Whenever you make an investment, you want to make sure it’s worthwhile. This sentiment rings true when brands are trying to decide whether or not to hire PR professionals. When doing so, many brands will ask one specific question: Is PR a guarantee? It’s understandable, really: They want to make sure that their upfront costs — whether it’s paying a freelancer, PR agency, or hiring a specialist for in-house work — will pay off in the long-run. To take it one step further, some will cater to the question to fit their needs: Is PR a guarantee for media coverage/ brand awareness/ image repair/ etc.?
The hard truth: There are never any guarantees in PR. Like many other facets of your business, PR can be a gamble. There’s no guarantee that the editors of magazines will want to include your product in their gift guides. Or that your publicist’s pitch will catch the eye of the producer on your city’s top morning show. Or that people — customers, social media followers, the general public, and so forth — will feel compelled to talk about your brand organically. With the right PR strategies in place, however, brands can achieve everything they set out to.
When hiring professionals, brands need to remember that PR is a form of earned media; an advertisement is a form of paid media. In many ways, PR is a perfect blend of visibility and credibility. “You can pay for visibility in a variety of ways, but you can't buy credibility,” Ilana Zalika, CEO and founder of Resound Marketing, explains. When a brand earns press coverage, it “means your brand/message was deemed credible by an objective, respected third-party.”
On that point, Ruta Fox, a freelance PR specialist, says that solid PR strategies rely on “a combination of luck, timing and a good story.” She often tells clients that “it’s not in, until it’s in,” a reminder to manage expectations throughout the process. Even the best PR strategies, according to Fox, may not give brands the results they are looking for: “Maybe the writer got the same answers from several people. Maybe the writer did include your client, but an editor cut the piece due to space and left them out. Maybe you were just a bit too late, and the writer got all they needed from other PR people.”
Like it or not, PR doesn’t come with a happiness guarantee — or even a warranty of any kind. If the PR specialist or agency guarantees anything, “it’s a big red flag,” according to Cassie Galasetti, co-founder of Social Sidekick Media, Branding & PR. Throughout the process, there are so many moving parts that no publicist — even the best ones — can't promise media placements, increased target audiences, or improved brand awareness.
Even though it comes without any guarantees, PR is a smart investment for any brand as long as they stay within their budget and adequately communicate their wants to their team. With concrete strategies and time on your side, brands can reap the benefits of PR, as outlined by the specialists below.
How to Get Brands to View PR Strategies As an Investment
Think of it as a foundation for your brand.
Sure, the product or message of the brand is essential. Without solid PR, even the most innovative product or powerful message won’t mean anything. When building a brand, use specialists to create a PR campaign that fits your brand story. “We always tell clients that a PR campaign is like building a house, Phil Lobel, the founder of Lobeline Communications, explains. Start by building a strong foundation so that you can build the rest of the frame. To do this, “try and create buzz with some smaller media outlets, whether that be digital, print or broadcast and work your way up.” Over time, the work you put in at the beginning to build the foundation will pay off, ultimately creating long-term awareness and an incredible ROI (return on investment).
Know that PR builds credibility and trust.
Oftentimes, people confuse public relations with advertising. Commercials and social media campaigns, both common forms of advertising, tend to be here today, gone tomorrow (unless they are one of the rare gems that stand the test of time). On the other hand, public relations is a long-term investment because it’s all about building credibility and trust. “Think about the relationships that you have in your life. Trust doesn't happen overnight. PR works the same way,” says Zalika.
The best PR strategies require patience.
Since PR is rooted in credibility and trust (as stated above), it takes time to be effective. First, get past the idea that PR can be viral or a one-hit-wonder. “Getting a single placement is not going to move the needle,” Zalika tells us. In fact, she points out that the Marketing Rule of 7, which was created back in the 1930s, states that a “consumer has to hear an advertising message at least seven times before they'll act on it.” This is even more important today since everyone is constantly being inundated with new products, brands, and messaging in the digital age. All of this is proof that “PR is most effective when it is cumulative, building through multiple placements over an extended period of time.”
To make it more effective, PR professionals must nurture relationships with the powers that be (editors, writers, and producers at target media outlets) to build traction and gain momentum, according to Annette Malkin, founder of Culturewise Collective. Brands “should be strategic and have a target media list their ideal customers read and also ensure that they have news that’s relevant to that publication.” First, brands must ask PR specialists (or vice versa): What media outlets fit the brand? “The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times are coveted placements, but to be considered, you must ask yourself if you have the right news or angle for these publications, sections or columns,” she explains. Once they nail down an appropriate media list, specialists can build organic relationships with editors, producers, and writers at these outlets. It’s simple: If someone forms a reliable connection with a PR specialist, they’ll be more apt to work with them.
Good PR is really an insurance policy.
A media placement here and there can get your brands in the eyes of all the right people. Over time, this will increase your brand awareness and, ideally, your brand loyalty. In many ways, PR acts as an “insurance policy in maintaining the positive and authentic view of the brand in the eyes of the end-user or consumer,” says Alison Seibert, founder and principal of The James Collective. “By using PR as a brand builder and an insurance policy, the company can have a tool to proactively build goodwill and also manage any issues that may arise in a capacity that is both proactive and authentic.”
PR strategies are never really a failure.
Even in the worst-case scenario — say, a PR agency doesn’t help your brand get as many media mentions as you’d like — you can still reap the benefits. At the very least, “now you have a clear, concise message about your brand and its story that you can use on social media and your website,” Galasett explains. In cases where brands work with an agency or freelancer separate from the company, this work may give them a different, out-of-the-office perspective that can help their brand messaging going forward. And if your brand struggles to communicate its message or products properly, “use those press releases or pitches as content for your website, blog and social media networks.”