Marketing mythbusters #4: PR
Marketing: never has a word been so misunderstood. Ubiquitously used to describe everything from a leaflet through your door to multi-million dollar, multimedia campaigns (and everything in between), it's easy to see why marketing has become a term shrouded in misconception and myth.
In this series of articles, we aim to dispel some of those myths and instead find the truth. Our first piece unpicked ‘Marketing is all about lead generation’ and the second looked at the myth that ‘Marketing is an expensive business 'cost'’.
This time we’re tackling Public Relations.
It goes something like this: PR is a load of expensive schmoozing without much substance. It’s all about long lunches, creating spin and making ‘contacts.’ It’s costly, you can’t measure the ROI, and ultimately, it promises far more than it ever delivers.
As a result of these myths, another myth is borne: that anyone can do it. After all, what’s so hard about writing a few press releases and boozing with journos?
These days PR is much more professional, organised and accountable than it used to be - and it goes way beyond press coverage. From developing key messages and strategy to identifying your audience and smart targeting, there’s a lot more to PR than meets the eye. It’s nuanced, responsive and smart.
Effective PR tells the story of your brand and builds its reputation through a variety of different means. It may look easy, it’s not. Event support, speaker placements, award entries, analyst relations and crisis management all fall under the remit of PR - not to mention how your brand is placed and perceived on social media.
So what about ROI? Can PR accurately prove its value? It can, absolutely, but it all depends on your objectives. If your focus is on digital channels and social media, you can use social analytics tools like Brandwatch to monitor activity and count every mention of your brand. If you want to know how effective your PR is at driving traffic to your site, you might want to keep track of backlinks (the sites which link back to your website).
If your objective is to increase qualified leads, you can find out where they’re coming from by setting up tracking URLs through Bit.ly. When it comes to press coverage, it’s easy to see what and how much has been published.
Of course, no amount of PR can completely control what is said or written about your brand, but PR can play a vital role for smaller and medium sized businesses by shining a positive light on the great work they do and increasing visibility.
Fancy dress company, Escapade, illustrates the impact of good PR for small companies back in 2013. Their objective was to raise brand awareness and engage directly with their target audience. Instead of spending their limited budget on advertising, they employed a PR agency who staged an event: creating a new Guinness World Record for the most people dressed as Superman in one place.
The campaign was simple but effective: over 4,000 people signed up to their website and the image of 867 ‘Supermen’ was covered in the national press, reaching a potential audience of 44 million people.
Of course, PR isn’t just a useful tool for raising a company profile, it also serves to position brands within their particular sector. Online estate agent, Purplebricks, implemented a targeted PR campaign as part of their launch. Their USP (being almost exclusively online) was also a potential obstacle in a market which is traditionally face-to-face. The solution: they used press coverage and consumer stories to set them apart from the competition. With over 200 pieces of press coverage and a valuation of £250m, Purplebricks was recently named the UK’s number one start-up business.
For SMEs PR is often the most cost-effective way of creating and building a relationship with consumers. Most importantly, it can carry more impact and credibility than advertising. If the brand is the swan, PR is the legs frantically paddling beneath the surface. It’s why we have an emotional connection to brands, it’s why we trust and believe in a product before purchasing and it’s why we forgive mistakes.
Possibly the biggest myth around PR isn’t really a myth after all, rather a question of definition. Public Relations is not just an optional communication tool - it’s an inextricable and fundamental element of marketing. Bill Gates once said. ‘If I was down to my last dollar, I would spend it on public relations.’ Why? While the myth may say that it’s all boozy lunches and schmoozing journalists, the truth is, PR is all about reputation. It’s about taking positive action when there is a good story to be told, and positive action during times of crisis. But most importantly, it’s about taking charge of your story. It gives you the power to steer the conversation (at all times), and, if necessary, change it.