I received an email yesterday from a friend asking what to do with their website. She articulated the pros and cons of revamping her website. I struggled to respond, and finally wrote this back:
“I think that I get too excited about shiny objects to give you an objective opinion.”
Her email led me down an interesting rabbit hole: How often do we budget “shiny objects” incongruent with our PR plan? How often do we invest in these “shiny objects” only to find that we could have achieved far more with different tactics?
I’ve felt this regret often. One instance stuck with me. The CEO of my company hired a consultant to create business efficiencies, and the consultant kept a perpetual contract for after-work. When I came into the company, it was evident their tactics were limiting our sales.
When I pointed this out (with the finesse of a blunt instrument), I began an adversarial relationship with (sadly) the primary motor of our business. (Feel free to ignore any posts I write on diplomacy).
My point: Vetting the merits of PR tactics should be done in planning. Otherwise we become psychologically or practically committed to unsound tactics.
I want to articulate seven important considerations when you budget PR, so that you consider all tactics and use the right ones (irrespective of their shininess):
1. Are your goals clearly articulated?
The advent of digital PR changed the discipline. Most notably: measurement.
With e-commerce, cookies, and promo codes, it’s extraordinarily easy to build mechanics for PR measurement. Any social platform has these, but many businesses build promo codes or referral questions into traditional PR campaigns. (e.g., Where did you hear about us? How much do you love us? Will you be our Facebook friend? Can we email you stuff?, etc.)
The devil’s advocate says: If you don’t articulate your goals and measure your progress toward them, you will appear not to know what you’re doing (because you have no awareness of the outcome of your actions).
2. Can you do the work in-house?
There isn’t a right or wrong answer to this question, because no two firms are alike. Most CFOs would tell you that you should reconsider your third-party contracts regularly. Here’s why:
- It costs more to outsource than it does to keep the work in-house (presuming you can’t outsource your PR to another continent).
- But . . . there are experience, tactics and leverage points that only third-party firms have, which is why it’s reasonable to outsource…. so long as you have clear goals and metrics.
The devil’s advocate says: If you can’t do the work in-house, you should outsource or choose tactics you’re better at executing.
3. Are you targeting the right audience?
A point that I don’t think controvertible: An advertisement on Pinterest will reach a quite different audience on Reddit.
The point isn’t that either has more value than the other; each has MORE value to its audience than the other does. More succinctly, always know who you are trying to reach with your messages, and focus your tactics on that audience.
4. What is your competition doing?
I recently sold my old Fender Telecaster on eBay. Before I posted it, I looked up similar guitars to get an idea of how much I would make. I considered Craigslist and a couple other sites, then found eBay gave me the largest pool of prospects. This is what a competitive analysis does.
My point? As a PR rep, I want to understand what other people are doing and whether I can mimic their success. If a competitor gets good traction promoting posts on Facebook and poor click-throughs on AdWords, I want to understand why and adjust my tactics.
The devil’s advocate says: If you don’t know what your competition does, it’s probable that they will be more successful long-term.
5. Are there blue-ocean opportunities?
If you’ve ever driven through South Dakota, you’ve seen signs for Wall Drug. That may be all that you see on the freeways into Wall, South Dakota. The effect of those billboards is powerful: The desire to visit Wall Drug builds to the point that you almost certainly will stop there.
I don’t want to skew the original concept “blue ocean.”, What I mean in PR is an opportunity to communicate your message by means no one else uses. You may find these by looking at best practices in other industries (Wall Drugs) or by finding a new technology or platform whose audience is adopting it at a faster pace than brands.
The devil’s advocate says: If you don’t look for blue-ocean chances, you may communicate your message in the same dark funnel that everyone else communicates theirs.
6. What does your audience think?
While discussing digital’s effect on PR, I‘d be remiss not to mention A/B testing. It’s like having the chance to poll your audience in “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?”-for every single press release, or social post, or communication you send out, you can find out the most effective message you could send out, for very little cost. It’s like focus group testing except cheaper and better. (Amazon has a great synopsis on the math behind A/B testing here.)
When you consider a big PR expenditure, it may make sense to test different versions or tactics to find the most effective message and distribution.
The devil’s advocate says: If you skip sampling your tactics on an audience, make sure your instincts are as good as or better than your audience’s every time you skip this.
7. Do you have a regular schedule to review your PR Plan?
Finally, you have a great in-house plan, tailored to your audience, industry-standard, vetted by sample stakeholders, clear goals and metrics. You now need a set period to review those goals and metrics to see how your tactics performed against your goals. Be prepared to adjust tactics if they underperform.
None of these precautions guarantee a great PR plan or the most effective use of your PR budget, but the devil’s advocate insists that without planning you could be ineffectual and never know. And no shiny objects can cure that.