1) They’re expensive – It’s true that a retained public relations firm can cost anywhere between $10,000 to $30,000 a month, or more. Attorneys, accountants, mechanics and plumbers all charge by the hour, and if you have a significant public relations program, you may end up spending as much time watching the meter run as you do overseeing your program and, importantly, the results.
While any professional services firm can be pricey, you can limit your exposure to this by identifying a public relations partner with fixed-fee pricing. That is, you collaborate with your agency to develop a predetermined list of monthly deliverables at a predetermined price and gain the benefit of predictable invoicing.
Other than potential out-of-pocket, or pass-through costs, you shouldn’t see much variability in your invoices once you establish the business relationship with your agency in this manner. In addition, this model shifts the burden of managing the hours associated with any particular project from the client to the agency. If it takes your agency more hours to draft a press release, that’s on them.
2) They won’t know my industry, my company – You’re making a strategic decision about how to manage your public relations activity and it’s really a question of rent vs. buy. If you want someone who you can grow and develop and one that bleeds company colors, it may serve you better to bring in an internal resource. However, while that person is fully dedicated to your industry, your company and your story, they may miss broader trends, both in the macro business community, but also within the practice of professional public relations. Sometimes there just aren’t enough hours in the day to get all of the work done while keeping an eye out for new ideas; new strategies; new technologies and now tools. Agencies often have varying demands from their clients and, as a result, you may benefit from this exposure to new tech or industries outside of your own.
For example, we recently collaborated with Trendkite, which offers real time media monitoring, reporting and analytics. It adeptly covers what has long been a sore spot between PR professionals and executives and offers an executive-level, real-time interactive dashboard.
Not only are we bringing cutting-edge technology to our clients, but by partnering with an agency, you may be able to gain access to this kind of technology at a fraction of the cost by taking advantage of volume pricing that an agency can offer since they often provide the service to several of their clients. Their volume discount may ultimately help reduce your marketing expenses.
3) I have sufficient internal resources to cover PR and I have the time to initiate and develop relationships with all of the editors and reporters that cover my sector – “I have too many resources,” said no CMO ever. Businesses demand more and more from their marketing executives each year. No sooner does the CMO finish rolling the boulder up the hill than he/she has to watch it roll down again, knowing full well they they’ll have to push it back up the hill next year – likely with fewer resources. Moreover, if you listen to executive recruiting firm Spencer Stuart, CMOs have, on average four tries up that hill, with average tenures lasting just 48 months.
Compounding this problem is the fact that managing the marketing mix is as much of an art as it is a science. If you’re the unicorn of CMOs who has such an embarrassment of riches, consider yourself lucky. However, if that’s the case, you’re probably also not the kind of CMO who looks to the internet for advice on public relations. However, you’re here and you’ve already read 30 percent of this article, so let’s continue.
4) My prospects already know my brand and understand my products. My customers understand our story so much that they advocate for us. – I’ve seen people nearly come to fisticuffs when someone besmirches one of their favorite brands: Starbucks, Target and Apple come to mind. On the other end of the spectrum are companies like Spirit Airlines. Spirit seems almost to revel in the virulence directed toward the brand. Last Fall, Spirit launched a “Hug the Haters” campaign, offering 8,000 Free Spirit miles for anyone who hates on the airline, or any airline for that matter, at www.hatethousandmiles.com.
PT Barnum once said, “There is no such thing as bad publicity.” But he also said “there’s a sucker born every minute,” so it would be interesting to hear what he might have to say about today’s practice of public relations. Your message, your company’s message needs to strike a balance, walking the narrow tightrope between effectively communicating your message across a sea of competing noise and the hope that when you get there, your audience doesn’t label your effective communication strategies as being “just PR.”
5) My CEO already has a household name within my industry – Unless you’re working for Bill Gates, Mark Cuban or Marissa Mayer, chances are that your top executive isn’t the household name you think it is.
Want to change that? Consider an executive positioning program.
Establish a program that positions your executive in front of key editors and reporters that gives him or her an opportunity to shape the conversation – not about your products or services – but about the entire industry. Have your executive talk about a future they envision for your industry. If you can help them articulately paint that picture, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to share how your organization fits within that future.
Have you thought about speaking opportunities as major industry conferences and events? It gives your executive the opportunity to share your story directly with an important audience in your sector. Want to control that message even further? Consider a blog or a byline campaign. You can host blogs on your own website, or even on your company’s or that executive’s LinkedIn page.
Further, you can conduct research to determine which of the publications that cover your industry accept contributed content. If they do, and if you can take a thought-provoking or thought-leading position on a topic, you may be able to earn valuable coverage of your company and exposure for your executive.
Another problem that clouds thought leadership campaign is when marketing and sales collude and all of a company’s content is sales-focused. You’ll never break through the noise with a sales message. Why? Because your competitor is doing it, too. Identify the clear space in your environment and claim it as your own.
Want to see a good example? Check our Richard Branson’s Twitter or LinkedIn pages. He’s almost always on-brand, and he almost never talks about the features and benefits of the companies under the Virgin brand – sales talk. That’s thought leadership.
Ask yourself “What are the areas in which we know more than anyone else?” Claim that space. Scream from the mountaintops: “We’re the experts. Here’s what we think.”
