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Maxymiser’s Ragini Bhalla On the Importance of Quality Public Relations

Ragini Bhalla on Storytelling and Content Marketing.Ragini Bhalla is a contributor to The Makegood and Director of Content and Communications for Maxymiser, the leading expert in online testing, personalization and cross-channel optimization for some of the world’s largest brands. The Makegood recently spoke with Ragini about

The Makegood: Hi Ragini, you have been a contributor to The Makegood for some time now, and written about the importance of quality over quantity when it comes to public relations. Today many companies choose to save money by not hiring a public relations firm, and instead doing all of their work in-house. What do you believe are the biggest benefits to hiring an outside firm? Are there situations when it makes more sense for a company to keep their public relations and marketing in-house?    

I’m so glad you asked that question. It’s a debate that comes up quite often, especially in the digital and tech startup space. While there is no single right answer for every company, I firmly believe there is tremendous value and ROI that can be derived from hiring a strategic and results-oriented PR agency.

Think about it this way. Why do most companies hire a PR agency? At the heart of most business objectives, it’s vital to be seen among clients, prospects, journalists, analysts and industry insiders as a credible brand with top-notch products/services/expertise. As a brand, you want both your brand and key senior executives to be positioned as thought leaders – people who are great at what they do and approach everything from a strategic approach, as opposed to tactical. You want to foster a sense of respect and trust within the industry that your brand and your team strive to push the status quo, lend to the industry dialogue, share best practices and help implement change for both your clients and the industry at large. To achieve all of these goals, communications, PR and content are all very necessary. But this is where some brands and their PR agencies fall short – focusing so heavily on quantity and sheer numbers.

When you’ve hired a PR agency that really “gets PR,” both the in-house PR leader and the PR agency team will bounce ideas off each other, ask for input/thoughts and then come up with cohesive strategies, timelines and execution plans that deliver the types of results that really matter to the business. I am one of those people who believes wholeheartedly that a PR agency cannot be held to standards unless they have been brought along on the journey from the start, have the same vision for success and continually support and help each other every step of the way. Just because it’s written in your PR agency contract that they will handle the first draft of every press release, that doesn’t mean that the in-house leader can’t and shouldn’t offer to pitch in and take on that task when the PR agency’s time would be better served focusing on key media pitching.

That being said, there are times when a company is too small in size and doesn’t have the budget (yet) to bring on a PR agency. In those instances, bringing on an in-house content and communications powerhouse could be an alternative solution. But it’s important that this person has an absolute love and talent for writing (all types of content – long and short-form), is fearless and creative, isn’t afraid to ask tough questions, has a natural ability to find the best and most compelling stories and, more importantly, can be honest when a story just isn’t a story.

The Makegood: Today, “Big Data” is a buzzword in every industry. What are the most important metrics you watch for and how do you accurately collect them? Has this changed with the rise of new technology and digital media?

Even for someone who isn’t a numbers person, big data has very much become my friend, my confidante and my success driver. Data, as I say all the time, tells the best stories. And in the world of digital and technology PR, it’s exciting and impactful to leverage data to communicate trends, challenges and priorities – all in the form of research studies, benchmark studies, campaign trend reports and infographics. Any PR pro within the technology space who isn’t always looking at data to tell different stories is missing out.

Of course, as a communications and PR professional, there are certain metrics that I watch and set out to hit and surpass every quarter. These will include a targeted number of press hits, a targeted quality/type of press hits, a targeted number of in-person press meetings (with top-tier media outlets), a minimum number of speaking engagements (unpaid) at major industry conferences and award submissions, just to name a few. Thanks to tools like PR Newswire, Sysomos, Google Alerts and Google Analytics, it’s become much easier and reliable to collect and measure against these metrics.

The Makegood: Now that digital media is such a prominent aspect of the public relations mix, how do you see social media playing a part? Should every organization be using this to market their brand? When should social media be avoided?

We live in a very social world. Everything is on social before it’s anywhere else. Whether it’s the news of PR pro Justine Sacco’s racially-derogatory tweet going viral on Twitter, or the news of the latest turmoil in the Middle East, social media sites like Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn have transformed something as mundane as short bursts of content into an art form.

When it comes to B2B PR/communications, social media should be used in a very specific way. It shouldn’t serve as a boastful, self-serving mouthpiece for a brand and why it’s “amazing” and “loved” by clients. Rather, it should be human, authentic, real, witty and, most of all, include a combination of brand-related content and curated content that speaks to what matters to the brand, its personality and its mission as a whole. This is where I see so many B2B brands struggling. They will only post Tweets or Facebook posts or LinkedIn discussions when it’s self-serving or promoting owned content. I always say to my teams – nobody likes a braggart. The value (and indirect sell) of everything we say on social media should come from the conversation itself, the honesty, the candor and the willingness to debate and pose questions for improvement. So when you’re at an industry event and you’re attending panel after panel, share insightful tidbits from panelists and speakers. Show pictures or videos from sessions that truly inspire you. If they inspire you, they’ll inspire others – like your clients, prospects and analysts. The more quality content you share on social media, the more quality follows, likes, tweets and retweets you’ll see. And best of all, curating social content live from events can spur additional press coverage and recognition for your brand.

The Makegood: In your current position as Director of Content and Communications at Maxymiser, as well as your previous roles, you have interacted with numerous brands and customers. What is the best advice you can give companies who decide to work with a public relations firm?

The best advice I can give to a company hiring a public relations agency is simple. Hire a team that’s smart, strategic, understands the role and value of content, are independent thinkers, have the types of media relationships that matter to your specific industry (whether it’s B2C, B2B, tech, mobile, etc.) and can build a roadmap to deliver results consistently. When you have that type of collaboration with a PR agency, success will be inevitable.

The Makegood: The Public Relations and Content Marketing fields have a lot of overlap. Can you explain the difference and similarities you see between the two? Are there times one is more important than the other?

In all reality, public relations and content marketing both overlap each other. In today’s digitally driven environment, a company cannot just hire a PR professional who has no skills or expertise in building a content strategy, editorial planning and content development. Without content, PR for B2B companies will typically fall flat. Similarly, a company wouldn’t be well served by hiring a content marketing professional who doesn’t understand the unique differences in lead-generation content and PR-focused content. Both have equal value to a business, but both have very different tones, audiences, style and content. Both support each other and make each other better. When a company trusts and respects the value of both, success will be very achievable.

The Makegood: Thank you, Ragini.

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