PR has changed a lot in the last decade. Gone are the days when journalists relied primarily on press releases as their corporate news feed.
With the advent of social media channels and blogs, journalists have direct access to content, rather than solely relying on the middle man to provide information and manage the relationship.
Is the role played by PR agencies shrinking? Not according to The World PR Report 2013, which shows that 2012 saw the global PR industry grow by eight percent – it’s worth an estimated $11 billion, employing 75,000 people. Growth in 2010 and 2011 was on par, says the report.
So why, despite recent economic conditions, is the industry still humming?
It is all down to diversification. Most agencies now offer more than just public relations, turning their hands to managing digital channels and communities, providing strategic council, building CSR (corporate social responsibility) campaigns, and making use of their journalist relationship to help secure coverage.
As technology allows for broader and faster communication between companies and their partners, customers, prospects and influencers, PR agencies are offering companies advisory, management and measurement services.
This is all well and good, but traditional PR still plays an important role. Having influential journalists cover your news in widely-circulated publications or high-traffic news sites on a regular basis is the Shangri-la for most communications teams, particularly if you have achieved a sustainable lead over your direct competitors.
As PR agencies, particularly those focused in particular disciplines, spend a lot of their time building strong relationships with journalists, their expertise can be very useful.
The magic word here is focus. All too often I see PR teams loaded with big to-do lists, where the items do not underpin a single strategic outcome. So you get a lot of activity, but they are not working together to help your company with its overall objectives.
Here is some advice on how you can not only better defend your PR spend to your stakeholders, but also ensure that you are getting your money’s worth.
Do an awareness survey, targeting your key markets
Finding out what your target market thinks does not have been to extensive or expensive. Now, there are many research firms out there, but doing proper quantitative research can be expensive and time-consuming. If you are looking for an indication, consider using Google Consumer Surveys, a quick, cost-effective way to figure out how your target market perceives you, if at all.
I would suggest you ask questions such as
- Have you heard of Company X?
- Is your opinion of Company X positive, negative or neutral?
- On a scale of 0-10, would you recommend company X to a friend or colleague?
- How did you hear about Company X?
Answers to these questions can help you understand what your communication objectives ought to be.
Nail down your communication objectives:
Communication objectives for any company ought to underpin the overall corporate goals. These ought to be broad enough to last a minimum of six-to-twelve months. Make these SMART, because you quite literally want to review the year’s activity and be able to check off your achieved goals.
Check out this Who are you? post for advice on nailing down your objectives.
Narrow your scope:
Not all press hits are alike. PR agencies often want to target the largest number of journalists to better ensure that you get at least some coverage. This wide-net approach means a PR agency can become complacent.
You want to avoid being satisfied with non-influential publications with piddly circulation numbers or sites with minimal traffic regularly covering the stories. You should not lose sight of getting any air time with the big hitters. Ultimately, you want to focus PR efforts by limiting the number of sites and publications you are willing to consider a win.
For instance, you could tell your agency to focus on 20 key journalists, and then work with them to decide who makes the cut. Their job is to keep the list realistic; yours is to shoot for the stars.
I would also recommend creating a spreadsheet and listing out the journalist subjects of interest, publication circulation numbers, publication target market, and relationship level between your company and each target journalist (I use numbers here: 0 for no relationship and 5 for strong relationship).
Oh, and remember to review the list every quarter to account for changes in the industry and to review your relationship status.
Put KPIs in place:
Goals, or Key Performance Indicators, allow both you and the PR team to measure your success. It stops both sides moving the goal posts half way through a cycle. Say you agree on 20 press mentions and 2 features in your target press every month, you can easily track your progress month on month.
You can also agree bonuses or prizes with your agencies and/or account managers if they over-achieve.
I personally know the pressures of stakeholders demanding coverage for something that is not news-worthy or of interest to anyone outside the company.
A product upgrade that doesn’t boast any new features, for instance, is a yawn fest. Not only do you risk negatively impacting a relationship with a news outlet because you pitch stories they are not interested in or cannot report, you are also wasting your PR agency’s time – not to mention your money – when you could be focusing on something that has stronger story-generating elements.
A good agency will tell you what is news-worthy and what is not, and it is wise to listen. If you don’t trust their opinion, you are working with the wrong PR firm.