“Do you think we should start a public relations (PR) program? Give me your recommendation.”
It’s a situation I’ve seen many times: a marketing manager is heads down when the boss asks for a quick Zoom call to discuss if its time for a PR program.
What follows is a scramble to research and determine whether it’s time to hire a PR manager or engage a PR agency and start a campaign. This post provides a seven-question framework to help with that decision making.
But first, it’s important to know how PR (sometimes called earned media) stands apart from other marketing and media efforts. Namely, successful PR involves two essential components:
- Media Relations: PR success comes from interacting with writers and editors at publications and providing content that they consider interesting to their readers. It’s this human element that other marketing tactics don’t have that makes it both challenging and delivers value and creditability.
- Editable Content: PR is the only element of the marketing mix where content is written to be rewritten. PR success comes when an editor tears apart your press release to create a story that utilizes your content plus the editor’s knowledge and expertise. Practically, this requires content that emphasizes customer or industry impact and being less promotional.
It’s also important to know what impact a PR program can have. Kerry Bennett, head of marketing at venture capital firm Upfront sums up PR’s impact in her “Succeeding with Early Stage PR” presentation. According to Bennet, the top three benefits of starting a PR campaign include:
- Awareness — PR creates mindshare among potential customers and second-order stakeholders (e.g., employees, potential hires, downstream investors)
- Impact for other programs — Press begets press and brand awareness/ recognition lifts all marketing ships
- Effectiveness — Organic SEO and paid media become more effective when the PR component is added
So here are seven important questions to consider when determining if the time is right to start a PR program.
#1 Will PR support business goals?
Given the benefits of PR listed above, how do these fit in with company business goals. PR provides awareness but it also provides credibility and thought leadership. If these benefits can help your company connect with customers, attract capital or speed up the sales process, it’s probably time to start a PR campaign.
#2 What is the goal for the PR program?
PR goals can include increases in thought leadership, launching of a product, raising awareness, and more. It’s important to identify the goal before you bring on a PR resource (employee or agency) so that their brainstorming, strategy development and tactical execution will bring the desired result.
#3 Are competitors active in PR?
If competitors are very active with their PR programs and getting lots of press coverage, it can make your company look conspicuously absent from industry discussions. This is one instance where, “keeping up with the Joneses” is a good idea.
#4 Can you keep it going?
PR is a relationship game. If you have one newsworthy announcement and then nothing for months, the editor/analyst relationships built in that time can wither. A proper PR program requires constant flow of newsworthy content – new products, market trends, new people, infographics, etc. Knowing that there’s enough activity for an ongoing program is important to knowing you are ready to start.
#5 What’s your runway?
PR has a learning curve that needs to be planned for. Even an expert PR pro in your industry has to know the value proposition for your products and the newsworthy issues that your company impacts. Make sure your PR campaign has enough time built in for the proper planning.
#6 What resources/budget is allocated to the campaign?
PR budgets are typically less than those of advertising, paid SEO or tradeshows, but they are not inconsequential. An underfunded a campaign risks the likelihood your efforts won’t get enough traction to move the needle on awareness. You should have at least a year’s worth of spending in the budget. The budget for hiring an in-house PR person includes salary/benefits, as well as access to media databases and other tools. If you hire an agency, let them know up front what you have to spend so that they can right-size the program and the success expectations. This is better than not giving any budget guidance only to have program ideas come back that are great but unaffordable.
#7 What does success look like in one year?
Look at peer companies or competitors that are the same size and age as your operation who are doing a good job. Share these examples with your PR resource to best define the qualitative and quantitative metrics that can then be review on a quarterly basis. Answering these important questions is a good starting point for making a clear-eyed decision about if and when to pull the trigger on a customized PR program.