Wednesday, September 14, 2016

PR Needs to Measure Its "Beautiful Snowflakes"

Many PR people view the articles written about their organization like snowflakes - each one beautiful and unique. But, in many ways, that shouldn’t be true if they’ve done their job correctly. A journalist may take some license in how they present the information but you should be able to look across multiple articles and see some consistency in message, spokesperson, products, tone, etc.
Increasingly PR pros need to understand that articles need to be treated like data points that add up to something much greater than their “feel good” impact that comes from seeing the company's name in print.

The basis for good PR measurement comes from finding ways turn words into data. The modern PR team needs to get comfortable with topics like database management, meta tags and correlation if they want to show the business value they deliver.

Key to this effort is setting up strong systems and tools that allow teams to look at individual elements like message pick up, executive presence, tonality, performance on key competitive attributes and other elements of the earned coverage and correlate them to marketing and business data like web traffic, brand perception, net promoter score, MQL, AQL and even sales.

 Here's a couple ways to get started with that process:

  •  Database your and the competition’s coverage - every piece if possible but at the very least a representative sample from key publications, websites and other outlets. Only by looking at coverage in a consistent way over time will you be able to identify the factors that have the greatest impact on your business data. Capturing your competitors coverage gives you a way to benchmark yourself against industry performance.
    Databases can be as simple as an Excel spreadsheet or a more complex online system but be careful to distinguish between content collection or monitoring systems and a measurement solution. Content collection systems can help you populate your database and may offer some services to meta tag that coverage with message pick-up, tonality, competitor mentions, etc. but unless you have customized your database to align with your communications goals, you’ll be overwhelmed with data that offers very little value.

  •  Meta tag based on how you are spending your PR program dollars. If you are spending money to drive product reviews or executive visibility or trade show briefings, you'll need a way to evaluate what coverage resulted and the quality of that coverage based on the goals of those programs. Your database should allow you to identify the factors that drove coverage so you can gauge how those programs are performing, not just in driving coverage but also where they contribute to business performance.
  • Start integrating your data into marketing reviews. Only by taking the time to review what you've collected against business data will you start to uncover the impact. It may take several review cycles before patterns emerge as you isolate various factors. Don’t over commit to how quickly you will be able to show value from the measurement program. You may need 6-9 months to get the database structured correctly and find correlations with other marketing and business data.
  • Value quality over quantity. Many measurement projects start as an attempt to perform a coverage census – namely, capture every single mention of the company or organization. Instead, look to perform a survey by capturing a representative sample of coverage and focus your resources on improving the quality of insights you are deriving from your database. That could mean improving the meta tag structure to allow for better correlations or spending more time teasing out insights or streamlining the project to focus on only the high value programs so you can better tie those results to the business impact.

While PR will continue to be an art, applying science to how we portray our results can help ensure that the winter wonderland our beautiful snowflakes create get just as many “oohs” and “aahs” from our colleagues as the coverage itself.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

4 Tips for Securing B2B PR's Holy Grail

For B2B PR pros, the customer case study is a bit like the Holy Grail - highly sought after but hard to find. As peer- and influencer-driven purchasing habits continue to rise, customer references are increasingly important to driving sales. And as PR pros know, customer references are usually a journalist's first request.

But getting customers to agree to provide a reference can be difficult for a number of reasons. Customers often cite the belief that your product or service offers them a competitive advantage, a desire to control how their brand is presented to the world or managing the volume of reference requests as factors preventing them for participating. For the individual who fields your reference request, it can also involve securing approvals from multiple layers within the company (departmental leads, the executive team, corporate communications, legal, etc.). At the end of the day, asking a customer to share their success story requires a significant effort and a whole lot of trust.

So, what can PR pros due to lower the barriers for the customer participation while establishing the strong relationship with the buyer necessary for securing a case study? By starting with small asks that are easier to fulfill, you can demonstrate your value while you build a relationship with them.

