Traditionally, high-profile publications were the yardstick by which PR measurement happened. The aim was visibility, no matter what. Even if you didn’t get a single lead from a mention, you felt great knowing your brand got a sliver of print.
As a result, far too many discussions between public relations agencies and clients went something like this:
Client: “Can you get our company in The New York Times? Maybe the Wall Street Journal, too?”
PR Agency: “That’s what we do.”
Today, though, we have the power to be much more nuanced with PR. Why, then, are so many PR agencies living in the past and pushing vanity metrics like value equivalency or mentions on well-known sites? They’re overlooking what really matters: connecting your press mentions to your overarching sales and marketing goals and building your credibility. After all, 32% of journalists today struggle to maintain credibility, and part of that goes back to finding credible sources. Imagine the possibilities for your business if your authority rose among them.
Certainly, it’s wonderful if you get a showy mention for your business in a well-known publication. But that’s not much help if your target audience isn’t ever going to see you there. Case in point: There’s enormous value in sharing your expertise in a niche industry publication. The publication might have a small readership and zero VIP clout, but if that readership falls in your target audience’s zone, you’re golden.
Placement in national, high-tier publications shouldn’t be your primary or only PR objective. Nor should an endless chase for PR results driven by metrics that sound wonderful but produce nothing of substance. Ideally, your PR agency of choice would agree — but that’s not always the case.
The unfortunate truth is that lots of PR agencies are living in the past. They’re not saying, “Hey, let’s get you noticed in a small publication that will allow long-form quotes and juicy links back to your company website to drive referral traffic.” Rather, they’re trying to woo you with promises of seeing your name in lights.
So, how can you tell a good PR agency from one that’s stuck in the past? Ask yourself these questions:
Some PR agencies will swear that there aren’t tangible PR KPIs you can measure. But that is simply not true. Can PR be tricky in terms of attribution? Sure. It’s not impossible to figure out whether a piece is performing well or not, though. You just have to know what to look for.
Remember: PR is a long-term game. It regularly produces results months or years down the road. We’ve had people read ancient releases and contact our team as a result. Occasionally, those referrals can’t remember exactly where they heard of us, but they recognize our brand. This is why we track PR metrics — such as referral traffic to our owned media pages — diligently.
Having access to your analytics and marketing automation systems (like HubSpot) allows your PR team to evaluate the health of your on-site content in real time. Knowing which content is performing well can inform them (and you!) of what’s currently resonating with your audience. A PR expert could use those nuggets to inspire pitchworthy topics.
Digging into your analytics also allows PR teams to determine the actual value of your press mentions. If a story identifies your brand or a leader’s name and you immediately see a boost in organic search traffic, you can safely assume a correlation between the two events. The same goes for referral traffic when there’s a link back to your website in a press mention.
Hopefully, your PR team sat down with you at the beginning of your relationship to discuss your goals and then continued updating your strategy based on that discussion. If not, your PR efforts might not dovetail with what you hope to do in terms of business growth.
Let’s say you have an SEO goal. Your PR agency should know about the goal, should be advised of your keywords, and should understand the other marketing strategies you have in play. That way, they can pitch stories that include the keywords you’re trying to rank for or be associated with. On the other hand, if your PR team hasn’t asked what you want to do, you’re probably not on the same page or moving forward in the same direction.
This wraps back to what we discussed at the beginning of this article: the PR agency that only pitches to top-tier publications. To be clear, there’s nothing wrong with landing in your dream publication. But something is amiss if that’s the only focus. You want a multipronged approach to pitching, not a single-pronged one that may or may not reach your specific target audience where they are already consuming content online.
Having a robust content placement strategy that uses a variety of tactics to secure press is the key to powerful PR. Mentions in a national VIP publication are just tiny roses on a huge, iced cake: They tend to get all the attention, but their contribution to the whole is ultimately minimal.
Although the role of PR agencies hasn’t changed over the years, the ways they can effectively work with their clients has. Take time today to consider whether your PR is living up to your needs. If not, drop us a line, and we can help you figure out the best way forward.
I’m a senior PR strategist at Intero Digital's Content & PR Division. I have a passion for pop culture, crafting, and desserts (usually chocolate). When I’m not emailing journalists, you can find me making progress on my “to be read” book list or walking my dogs around the neighborhood.