Of the multi-channels of product and service marketing, public relations seems to be the one most often misunderstood to the degree that it’s sometimes viewed as an amorphous promotional device, a little like ectoplasm that occasionally takes solid shape as media stories. Some corporate marketers see it as the stepchild of advertising, and still others find it so mysterious, that they adopt a laissez-faire policy with their PR people until it’s time for them to account for how they spent the PR budget. This is fine if the company and its PR people could read minds, and since that’s not possible, the next best thing is verbal communications.
The corporate marketer must communicate goals and objectives, and the PR representative must advise client or employer of how it intends to fulfill those goals and quantify results. Information sharing is at the core of a successful PR program. This means that the company must provide the tools for PR, including feedback and a budget commensurate with the level of PR activity. It must dedicate time for brainstorming story angles, and above all, approve content in a timely manner:
- Explain your goals and objectives thoroughly to your PR representative. He or she should prepare an annual plan that meets each goal with strategies and tactics for achieving it. Included in the plan should be clear methods for measuring the outcome. One way to measure publicity is to arm your PR counsel with a dedicated 800 telephone number or code they can use in their press releases. This way, callers who read a published article can refer to the code, and you can trace back the call to publicity. Unless the company product or service is brand new, upscale, and/or unusual, which endows it with a virginal message to editors, on-going development of story hooks is essential. Set aside face or telephone time each month to explore story ideas with your PR counsel. Story hooks can be hinged on lifestyle and behavioral trends, providing fresh media fodder.
- Approve press releases and kit materials, quickly. Many small PR agencies cannot afford errors and omission insurance, which is why they insist on written approval of their press releases. The sooner you approve the material, the sooner your stories are published.
- Budget for results. Your PR people cannot provide $5,000 a month in services if you have only budgeted $2,500. It must assign staff to the account, and because the process is service-intensive, press kit reproduction, media request fulfillment, media clipping services, long distance telephone and other costs have to be billed back. If you are keen on keeping down costs, make a deal with your agency that if they refrain from marking up the bills, you will pay within 30 days.
- Give your PR people enough time to produce. It can take up to a year and beyond to plant stories, because media lead times are getting farther out. If an editor promises a full-page feature but the results are only a quarter page, it is likely that more advertising space was sold that month, eclipsing editorial space.