Here are 4 ways to get customers involved, starting with the ideas that take the least investment on their side:
  1. Ask for customers to participate in social media - Social media remains a simple way to get customers engaged and offers many opportunities to build stronger relationships. Start by asking customers to share your news. Often times this type of request significantly lowers the internal barriers that your buyer faces. They can use their personal social media channels vs. the company channels to promote your product or service which reduces the internal approvals required. They can also support you without having to share details about their specific implementation. You can amplify that support on your social channels and point reporters to it. Once a level of trust and participation is established, you can
  2. Write a guest blog post for them - This can be another easy ask of customers especially if you offer to ghost write it for them. If you make your buyer sound like an expert in their field while laying the foundation for future sales, you both benefit. Blog posts don't have to be about a customer's specific implementation, either. Your buyers can lend their credibility by establishing the need for your product or service; outlining key buying decision factors; or reviewing specific features and functionality.
  3. Logo usage - Asking a new customer to use their logo on your website and press materials might seem pretty straightforward but starting here can be risky. What if the customer says "no?" A company's logo is an extension of their brand and many like to keep tight control over its usage. Being told you can't use the customer logo makes all future requests for support more difficult. Some vendors don't ask at all, either in their haste to take advantage of the new customer win or as a deliberate strategy to avoid being told "no." For PR pros trying to decide how to move forward, it comes down to your organization's level of comfort with asking forgiveness vs. asking permission. If you use a customer's logo in presentations to media without asking, your sales and executive teams may end up having an uncomfortable conversation later when your customer discovers the unauthorized use. Work with your sales leaders, customer relationship teams and executives to develop an approach that best fits your organization's relationship with customers and appetite for risk. The best path forward may be some hybrid approach.
  4. Event participation - This can be a larger ask but if you are willing to invest to get the buyer to attend, it can yield tremendous benefits. Even if the customer doesn't participate directly in meetings with the press, video of stage presentations at the event can be repurposed with reporters without requiring additional participation of your buyer.
While it may take time to secure a full blown customer reference, this approach offers PR teams with numerous opportunities to take advantage of that new customer win. For more reading on how to create willing customer advocates, check out this great piece.

Friday, March 12, 2010

A contrarian approach to marketing

A great deal of marketing success depends on standing out from the crowd. Sometimes to do that requires a contrarian approach. When everyone is going this way, brands can stand out by going a different way.

Emerging digital media like Twitter, Facebook, Google Buzz are the rage among marketers these days and are quickly on their way to becoming prerequisites for any good campaign. Meanwhile, “real world” engagement – in-store promotions, POS displays, product sampling, etc. – seems to be out-of-fashion. It’s unclear whether it’s due to lack of consumer response or the perceived costs of establishing a physical presence and the relatively smaller audience that can be reached when compared to what the Web might allow.

But there is an opportunity for brands who go their own way. With thousands of brands trying to make their case through social media, a well-constructed and engaging face-to-face interaction with a brand can cut through the noise. In fact, if that physical presence is unique enough and it can actually reach a broader audience by compelling those you meet in person to reach out to their networks through social media.

Two small recent examples of this strategy. Emerald City Improv recently organized a goofy promotion by organizing a human choo choo train through downtown Seattle. The effort was covered by the Seattle P-I and caused a number of folks to tweet about their effort.

Second is my own personal experience. After attending a recent panel session on leveraging digital media, not only did I swap business cards and Twitter handles with those that I met but I also mailed each of them a note highlighting what I remembered about our conversation. I got replies from all of them including a few invites to follow-up meetings. In the past, I’ve performed the perfunctory “follow/follow back” dance on Twitter after these events and those engagements have never led to anything more.

Only by going against the grain did my “brand” stand out.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

10 ways you can measure PR's impact on the business

One of the major hurdles in adopting new forms of PR measurement is isolating the impact of PR activity on business metrics. Many PR professionals feel paralyzed when facing this issue, not having the resources or the know-how to tackle such a complex project. As a result, PR continues to get left out of the conversation of marketing’s impact on the business, a dangerous position when budget time comes. Last year’s market decline created a game changing shift. Accountability to business metrics is no longer optional.

Fortunately, this hurdle is easily overcome simply by shifting the premise of the conversation. The underlying assumption is that PR has to show its value independent of the other marketing functions. But this assumption really emanates from the internal structure of the business which assigns teams, budgets, etc. to distinct areas like PR, advertising, etc. Customers, however, don’t react to a company’s communications in this fashion. They may see an ad (placed by the ad team) that prompts them to search the web for more info (SEO team) and find an article in a trade publication (PR team) which convinces them to visit the company’s website (web team) where they download a case study (marketing team) and then pop over to a retailer or website where point of sale communications (channel team) seal the deal.

