would do for them, after just one conversation. If what you do is so simple that I can plug you into a template PR playbook, then you need more than a good PR program!
What makes your company unique and stand apart from the rest? And who will care about what you have to offer? What are your business goals? What does it look like in 6 months, 1 year, and 5 years? How strong are your brand assets and which ones do we have to create in order for us to develop and to then to tell your story? How much time and budget do you have in order for us to execute on your goals?
The answers to these questions will drive the creation of the best plan that will win results. If you do not offer something special, then you need a really good advertising budget and you need to be willing to spend money to convince people that you really have something they need to know about. With enough money, you can make yourself look special. PR is not for you. PR alone cannot make you attractive. Companies are increasingly held to rigorous standards of price, quality and desirability. You will not win the day on PR alone if you cannot deliver.
About those media impressions. The filter of third party media and expert analysts opinion are still fundamentally important, vis a vis credibility and targeted reach. When I started, PR was primarily about winning the eyeballs of media and analysts. Company’s PR departments often consisted of a single, junior level tactician with little or no understanding of the overall business. Today, while media relations are still a core part of a solid PR strategy, it cannot live solo, on an island, and help you build a company or create meaningful mindshare.
The fundamentals of smart planning and execution are key. You need collaboration with your leadership team and/or your client contact. Many people use media relations interchangeably with public relations. Media relations are an arm in the PR arsenal, but having a media relations program in place is not the same as a PR program. PR provides the overarching strategic plan for defining the objectives, goals and measurement for a successful program. Often a media relations program is an important part of meeting those objectives.
If I do not get a press mention, than what am I paying for? When a company chooses an agency, they are not paying for editorial or product placement. That is an ad strategy not a PR strategy. There are no guaranteed placements with PR. Each and every media placement is earned. That is why the weight of a third party endorsement carries the mantle of credibility. If the goal is to garner covetable third party media endorsements in the form of product or editorial features, there is no (credible) PR agency that will guarantee results.
What should I expect from PR? What you are guaranteed and what you should look at when evaluating the right agency partner is: Do they understand my business, who I am and what I do? Do they have the industry expertise and contacts to put our story in front of the most important influencers for my industry? Do they have the ability to shape and tell our story across multiple platforms and diverse audience and influencer groups? Are they trusted advisers and not just arms and legs executioners? Are they passionate and excited to work with us? Will they be good spokespeople for our brand, our company? Do they make us look good? Do they speak our language? These are the things that you are paying for.
And when those coveted, hard-earned wins happen, than you know that the strategy and the direction you have taken, is the right one. These wins are the validations of all the work that your PR strategy has won. Enjoy.
In a nutshell, a lot goes into a successful PR program, and reducing it down to a clip count or eyeball number is doing yourself and your PR partner a disservice. If it were easy, than anybody with a media list and a phone would be a PR superstar or just dumb lucky.
About the author: Kimberly Strenk built her namesake firms’ reputation for launching and growing truly unique, authentic consumer brands such as bambeco, an eco home and decor company, Bella Pictures, national wedding and video photography, Beanitos, the first all natural bean based chip, and Key Ingredient, the first digital cookbook for every day chefs. Kimberly Strenk founded the company in 2008 after tenure with some of the most iconic and successful consumer companies including, Williams Sonoma and Nordstrom, Inc.