Published on January 28, 2016
Nearly five years ago to date, when I was still in my twenties and San Francisco rent didn’t eat up half of one’s salary (imagine that!), I set out to solve a problem that many said would be “nearly impossible to do.” As any entrepreneur would, I thought: “PERFECT! I’m in.”
I managed to convince two extremely brilliant computer science engineers and one idealistic PR domain expert to join me for the early stage ride…and ride we did.
After the sale of our first product line, Marketplace, in early 2015 and with our focus now squarely on helping our customers showcase PR value through our Analyst product (Analytics, Insights, and Measurement), we’ve seen marked growth in both company size and revenue.
We currently serve customers ranging from Qualcomm and McGraw-Hill Education to Experian and Kiva. We hit our success milestones early and are certainly proud of the product we’ve built, the talent we’ve attracted to join us, and the customers with whom we work every day to solve problems.
We still struggle to find standardization and consensus about both the PR role and how to communicate and showcase value to decision-makers. And unfortunately, some PR pros are STILL doing 2 things that should send them to PR Hell – which I imagine would consist of being forced to smile & dial 17 hours a day, repeating the same pitch over and over with no response:
- Sending mass (note: not personalized) emails to journalists with only a press release and no context. What’s worse, these pitches are often offbeat and wholly irrelevant.
- And perhaps more importantly: Reporting PR’s value by using Advertising Value Equivalency (AVEs), which has not only been banned by the Barcelona Principles committee but also VASTLY (and I mean VASTLY, we have data people) undervalues PR.
While it is certainly an uphill battle of sorts, here’s what I know as fact based on over a half billion news articles we’ve tracked and analyzed over the last five years:
1. Earned media coverage (whether it’s the New York Times, Marketing Land, or a guest post on the Google Analytics blog), is anywhere from 2 to 5 times more effective at getting potential customers to engage with your brand than traditional/digital advertising. The point? Having someone else make people aware of you is extremely important and generates curiosity and credibility.
2. Owned media (i.e. building your brand through your own channel) is often just as effective for top of the funnel lead generation as earned media or advertising. The caveat: DON’T talk about yourself too much if at all. Instead think “educate, entertain, and engage.”
3. Competitive intelligence is mandatory to understand what your organization is doing well and what it isn’t. Companies don’t exist in a vacuum and neither do your PR activities. Benchmarking against yourself? That’s only mildly useful. Benchmarking against your competitors gives you far more insight into how you fit into the big picture.
4. Press releases are useful for companies that have reached brand ubiquity in a specific category, or whom are required to make public statements of record for either investors or shareholders. Newswires are a commoditized channel for reporting news. They shouldn’t be used in attempt to build a story or a narrative, but rather to report facts.
5. If specific, trackable metrics and KPIs (blog sign-ups, demo requests, etc.) don’t exist for PR, then you are simply doing a brand building and mindshare exercise. Which is completely fine and these things are important. But it’s going to be very hard to quantify in a meaningful way, thus making it nearly impossible to “make a case” for PR to a data-driven decision-maker (think CEO, CMO). Moral of the story? It’s important to categorically understand whether something will have a “qualitative” or “quantitative” metric.
6. All publishers are not created equal, and it’s impossible to know which outlet will get you the most “ROI” without some historical data or without asking the right question in terms of what you are trying to “measure” and who are you trying to reach. Which again makes the point for gathering data sooner than later. The point: Don’t ask “which publication will get us the most reach or impressions?” But rather “which publication will get the most people to engage with our brand in a meaningful way?” Then A/B/C test the hell out of your hypothesis.
7. Social media amplification is not always a proxy for a successful PR campaign. It is simply a signal and one particular part of the equation. While social media share counts (except of course, ahhhem, Twitter) are useful for understanding whether your HEADLINE is interesting (did someone say clickbait?), it only tells part of the engagement story.
If you’re a PR pro who already gets all this, then you are AMAZING and you should ask for a raise! But if you read this, scratch your head and go “Whaaaa?” it’s time for a PR reboot.
For PR/Comms pros, CMOs, and content producers everywhere…this industry isn’t getting any easier to navigate. If our data tells us anything, it’s that unless you prioritize the auto-aggregation and reporting of your PR efforts you will waste valuable human capital and budget.
And when you DO finally decide to do the analysis, what you will surely find is that at least 75% to 80% of it has been a complete wash. All that is to say…you’re better off jumping on the bandwagon now.
In the meantime…we will continue to run towards the light, along with anyone who is willing to join us!