Since the ultimate marketing goal is to get the desired business result, it doesn’t make sense to start measuring by trying to isolate the impact of one function. PR simply needs to start integrating with other disciplines to better illustrate how our activity aligns with the broader goal. While we may not have direct insight into customer attitudes and behavior, these other disciplines do.

Search metrics, web site visits, post-purchase surveys, market research, even social media all provide clues to customer behavior. By creating ways to correlate PR activity to data captured by other groups, we start getting a more complete picture of how outbound communications are impacting customer behavior. We may not be able to isolate the specific contributions of PR vs. advertising, POS, etc. but we can point to the fact that PR activity aligns with the desired business outcome and even show how it is playing a role in moving the customer through the funnel from awareness to purchase.

Once PR results are integrated into the broader marketing mix, larger organizations may want to take the additional step of optimizing the marketing spend by determining which disciplines had the greatest impact on the result but that typically is an expensive and long term project. Companies need to have very large marketing expenditures to expect any benefit from this effort.

Below are ten ways to start correlating PR’s impact on customer and target audience behavior. Some can be executed solely by the PR team but most would benefit from tight alignment with the other outward-facing functions within the company. Consider these starting points for a larger conversation with other dataholders about how you can work together to mutual benefit.

10 ways you can measure business outcomes
- Use Google Insights to correlate the impact of launches and announcements on audience search activity
- Use PR-unique URLs to gauge traffic driven to a website from PR efforts
- Use a PR-unique variation on a promotion code to track online sales related to PR efforts
- Track downloads of white papers and case studies promoted through PR activity
- Conduct message recall and retention survey and correlate with message pick-up in the media
- Capture/measure favorability of blog comments, discussion groups and tweets as a proxy for consumer perception
- Use Crimson Hexagon to measure topics of conversation in online forums (Twitter, blogs, forums, etc.) as a proxy for consumer perception; correlate with message pick-up in the media
- Work with the sales team to identify marketing influences on the customer; correlate customer mentions of PR to PR activity
- Conduct a post-purchase survey to identify sources of information utilized by customers during consideration of product
- Work with your web team to track customer’s online activity after they visit your company blog (do they visit product/service information pages on your site? do they visit an e-commerce site?)

Friday, April 17, 2009

Can PR measurement save companies?

I had an interesting conversation with a client this week about the role of PR measurement within his corporation. While it started as a dialogue about how we demonstrate ROI and justify our program dollars, we quickly moved on to a much more interesting chat about how we could leverage our measurement program in a much more meaningful way.

His concern was less about measurement as an evaluative tool but more appropriately centered around using PR measurement as a means to surface real challenges to the brand and its ability to connect with customers and prospects. The idea is to move from a reactive position relative to the program to truly using PR measurement to look "around the corner" and anticipate issues that not only impact the communications function but, potentially the whole organization.

As PR professionals, we frequently are the first responders to emerging trends in our organizations thanks to the breadth of conversations we have with editors, reporters, stakeholders, etc. about all facets of our market. For example, Walmart PR first encountered the environmental movement long before the company began adopting green business practices.

A confidential 2004 report, prepared by McKinsey & Company for Wal-Mart, found that 2 percent to 8 percent of Wal-Mart consumers surveyed had ceased shopping at the chain because of “negative press they have heard.” Wal-Mart executives and Wall Street analysts began referring to the problem as “headline risk.”

I can count numerous occasions throughout my career when I or my colleagues were forecasting major business shifts prior to their realization. When we were representing Rio MP3 players in 2000, Apple suddenly entered the market with a hardware, software and services offering called iPod and iTunes. At the time, Rio had successfully fought off challenges from larger competitors like Sony, Samsung and others to keep a majority of the market share but it was immediately clear that Apple's entry was a game changer because of how it solved many of the pain points for consumers, pain points that the media surfaced long before the iPod hit the market.

