When I first left the world of journalism as an on-air reporter for NBC News in Montana, I had little knowledge of what a job in public relations really entailed. In the early 2000s, public relations professionals were doing a lot of overt selling of their clients’ value, products and services. There was a lot of schmoozing and off-the-cuff chats over drinks with reporters. But public relations professionals back then didn’t have much writing experience or talent.
But in today’s challenged economy, the stakes are higher. Brands are fighting to stay relevant, keep customers happier and more engaged across all channels. For those of us responsible for building brand awareness – also known as PR “flacks” – that means success won’t be easily won. But when it is, it has the power to shift the momentum within a business. To do that, you need to focus on quality over quantity. If you need to write this mantra on a Post-It and keep it in eye-level view on your computer screen, then do it. If you need to say it out loud to yourself and to your teams when you feel “stuck,” then do it. Whatever it may be, this mantra needs to become more engrained into the minds, strategies and actions of PR professionals.
I won’t pretend that some businesses aren’t built on the model of meeting “quantity” goals vs. “quality” goals. But it’s important to understand why quantity (over quality) will never get you where you need to go. Let’s take for example, a PR agency that measures its success for a client on quantity deliverables. For instance, it may be written in their contract that they are required to write/place 2 bylines per month, write 3 press releases per month and book 1 press interview per month. At first glance, this may not seem problematic to some marketers and PR professionals. But I see this as an all too common problem occurring between PR agencies and their clients/in-house PR professionals. Because the focus is on delivering a specific quantity of materials each month, there is very little emphasis on delivering quality and value. Securing a placement in an obscure, low tier publication could very well be acceptable to an agency, as long as they are able to tick the box of handing in “2 bylines” or “3 press releases.” But for people like me, who sit within the brand and are responsible for steering the brand’s overall content and communications strategy, this PR strategy will only result in failure.
So what is the secret to PR success? As Henry Ford once said, “Quality means doing it right when nobody else is looking.” In today’s competitive marketplace, a brand’s PR success can live and die by its ability to tell and build its stories through content that is smart, authentic, compelling, useful, informative and engaging. Here are a few lessons I have learned along the way.
Don’t disrupt the content your audience values.
Before you jump into creating content, you need to understand what types of content your audience – I’m talking about influencers who have purchasing power – values and engages with regularly. Are you a B2B technology/digital company where the top marketing and digital executives (think CMOs and VPs of Digital Marketing and eCommerce) are the influencers/make the purchase decisions? What are the top 10 publications that those influencers read regularly? What types of content do they look for as part of the sales process? These are all questions PR professionals and content marketers need to ask themselves before you even begin to devise the larger strategy and guidelines for each piece of content.
Talk to your audience, not at them.
Once you’ve identified your influencer audience, then comes the fun part. It’s time to identify each piece of content you will develop and then write, write and write some more. But this is where a lot of PR professionals fall into trouble. Every piece of content is different – be it a blog, a landing page on your website, research studies, case studies, white papers or press releases. If each piece of content has its own unique audience, why would you use a one-size-fits-all narrative tone and style across all of your content? And most importantly, don’t talk at your audience. Think of each piece of content as an opportunity to have a one-on-one, intimate chat with a friend (who you are sitting across from). Talk to them in a way that makes them feel like you’re telling a story, instead of overtly selling yourself or your products/services. Make it feel like a two-way conversation.
Measure and improve.
As with anything, it’s easy to come up with a hypothesis of what might work. But you won’t know if it really has the right impact on your business unless you monitor its progress over a significant period of time, observe what’s working (and not working) and tweak your overall approach to deliver long-term PR success. This is the only way you will be able to get buy-in from the senior team when it comes time to hire additional resources or make operational changes.