Investing in a relationship with the right PR agency can pay enormous dividends when it comes to building reputation and even demand.
However, businesses that benefit from building or engaging PR teams can be hesitant due to uncertainty about outcomes.
PR hasn’t always done a great job defining or managing client expectations, particularly when it comes to earned media. When PR falls short, it often boils down to a handful of reasons, including these:
Expectations aren’t clear. If you’re bringing on a PR agency anticipating vague outcomes like “brand visibility” or “thought leadership,” think more deeply. One company’s visibility is another’s table stakes. It’s best to agree upon specific goals and carefully worded messaging for your program. You should also choose news outlets, social platforms, and content distribution strategies to target, among other elements. Here, the devil is truly in the details. The PR Council offers some very useful guidelines, including this PR relationship “owner’s manual.”
You don’t have news. Working journalists are looking for something new, timely, or relevant to their particular area. While a PR team’s expertise can help identify and develop a pitch, it needs the raw material (example: a new website isn’t news.). It’s important that you or your PR agency put yourself in the reporter’s shoes and approach him or her with needs in mind.
Your story is all about you. There’s definitely a place for service content, particularly in business-to-business sectors, but the key word here is service. Whether it’s earned or owned, the resulting article or post must focus on a customer problem or solution, trend, or offer useful information of interest to your end user. If it’s all about selling, it’s likely to be overlooked.
You’re too ambitious. Even with a news peg, the earned media outcomes generated by a PR campaign can take time, and the window varies widely from one story or client to another. A news announcement like a funding round is typically offered to a key news outlet, published, then quickly disseminated more broadly, but a feature story can need months to take shape.
You’re aiming too high. Not every story is worthy of a New York Times editorial or a national morning show segment. News tends to follow news, so sometimes it’s best to start with the long tail and build up to a top-tier trend story or feature.
The pitch isn’t personalized. Top-tier reporters want something on an exclusive basis, and they know when they’re being spammed. An email pitch sent to hundreds of reporters isn’t as likely to land as a handcrafted pitch created specifically for a Wall Street Journal, Mashable, or Fox Business.
Your spokesperson is weak. I’m a big believer in a natural interview style (over-coached spokespersons can be flat), but it’s important that the CEO or senior executive speaking for the company be in command of the facts, offer vivid and relevant proof points, and focus on the most compelling aspects of the interview or story. A cautious or overtly commercial spokesperson is a publicity killer.
Someone else is telling your story better. Occasionally, clients point out a story featuring a competitor and press the PR team to pitch that particular journalist. It’s nearly always a counterproductive strategy. Journalists don’t write the same story twice, so the best approach is to find a fresh angle and focus on other outlets for your pitch.
Dorothy Crenshaw is CEO and creative director of Crenshaw Communications. A version of this story appeared on the Crenshaw Communications blog.