Patrick Brightman - 02/26/2020
Summary: CMOs, marketing directors and brand managers need to answer these five questions to determine the best time to partner with an outside PR agency.
Brands of all sizes in every industry rely on the proper marketing mix to successfully position themselves to prospects, customers, and partners. Public relations (PR) is a key ingredient, as it offers distinct benefits, such as third-party endorsements and a terrific return on investment (ROI).
The value of PR is not lost on CMOs, marketing directors, or brand managers. What can be more difficult is when to pass the baton from internal resources to an outside agency. Partnering with a PR firm can bring many benefits, if you are prepared to leverage the many talents found in an agency. Properly answering these five questions will tell you when it’s time.
What Makes You Different?
PR professionals are expert storytellers. An agency has a team of experienced narrators who craft multiple stories. They also know how to make them compelling and unique, so media and target audiences are at the edge of their seat.
Some brands may have the advantage of having a founder/executive with an engaging personality and/or history. Most companies, though, rely on a unique selling proposition (USP). What it is depends on the brand itself, as well as the sandbox it plays in. Here are some potential examples:
- Tech company – proprietary IP
- Franchise – unique concept
- CPG brand – ability to satisfy consumer need
- Healthcare system – innovative services and/or groundbreaking research
The right PR agency will uncover those stories and determine their news value. It’s important to remember that good media relations teams can make lemonade out of lemons but they can’t do it with just the seeds. So, a PR agency will discuss a brand’s USP in the initial stage to determine if the company is ready to retain a firm.
Do You Have the Time?
Brand spokespeople play an active role in a successful PR program’s elements:
Media Relations – Brand spokespeople need to be available for editorial interviews. Media relations experts will secure opportunities with as much lead time as possible, however, there are occasions when the outlet needs comments within a few hours. Making the time to capitalize on editorial requests is often the difference between success and failure.
Events – Impactful events require brand presence. This can be in the form of product samples, signage, giveaways and similar. To take it to the next level, however, having spokespeople attend (even for a small window) creates an added element for brand connection, as well helps create media interest.
Partnerships – There can be tremendous value for a brand to align with a like-minded company that is well-known and respected among target audiences. To make these partnerships work, brand ambassadors (i.e. product managers and/or spokespeople) participate in the shared resources. Of the three examples outlined, this is the least time-consuming, as the PR agency will do all the research and due diligence to vet and select the best possible partners.
Time in the PR realm also means patience. There is a saying amongst PR pros, “Advertising is paid for, public relations is prayed for.” What that means is that even the best agencies cannot guarantee immediate success. It takes time to craft the messages, hook media on the story, and have the placement appear – especially in high-profile media properties. Talented PR agencies can shorten that timeline, but it can still take a few months to see steady results.
Do You Like Long-term Credibility?
Though it can take time to secure those PR placements, they’re worth the wait. Editorial coverage has the credibility associated with the third-party endorsement of the reporter and/or outlet. In today’s day and age, having someone else talk about your brand has tremendous impact. In fact, journalists have the second most powerful influence over people’s decision making, according to a 2020 study by the USC Center for Public Relations.
Another benefit of PR is longevity (there is the time factor again). Editorial coverage has a very long shelf life. Most placements will always be on the respective media outlet and found via search. No other marketing tactic can make that claim.
Ready to Invest?
Brands need to establish a clear annual budget for PR and stick to it for 6-12 months. The reason? Like any smart investment, PR must have a sound foundation so it grows over time.
The first month or so is focused on crafting the proper messages, conducting media training (if necessary), developing the media list, and creating the first wave of content that marries all of it together. Without this upfront time, the PR program will not be as effective. So, the investment will not begin to pay dividends (i.e. steady editorial coverage) for a few months, usually. Once it does, though, the momentum builds like a wave and you can ride PR to long-term success.
The best part of the financial investment is that the ROI has traditionally been very high for PR campaigns. Whether it is brand awareness (which requires initial research for a baseline and then again after 8-12 months), referral traffic (determined via Google Analytics), or organic search rankings (due to editorial placements with backlinks on high Domain Authority third-party websites), PR more than delivers on the investment.
Is There an Internal Point Person?
Even when an external PR firm is retained, an internal point person is necessary. It usually is a member of the in-house marketing staff. Having that surrogate helps everything flow to ensure all opportunities are capitalized upon.
Like many things in life, the answers to these questions are not necessarily cut-and-dried. Every brand has individual circumstances. Feel free to reach out to me to discuss if the time is right to begin a successful relationship with a PR firm.