During a downturn, the PR (and marketing) budget is often the target of cuts despite evidence that it shouldn’t be. The challenge then, especially during a downturn, is to explain how PR works and the value it can deliver to people who don’t know, but who might have influence over your PR budget.

To help me get a grip on this, I caught up with Ben Cossor, Senior Account Director & Head of Technology at the multi-award winning PR agency, The PHA Group. I wanted to ask him what PR can and can’t do for a business, and how it should be done to get a good result. 

Personal curiosity aside, we create a wide range of animated explainers and video productions for brands and organisations in many different sectors, and they often ask us about how they can seed and promote their products and services with PR, so it seemed like a good idea to ask the question and get a straight answer from someone who knows.

Let’s crack on!

1. What can I use PR for, as in, what will it achieve for my brand, products or services? 

When done properly, PR can be one of the most powerful elements of a business’ marketing strategy. Through it, organisations of all sizes across all industries can shift public perception in their favour and influence how they are seen by prospective customers, investors and partners.

PR is about communicating a positive narrative in the media to resonate with your target audiences which, if you do it right, will raise the profile of your brand and increase awareness of your products or services. PR is not the same as advertising – PR is the art of communicating with your audience(s) through earned media i.e. press coverage, whereas advertising utilises paid media to promote a brand’s messages or products. 

2. How often do I have to use it for it to make a difference? 

PR shouldn’t be something you switch on and off at random because you’ll never gain any momentum doing it this way. You want to become front of mind among your audience(s) consistently, so a ‘flash in the pan’ approach where you get some press coverage once or twice a year isn’t the way to go.

Businesses who see the most success from PR are the ones who commit to it long-term and run targeted PR campaigns to ensure their brand is regularly in the press so that prospective customers, investors and partners read about them regularly, which helps to build trust, credibility and ultimately leads to a growing reputation over time. 

3. How much effort does it take on my part? 

That depends if you do it yourself or use an agency! PR isn’t easy – bar a few industries who have been fortunate enough to thrive during the coronavirus pandemic, it’s never been harder for businesses to cut through and get press coverage due to the exceptionally crowded news agenda and fewer available journalists over the last 2-3 months.

As mentioned, PR is something that should be ‘always on’, but the point in having a PR agency is to take all of this work off your hands and become an extension to your business, communicating your brand to target audiences by getting you impactful press coverage. A PR agency will spend a lot of time devising strategies, talking and pitching to journalists, writing articles and keeping on top of the ever-changing news agenda, so that you don’t have to! 

4. What are the costs and possible returns, how do I sell this to the Board or my Director? 

The more you put into a PR campaign the more you’ll get out of it, but it certainly doesn’t have to be expensive. Taking our model as an example, we guarantee our clients a minimum volume of press coverage during the campaign which gives them a guaranteed return on their investment. We charge a monthly retainer which varies based on how much press coverage you’re looking for.

The best agencies have emerged from the dark ages of measuring the success of a PR campaign against Equivalent Advertising Value or audience impressions, challenged to find more tangible, realistic and accurate ways of measuring coverage for clients. From share of voice vs competitors, to website traffic increases, to sentiment shifts, there are various metrics to show the impact of press coverage and we’ll always agree these at the start of any campaign. 

5. How should I measure PR? 

To be clear on how you should measure PR you first need clear campaign goals and objectives – so it’s important to establish these and work from there. 

First of all you want to be seeing consistent press coverage over a number of months, rather than ad hoc articles once or twice a year. Consistency is key when it comes to building a brand image, so coverage volume is the first thing to look for.

In terms of specific metrics for measurement you can look at a number of things: the reach of your press coverage (how many people will have read the article you’re in, and how relevant these people are to your objectives), website spikes on the same day you were featured in the press (and sales spikes once readers get to the website), engagement on social media for online coverage, how many key messages are included in the coverage, and crucially how relevant the press coverage is to your business goals i.e. for B2B tech brands with a product to sell, you should be featuring in key trade media which is read by tech & business decision makers. 

Your PR agency will advise you on the most appropriate metrics for measurement once your campaign objectives have been defined. 

6. What if it doesn’t work, what if no one notices? 

If no one notices it usually means you’ve not spent enough time doing it, or you’ve been targeting the wrong sort of press. PR isn’t something that just improves overnight – you need to commit time to it and if you’re prepared to be patient and build your reputation over time, you will see the benefits. 

7. I don’t have any news to tell, or at least, not each month, so how could PR benefit us?

This is a very common question. News is great and certainly makes it easier to get featured in the press, but there are so many other creative ways to get your business noticed. These include: establishing yourself as a thought leader through by-lined opinion or advice articles, becoming an expert commentator by providing comment on key stories in your industry, telling the story of your business and its leadership team through interviews and Q&As, sharing success stories of customers who have seen great benefits of using your product, using data that reveals new trends to create interesting stories to help you ‘create the news agenda’ yourself when there is no company news to share. These are just a few examples of how your PR agency can raise your profile in the media without the need for any ‘news’. 

8. What won’t PR do for me and why? 

PR isn’t a sales tool you can just switch on and expect sales to sky-rocket overnight, so you can’t use it in isolation and hope for an immediate return on sales/revenue. It’s not designed for this purpose – it’s a tool that will boost your reputation and build trust with your audiences over time. Sales and business growth will more than likely follow! 

9. What sort of content would you create, or do I need to create for a campaign? 

Because PR is largely about generating press coverage, most of the content required is written – whether that’s a press release, a thought leadership article or a feature. Your PR agency is responsible for taking the writing off your hands, and will quickly get up to speed on your key messages and tone of voice, to make this a seamless process. 

10. How, typically, can PR help us to reach our audience when we sell very complicated products and services? 

We’ve always found the best way to communicate a complex business, product or service is to humanise the brand as best as possible. You need to be able to communicate what you do and how it can help prospective customers as simply as possible – jargon will see people quickly switch off and move to the next competitor.

This is where interviews with your founder(s) can really help resonate with audiences – people buy people, even when it comes to complex B2B tech, so it’s a good idea to ensure your founder/CEO is up for doing some personal profiling.

The written word can truly work wonders, of that there is no doubt, but there is also truth and trust in the adage that a picture paints a thousand words. This is especially true when it comes to communicating complex tech products or services. A beautiful still, film or animation can often explain incredibly technical concepts and convey knowledge and meaning without using a single word. 

A good PR agency will therefore commission videos and animations for you, alongside written pieces, if that is part of the campaign strategy. Video and animation are both an incredibly powerful way to complement a written piece, giving the reader a more engaging and richer experience of your brand. They are also incredibly effective in social media campaigns where posts with video can generate 1200% more shares than text and image combined, and posts with video have 48% more views than plain text or images. 

When it comes to reaching prospective customers who might be interested in your products, your PR agency will help you simplify your messages in a concise and easily digestible way – you might want to flood your press releases with every single USP and technical term under the sun to differentiate yourselves from competitors, but as a general rule, clear and simple is always best! 

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