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Why PR didn’t work for you and what to do about it

The Public Relations industry is infamously misunderstood. Some envision party-planning and swag bags, while others think PR specialists are the ones writing the stories you read in magazines and online. And of course there are those who think PR and advertising are the same. Even more disconcerting, some are under the impression that PR doesn’t add value to a company’s bottom line.

In reality, PR is a dynamic discipline with a plethora of diverse daily tasks that include high-level strategy and integration with departments throughout a company. And as for its effectiveness on a company’s success, PR often plays a leading role in forging and recalibrating a brand.

As with any business tactic, a failed endeavor can leave a lasting negative impression. Perhaps you had a negative or unsuccessful experience with a PR consultant or agency, where the ROI could not be measured (or wasn’t even considered in the first place). When connecting with a potential new client, we strongly support reviewing past agency experiences, because embracing lessons learned is essential to future success.

But be sure this reflection is an honest one that considers the role of all parties. In doing so, you’ll likely agree that there are two common culprits in a failed PR engagement: poor fit and undisclosed expectations. So whether you’ve felt burned by the PR process or don’t yet clearly understand its purpose and value, we suggest taking these points into consideration:

  1. PR takes time to blossom

Unlike advertising, which has guaranteed placement and can in some ways be up and running in a matter of days, PR takes time. Securing PR results requires more than identifying a good story. PR professionals must also engage the interest of the right reporters and producers, who are the decision-makers. With advertising, the magazine or broadcast outlet’s sales team takes your money and runs your ad. PR is defined as ‘earned media.’ Once a reporter or producer is interested in your story idea, there are still many steps before you see the final results.  This often includes the journalist researching the topic, interviewing your company’s executives and/or customers, as well as representatives from competing organizations, and then actually putting together the story. This takes time, but the result is more powerful because it’s the words of an unbiased source.

The minimum time you should allow for PR services to start showing their true colors and ROI is six months. After nine months a business should experience even stronger ROI, and after one year and beyond, the expected results should increase exponentially.  All the resources — time, effort and expenses — you invested in the first year will pay off, and then some. Give it the required time and be patient, the results will be worth it!

  1. Know your goals

Do you want to increase company awareness and grow your business? Those objectives require specific strategies. Unfortunately, there are often “distractions” that takeaway from focusing on the goals, such as an executive’s ego that gets in the way. A client may say they want to showcase the business’s capabilities and unique offerings so that the bottom line grows or new investors express interest. But as the PR program unfolds, there are demands for media coverage that spotlights the executive, focusing more on individual rather than corporate brand building.  Sometimes executives are the brand and the strategy focuses on their thought leadership, but if it does not, egos must be pushed aside!  Don’t lose sight of what you are truly trying to achieve, and stick to the plan.

  1. Understand what PR can achieve

Due to misconceptions regarding the true role of Public Relations, clients can end up dissatisfied because they were expecting an outcome that can’t be achieved through PR. For example, do you want to increase traffic to your website? PR results will certainly influence that, as brand recognition leads more and more customers to check out your site. But if you’re actual need is the creation of an e-commerce presence and progressive SEO efforts, PR should not take the lead. Another example is trade shows. Again, PR will support your participation in a trade show by arranging interviews with attending media and issuing press releases about product announcements you make at the event. But don’t look to a PR firm to create your tradeshow booth, produce giveaways and serve as a sales team. It’s imperative to hone in on what type of marketing initiatives best suit the goals. If you’re not sure just ask. Quality marketing people can direct you to the more appropriate expert(s).

  1. One size does not fit all

PR agencies, like companies in any service industry, come in all sizes, shades and shapes. PR agencies can be large or small or even sole practitioners. They may specialize in a specific vertical industry or have more broad-reaching areas of expertise. Choose wisely before purchasing. When consulting with a PR agency, make sure to discuss your goals and their experience.  Double check that the services offered fit the needs of your company.