Could PR measurement have saved Rio by highlighting these issues before Apple's market entry? Probably not, but the point is we're often the first to spot game changing competitive threats, emerging issues like the growing environmental consciousness of consumers, or changes in behavior that may lead to new opportunities. How often have we taken that info beyond our communications fiefdom to the broader organization?

The difference between then and now is that PR didn't have the seat at the executive table or the near real time tools to measure these shifts and use them to move the core business. With the relative influence of our brethren in advertising on the wane thanks to the current economic decline and the opportunity to surface real consumer insights (or at least a reasonable proxy that could point to areas for further examination) through social media channels, now is the time for PR to elevate itself as a true vehicle for change within the larger organizations.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

3 Tips for Public Speaking

Last week, in the space of 24 hours, I had three unrelated experiences and each one reminded me of key elements of powerful public speaking and verbal communication.

I attended a panel session with several reporters discussing the current crisis in the newspaper business. All were very articulate and made great points about the state of the industry and the direction it was headed. One week later, I remember three things, all of them quotes by one of the panelists.

"Blogging is just beat reporting."
"Investigative journalism is prize driven."
"The press pass is overrated."

The panelist went on to expand on all of those points but the brevity of those statements gave me a mental hook that I could remember (and have been quoting since).

Providing these brief, colorful declarative statements is critical if you hope to have your audience remember the content of your speech days, weeks and months after the fact.

Story telling
My wife Amy has been taking classes to improve her public speaking and she asked me to act as her audience the other night. She is smart and articulate and had a well structured presentation but she kept freezing up when she had to deliver. After a bit of trial and error, we discovered the problem was in her transitions. She was struggling with how to move the conversation from one point to the next. She ended up writing the first four or five words of each transition statement on her card which helped her smoothly move from one thought to the next in her presentation.

What she was really struggling with was story telling - how do I keep this presentation moving in a compelling way instead of reciting a string of unconnected information? Good story telling is critical to keeping an audience engaged, especially in an age where mobile devices can easily distract.

I am working with the endowment committee of my parish grade school to create a compelling video to share with the school community explaining the importance of a gift to the endowment. While we could explain the technical details, we were struggling to find a compelling way to reach people on an emotional level. We were trying to link endowment gifts with their historical antecedent - the work of religious orders who literally subsidized the school with their labor. The decline in religious orders (in part) has led to the rise of endowments.

One of the committee members shared with the group the Prayer of St. Teresa of Avila (which she had heard at a grade school prayer meeting the day before) which says "Christ has no body on earth but ours, no hands but ours, no feet but ours."
We instantly knew this was the connective tissue that we'd been searching for. Another member suggested having the video start with images of children reciting the prayer. From there, the video built itself.

Compelling imagery can activate the heart and passion of audiences to take a presentation beyond a cerebral level. Much of the compelling oratory in history has been centered on strong imagery.

What else do you have to add? Comment below.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Nation of Hypocrites? Shrinking the National "Service Gap"

A week ago, President Barack Obama called for a new era of personal responsibility and national service to overcome the current challenges facing America. Today, Porter Novelli released some interesting research that shows how far we have to go.

Porter Novelli's study shows a significant "service gap," the difference between the number of people who claim specific causes are important to them and those who actually have donated time to the cause.

For high profile categories like health research and environmental causes, the gap is over 60 percentage points. The smallest gap was volunteer care giving at 34 percentage points, but that was largely due to less interest in the cause, not more participation. When we do get involved, it's often on behalf of our children. Improving schools and mentoring youth had the highest engagement at 17 percent.

The good news is that the data comes from a survey conducted in June 2008 and we've seen signs that Americans are making a renewed commitment to service.

If this positive trend is to continue, organizations are going to have to prepare themselves for different levels of engagement. With increasing unemployment, there certainly will be a number of committed volunteers on which to build programs. But there also needs to be a move to tap those who have less available time and fewer resources in unique and interesting ways.

The way to do that seems to be bringing these problems "home" for Americans. The categories that have the highest level of participation are those that personally impact us through our loved ones - caring for our children, parents and disabled relatives. Helping connect us on a personal level with systemic social problems like homelessness, poverty, starvation, literacy and health research will be a key challenge for closing the "Service Gap."