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In the mind of nearly every business owner, there comes a time when they think something along the lines of, “my business could use some PR help.”
It dawns on people at different times. Sometimes before the launch of a new startup, or prior to the introduction of a new feature, or when sales numbers aren’t taking off as planned. But almost as sure as the sun will come up tomorrow, a business leader will, at minimum, kick around the idea of leveraging public relations to help them in their efforts.
This is a good and natural thought, yet what I’ve seen happen many times during the course of my career is that beyond the initial realization that PR could be a help, not much thought is given to the rest of the concept.
If you’ve recently had the epiphany that PR can be a tool to help you reach your business objectives, let me encourage you to consider three important concepts that will enable you to make the most of this endeavor.
Go for more than a “big splash”
“I just need a big splash.” That’s not an uncommon thought for a business owner to have when they’re ideating about PR. Usually, when they’re thinking of that splash, they’re envisioning a feature story in a top-tier publication or a full segment on a show like Good Morning America. Though those kinds of media hits will surely drive traffic to your website, spur heightened social media attention and possibly even create some new business leads, it’s important to think beyond their immediate aftermath because eventually, the ripples from that splash will flatten out.
Ask yourself, “What do I want the splash to actually do for my business?”
Yes, making a big splash is helpful. But what’s even more helpful is having a plan in place to leverage that media attention into specific and sustained momentum. We live in a shiny-object culture, and as soon as your big hit has its moment in the sun, the collective attention of your audience will be craving that next shiny object. Be ready to promote those media hits in your email marketing campaigns, put some money behind them on social media so more eyes will be able to engage with them, and find ways to give them a longer shelf life on your own website.
There are all kinds of ways you can prolong the ripple effect of your media successes, but also be thinking about how you’re going to keep that momentum going after the big splash. A successful PR campaign is much more nuanced than a one-trick pony. Challenge yourself to draw the lens back on your public relations strategy and construct a plan that, instead of beginning and ending with the splash, uses the splash as the start of a long-running effort.
Start with the end in mind
Whenever I meet with someone to talk about PR, the fundamental question of the conversation is, “What do you want PR to do for your business?”
The mistake I’ve seen many business leaders routinely make is fixating on the “big splash” and chasing after it with no real idea of exactly what they want it to do for the business. Sometimes they do this because they see PR as a vanity play, they see public relations through a near-sighted focus or they simply have no real understanding of the discipline.
When I coach people about PR, we usually start with their long(ish) term business objectives first, then talk through ways specific public relations deliverables can help them achieve those goals. At the end of the day, PR, like every other part of your business, has to help you achieve your business goals. When you use those as your North Star, it becomes a lot easier to craft a public relations plan that has value beyond your friends saying, “Hey, I saw you on the news!”
So, start with the end in mind and reverse engineer a program that will help you achieve your overarching business plan.
What will success look like?
One of the greatest frustrations for public relations pros is the fact that measuring the monetary effectiveness of a PR program — tying specific deliverables to tangible ROI — is a very hard thing to do.
Let’s say you were to get on Good Morning America. Yes, you could see a spike in website traffic and overall business, but can all business coming in on the backside of your appearance be attributed to that one media hit? No. Or what if your organization wins a particular award? Can you say “this award generated X amount of sales?” Again, no.
That’s why it’s important when considering a dive into PR that you and your team agree at the outset what success will look like. If you don’t do this, then at some point in the future, you’ll likely find yourself retroactively trying to figure out if what you’ve done has been successful. I’ve been a part of these conversations in the past, and they are no fun. Some people on your team will say, “Yes, that was great,” while others shrug their shoulders mumbling something like “I dunno,” and the rest say it wasn’t a win.
Decide early on what key performance indicators (KPIs) will enable you to gauge success. These can be unique to your business. For some businesses, it might be a big SEO lift and app downloads. For other organizations, it might be specific industry leads and e-newsletter signups. Whatever those specific metrics might be, though, agree to them as you build out your plan. That way, you’ll be able to more clearly agree on whether your efforts were a success.
The shared theme of these three suggestions is that if you’re considering investing in public relations, you’ll be infinitely better off if you start off thinking with the end in mind. PR is a long game. Quick hits can be earned, but unless that lightning in a bottle is a part of something greater, it will flicker away fast.