Dominic Pollard, director of content and communications of City Road Communications, on whether it’s possible to measure the value of PR.
To run a successful business, entrepreneurs face an endless series of challenges. Whether as an individual or a small team, they must have an idea, create a product, build a brand, establish themselves in a marketplace and acquire customers. On top of that they typically have to hire staff, secure investment and adapt to constantly evolving political and economic environments.
Amid such complexity and running on tight budgets, a startup must be careful in assessing what services will be most useful in helping it execute its commercial strategy. Or, put another way, small business leaders have to establish which skills and tools they require to help them overcome barriers to growth.
In some instances, the value of a certain service is easy to ascertain. Namely, when a solution – a piece of software, for example – is integral to the way a business functions, there is little need to deliberate over whether or not the company should invest in it. However, when it comes to PR, the ability to prove a clear ROI or demonstrate its importance to business outcomes is undeniably more complicated.
Understanding why businesses need PR
One of the most common questions businesses ask when enquiring about PR services is how can they trace the impact of having their name appear in the press back to their bottom line. And the honest truth is that it’s not straightforward; when viewing PR in isolation, it’s difficult to draw a solid connection back to sales.
There are, of course, ways of establishing an ROI or measuring KPIs when running a PR campaign in the short or long-term. A company can: tally the volume of press coverage they receive; track spikes in web traffic relative to when pieces about them go live; monitor the total number of impressions a publication or specific article receives; or monitor how their SEO ranking improves in accordance with being named in the press and getting links back to their site within articles.
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However, for businesses that see the value in PR – and those who are best at it – they appreciate that such metrics are not an exact science. Moreover, those who embrace PR often understand that its worth lies in positive results that are difficult to measure.
Successful PR strategies combine solid coverage about a company’s core service offering with more far-reaching thought leadership articles and commentary on pertinent industry news or trends. When done right, PR establishes and enhances a brand; it raises awareness of the company; it promotes entrepreneurs as experts in their field; and it helps prospective customers understand not just what the business does but also what it stands for.
Building the reputation of a brand and achieving mass exposure for it through coverage in the press is immensely powerful. And yet the ROI is not immediately obvious, which is why it’s important that small businesses pondering the value of PR treat it not in isolation but see it as part of a wider marketing effort.
The merging worlds of PR and marketing
In years gone by it might have been simpler to separate PR and marketing under two umbrellas. On the one hand you had PR, the professional maintenance of a favourable public image of a company; and on the other you had marketing, the action or business of promoting and selling products or services.
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But things have changed drastically in the past decade. Advances in social media combined with the way news today is consumed due to the proliferation of information available through a multitude of devices and online channels means that attempting to separate the two sides is becoming increasingly difficult. What’s more, disconnecting both services is an ineffective way to approach the challenge of getting a brand’s name in front of the right people.
If a marketing team is working on reaching out to a particular audience through promoted social media posts, paid search or email campaigns, then PR still has an important role to play in assisting these efforts. Firstly, by getting a business in relevant titles talking about the right things, PR will put the brand’s name into the mind of the reader, with successful PR leaving that individual with a positive impression of said brand. This makes marketing to them easier.
Furthermore, press coverage has more long-term value. For example, by showing potential customers that a startup has featured in reputable publications – either by sharing the coverage over social media, on blogs or by adding press logos onto its website – the business can continue to build its reputation in the medium and long term.
Achieving value out of PR
The emphasis is now on businesses to market to customers in more intelligent ways – they must engage them by using interesting content through respected channels. They cannot just look to ‘sell, sell, sell’, nor bombard people with adverts; they must inform potential customers and gain their attention is less intrusive ways. That is why content marketing, for example, has become another valuable asset within companies’ broader marketing strategies.
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To this end, whether done in-house or by using one or more external agencies, PR and marketing must work together. They must form part of a single over-arching strategy for enhancing the brand, encouraging awareness and, ultimately, driving sales.
The value of effective PR comes not just by getting press coverage – it comes by boosting the reputation of a brand and assisting more directed marketing tactics. This promotes critical awareness of a business and ensures it has a prominent voice when discussing important, interesting and relevant topics. As such, before starting any PR campaign, there must be a coordinated marketing strategy that establishes how the business will leverage the value of the press coverage that is secured.
That is why good PR agencies today will be able to offer packages that incorporate PR, content and marketing services that, when combined, deliver tangible value to the client.