If you do this, and you do it well, you’ll help build your brand while aligning it with the leading industry trends that are transforming businesses, both within your industry, and without. The results will increase your brand’s credibility, elevate your online authority and help tip the buyers’ propensity to buy in your favor.
6) We already know how to leverage digital PR best practices that can lift our earned media coverage and our key messages across social media platforms. – According to a 2014 report from the University of Indiana The American Journalist in the Digital Age, 80 percent of reporters surveyed said they use social media on a regular basis to stay on top of recent developments.
Perhaps a more important development, however, is the growth of the American blogger. While the Washington Post humorously wrote in March “Finally, we know how many bloggers live in their parents’ basement,” they are an important audience – and in certain circles, very important, with significant influence.
In fact, I recently had a client tell me “I see very little difference between a blogger today and a traditional reporter.”
He may have a point; some blogs have higher UMVs (Unique Monthly Viewers) than do their trade-industry counterparts. While they don’t get the benefit of the print companion to a trade publication’s website, that is becoming less and less important as buyers make more and more purchase decisions in a digital channel. In fact, according to The Corporate Executive Board, nearly 60 percent of B2B purchasing decisions are complete before the customer even calls on the supplier – meaning that much of their research happens online, in digital channels, before you even have a chance to make your best in-person pitch.
7) We conduct sufficient, real-time research on the day’s news, research reports and industry trends effectively to pitch our story to editors in our space. Oh, you don’t? Well, an agency probably does. We follow the media in real time, both traditionally and socially, and we leverage a variety of different tools and personal relationships to help uncover opportunities to engage our clients in broader conversations and features. We also host weekly “pitchstorming” meetings where we talk about trends and opportunities in the coming weeks and how we might best position our clients to take advantage of those opportunities. My favorite part about pitchstorming, however, is that we have such a diverse pool of clients that we often find opportunities to cross-pollenate, meaning that if an opportunity or topic isn’t right for one client, we’ll gladly take it to another searching for the best fit within their strategic goals. Are effectively capitalizing on these kinds of opportunities? If so, you probably won’t need the support of an outside agency, but it’s one of those things where you’ll never know how many opportunities you’ve missed.
8) My staff brings me all of the creativity and “big ideas” I need to break through the noise of a crowded media marketplace. We live in a world where Hollywood green-lit Taken 3, Hot Tub Time Machine 2, Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2; Furious 7, Ted 2…another Vacation movie; another Joe Dirt Movie and a Terminator Movie, starring a 67-year-old Arnold Schwarzenegger – wouldn’t it be nice if we had some fresh ideas?
Similarly, companies often are stuck in a rut of “that’s how we’ve always done it.” Well, guess what, your agency partner probably hasn’t heard some the reasons why an idea can’t be successful. As a result, you may get some off-the-wall ideas; but, occasionally, you may also get a gem! Perhaps it’s something that worked in another industry. Perhaps it’s something that worked for another client. And that one idea may generate enough press that it justifies an entire year’s retainer.
9) We’re already engaged in all of the national media conversations that concern our industry and our business – Unless you’re releasing real news that is relevant on a national scale, you’re chances of gaining prominent; tier-one media coverage may be small. And, unfortunately, most of us don’t work for big, blue chip companies that drive The Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Forbes and Fortune coverage to which our executives aspire. However, you can improve your chances by engaging in conversations that are happening already.
Monitoring editorial calendars, PR Newswire’s ProfNets and HARO’s are great ways to spot news opportunities – that “gift guide you want your product in? Guess what – the submission deadline was probably 90 days ago.
More importantly, however, is actually watching the news –print, online and social. While I can understand if a company chooses not to engage actively on social media platforms, such as Twitter, there is absolutely no excuse not to leverage as a listening post. It’s an important tool to understand what is going on in the world around you, determine how it may affect your industry or your business and decide how to position your company within that conversation.
For example, in March, various outlets reported that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton used a personal e-mail server for official business. By paying attention to the news and adding some context relevant to our clients, we were able to effectively position them for opportunities that, in reality, had very little to do with them. Along the way, we earned a number of placements, highlighted by features in Information Age and Computer World, important publications in the tech sector, helping turn Clinton into the face of Shadow IT.
10) We completely understand how to engage digital influencers, such as bloggers and those with large a social media presence to gain the same kind of coverage we would in traditional media. Digital influencers have emerged as a force in public relations. They may be a traditional reporter, they may be a blogger, or they may be none of the above. A digital influencer could be, for example, the president of a professional or trade association within your industry; they could be an elected official; or they could just be someone who has a large social media following that is interacting with your brand (positively or negatively).
While it can sometimes be easy to identify those who are most active around certain topics on social media, it can also be a time-consuming process.
And tread lightly when thinking about pitching a reporter online. If there’s one thing I know reporters like less these days than a phone call, it’s a direct message on Twitter.
You’ll obviously want to consider this list as you’re making decisions about whether to engage a PR firm in 2016, or if you’re not getting what you need from your existing firm. Many of the elements described above are those on which you can collaborate with your agency and they’ll work with you to determine your goals, how you plan to execute, and how you’ll measure success.
Now that you’re equipped with a veritable arsenal or reasons, you can clearly see why you should never, ever hire a PR firm.