“What is the business challenge you hope PR will solve?” Alternatively said, “what is the business opportunity that PR will help you take advantage of?” These are the first two questions we ask when speaking to prospective clients. We want to know what are the reasons for which they want and need public relations support. PR can be an extremely effective tool for specific business challenges and for this reason, it should be an integral part of many brands’ marketing plans. However, being able to articulate the challenge and why you think PR can help solve that challenge is critical in order to gauge the success of the campaign.
Let’s start with a very basic question. What is PR? Our official professional organization, the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), defines PR as a “strategic communications process which builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.” The word “strategic” is a very important aspect of this definition. PR is not just telling an audience about your product or service, it is communication in a strategic, purposeful manner with the aim of yielding a specific business result. PR is a focused communication strategy to create awareness, conversation, visibility, to build clout, enhance reputation, and to share information and expertise. To illustrate, here are just a few examples of common business challenges that PR can help solve.
Challenge #1: Our company creates the best widgets in the world, but no one is talking about us.
We hear this challenge frequently. “We’ve been around longer and have better services, but the new start-up competitor is all over the news.” Or, “Our product is much more effective than our competitors’, but none of the influencers are talking about us.” With this challenge, we like to get down to basics – what are your unique differentiators? What sets your company apart? Why should people pay attention? Once we can answer these questions, we can create a media relations and communications strategy to highlight the reasons people should take note. Simply stating “I’m the best” is not a strategy. “The best” is a relative term, it isn’t backed by science or stats or testimonials, and furthermore, its coming from the source which immediately makes a savvy consumer wary. Instead, the goal of an effective PR strategy to solve this business challenge is to have the experts, influencers, and credible third parties state that your product or service is “the best” and help them understand the “why” by communicating the differentiators.
Challenge #2: Our CEO is truly an expert in her field and our team is made up of geniuses. People should be lining up to hire us, but we have a lead generation problem.
When people think of PR, they often think exclusively of media relations, end of story. But another large part of PR and communications strategy is expert positioning. How do you amplify the voice of your experts? If the CEO is tops in his/her field, you want something to show up when you Google their name. Clients won’t line up to hire someone they’ve never heard of. Expert positioning strategy can include speaking engagements, contributed articles, podcast interviews, and panel participation and gives your audience and potential audience the chance to see your organization’s experts in action. Once they can see and hear your expertise splashed all over the internet and at events, they’ll start lining up.
Challenge #3: I really want our website to show up first in Google search.
Great! So you want your balloon company to appear at the top of the list when folks Google “balloons?” Not only does Google want to see from your site that you make balloons (and for this you might want the help of an SEO firm), but Google also wants to see that lots of other people on the internet think you make the best balloons and that your balloons are worthy of attention. How does Google know this? Through backlinks. In the eyes of Google, other third-party sites talking about your balloons and linking to your website effectively create an endorsement for your site over others. How do you get backlinks? PR, of course! Influencer campaigns and traditional media relations campaigns with the goal of soliciting coverage for your business or service are the key to backlinks and create a critical boost for SEO.
So how do you know if PR has solved your business challenge? Our second question to prospective clients is always “how will we measure success?” How do we know if our strategy is effective? What metrics are we tracking to see if the strategy has turned the dial? Tracking backlinks, social engagement, speaking gigs, and audience numbers are traditionally part of PR metrics. But are those metrics correlating to increased sales, new contracts, or public awareness? PR is notoriously difficult to measure and it is not uncommon to have clients say, “I’ll just have a feeling about whether its working or not.” We’ll be honest, we don’t love this response as “feelings” are pretty nebulous and tend to oscillate depending on the weather or how much sleep you got the night before. Instead, we encourage clients to really define what success looks like – is it an increased share of voice, quantified media hits, brand engagement, referral traffic, or straight-up sales? We guide our clients to think of PR as part of their overall marketing strategy and apply the same standards of measurement. Once we know our challenges and concurrently how we will assess if we’ve solved them, we can start spreading the word about your good work.