“The three main elements of public relations are practically as old as society: informing people, persuading people, or integrating people with people” ~ Edward Bernays
Most startup entrepreneurs and marketing professionals will agree that a robust public relations strategy is crucial for startups and many small businesses. While there is no argument that these efforts can provide great value in the form of awareness, traffic, word of mouth, and brand positioning, the efficacy of PR is, at best, difficult to measure.
For online businesses in particular, marketing tactics can and should be measurable and a positive ROI is an indicator that a given stratagem is working. If a $1 investment in marketing returns $1.50 then it is a good bet that most entrepreneurs will continue to invest in a particular tactic. On the other hand, a tactic that costs the same $1 but returns just 75¢ would be a target for early termination.
With some marketing efforts ROI success is remarkably simple to analyze; for instance, paid search is easily tracked, the resulting data is readily available, and arriving at a CPA is a virtual no-brainer. PR is different; in most cases there is little reliable tracking data available, your ability to correlate customer traffic to PR placements is dubious, and your PR spend often falls into ‘leap-of-faith’ territory. Many companies, however, are ready to act on that faith – the portion of the budget they devote to PR must be viewed as an investment in raising brand awareness, positioning the company in the marketplace, or establishing industry leadership. Media coverage brings credibility and part of establishing a startup or young company is to develop and leverage that credibility. As a company matures, continuing press coverage helps to sustain brand awareness and positioning and to boost momentum as growth continues.
There are several things for small businesses to keep in mind when assessing the success of a PR program or considering an investment in one. Here are four thoughts to keep in mind as you manage your PR efforts:
1. Focus. When crafting a PR plan, focus is critical to its success. Focus on the message you wish to convey, the audience you wish to reach, and the types of media you hope to receive coverage in. Set goals for the number of placements you would like to receive over a given period, the number of impressions you wish to accumulate, and the capacity you are willing to devote. Determine for yourself ‘tiers’ of media that are important to you. For example you might wish to focus on media outlets that have very large circulation, or outlets that provide a valuable target audience. Take the time to define your own tiers and then determine how much of your capacity will be devoted to earning placements in each of those.
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2. Target. The audience you are targeting should define where you want coverage and what you want the coverage to be about. Keep in mind that some outlets will be better for your company than others and that reputation counts; everyone knows the New York Time, The Wall Street Journal, and Forbes Magazine and any of us would be happy to have our companies covered in the pages of those august publications. But there are literally thousands of media outlets, industry publications, radio shows, blogs, and newsletters available that can help you to reach the right audience. Remember that placement is a game of impressions and while those impressions in aggregate can have a real impact, sometimes it is the quality of the eyeballs themselves that can determine the success of your PR plan.
3. Track. Determine from the start what exactly you will measure and the metrics for doing so. Using a the ‘tiers’ strategy is one way to measure, harvesting raw numbers such as impressions or circulation is another. In fact, while CPM is not typically a metric that we use when determining marketing success it is one of the few harvestable pieces of data that a PR plan can generate. Our approach is to discount the data conservatively – for instance, if a given platform publishes traffic data our process would be to cut that number by 50% or more to arrive at our own estimate of reach and impact. Public relations professionals often look at other ratios and measurements including Advertising Value Equivalency (AVE) and other PR Multipliers.
4. Build. PR professionals will tell you, correctly, that this is an industry built on relationships and build those, you must. Media professionals, journalists, bloggers and others will typically turn to people they know and sources they consider reliable when looking for opinions, quotes, or expert analysis. There is a symbiotic relationship that exists between these professionals and they are uniquely dependent on one another. PR professionals can not be successful without placements and media professionals are reliant on the PR folk for leads, story ideas, and background material. Entrepreneurs can and should develop ongoing relationships with writers and others who can help their companies and whom they can also help when called upon.
Photo – Wikimedia
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