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Why You Should Add Public Relations to Your Digital Mix

Yvonne Hall
April 8, 2019

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I know what you are thinking -- public relations, really? Isn't that an old school tactic that is only used for damage control these days? No, my friend, no it is not. 

Inbound marketing and public relations are birds of a feather (and yes they should flock together). Many business people put these in the same marketing category of initiatives they don't understand. However, when you look at the big picture, long-term effects that these two marketing initiatives can have on your business, you'll see how critical they are for business success. 

Back in the day, that's what people like me say when referring to the business world prior to social media (yes there was life prior to social media), there were only a few ways to promote businesses, products, and events: advertising, sales, and public relations (PR). PR was always like a red-headed step child or the middle sibling -- always around, often forgotten, and rarely nurtured. You see leadership teams and c-suite executives prefer marketing tactics that have very clear and defined metrics and returns on investment (ROI).

Back then, prior to the depth of digital media offerings and associated analytics, it was more difficult to show direct returns on PR efforts vs. advertising or sales. In advertising scenarios, you spent a set amount of money to reach a set number of subscribers, listeners, or watchers to see/read/hear your ad. You may have additional ad creation costs from a graphic designer but often times medium size companies just had the media outlet create the ad to reduce in-house staffing or other out of pocket fees. This also made calculating ROI very clear! So here's how those scenarios looked (back in the day):

An advertising professional would call up the local TV station and say they want an ad placed on that channel and would give parameters -- who they want to reach, budget they have to spend, any time parameters, etc. -- and the TV station employee would reply with the best TV spot/ad time/location to reach those goals and provide a price. The ad was created and run at the desired time/date and a set number of people would see the ad (yes, this type of advertising happened before TiVO and DVRs too so they couldn't fast forward). It was pretty easy to say a certain number of people were shown the ad and the business would get calls or walk-in business in relation to that ad. Those are easy numbers, cost of ad + production divided by number of viewers = how much the ad cost per viewer. You could take that a step farther and instead divide by how many sales happened in the same time frame that the ad was running on television. 

A sales professional from this same business might launch a cold call campaign by purchasing a list of people who fit the target audience parameters. He would then proceed to call these people when they are likely to be home (yes, this was also prior to common use of or knowledge of cellular/mobile phones). When the entires list had been contacted (or attempted to be contact several times) the numbers again are easy and even easier than advertising, cost of list divided by number of sales.  

Now let's look at how this played out in PR back then. A public relations professional creates a story angle and writes a press release or maybe just a press pitch. He or she then uses a media list to deliver this press release to relevant media representative OR calls reporters/editors to 'pitch' them on the story idea. Now, keep in mind that not every pitch or press release ends up in the news, but let's say this one does and the business is mentioned in a TV news segment. Now let's talk about those numbers. There's no creation cost to consider (did you notice our previous equations did not mention salary or overhead costs either?) but we can divide that $0 by number of viewers = total cost per viewer. That should make leadership happy right? Brand awareness increase for ZERO out of pocket. But often that equation just doesn't make sense to the c-suite level who focus on the numbers. 

Which initiative would you have chosen? Most say $0 out of pocket costs for an increase in awareness. I agree (I'm a little biased since this is my degree area). But wait, there's MORE! We haven't even covered how the consumer responds to each of these initiatives! 

A Forbes article agrees that many business professionals still don't understand the difference between advertising and PR. If business leaders don't understand, how can we expect consumers to understand? Robert Wynne, Forbes Contributing writer explains, "Advertising is paid media, public relations is earned media." That sums up what we discussed above with the three scenarios to promote a business or event. But here is the part that makes PR the big winner of the three initiatives -- consumer perception. Wynne continues, "your story has more credibility because it was independently verified by a trusted third party, rather than purchased." The difference is perception and this has been the PR advantage for ages. PR not only gets eyes on your business or products, it helps bolster the consumer perception of your business or product. 

In the age of digital media we now have better ways to measure how effective PR can be if that PR mention is also shared online. Your website's Google Analytics tracks the sources of where your visitors come from. Finally PR professionals can better prove those viewer numbers. You can also now track the propensity of a site visitor who came from an ad vs. one who came from an article mention to see the typical activities of each. By having an inbound methodology in practice and more information for a visitor to read on your website, this fuels the credibility and moves a prospect down the funnel in a more educated and direct way. 

So you see, PR brings people to your website or product page with education from a media professional. Inbound brings people to your website or product page with education from your business. Both are highly regarded in search algorithms as well and for savvy web consumers, a non-paid search result, not attached to your website, is worth its weight in gold. 

Not sure what is involved in creating public relations options for your business? You'll at a minimum need a list of media that might cover your business/product niche and a well-crafted press release to share with them. If you are interested in talking more about PR and how it might fit into your marketing mix, contact us to set up a meeting. 

Inbound PR at HIVE Digital Strategy