PR has changed a lot in the last decade. It used to be pretty straightforward -- and involve news releases, media and events. But then along came social media and the content-marketing craze, and suddenly everyone seems a little confused about exactly what public relations is and where it fits in.
Misunderstandings like “We hired a PR agency, so I’ll be on the front of Entrepreneur!” or “If we issue a press release, the media will cover our news!” are not uncommon.
The U.S. public relations industry was estimated to be about a $10 billion industry, with more than 7,000 U.S. firms in 2013, according to a First Research study. So clearly, businesses still believe in the power of PR, even if they aren't exactly sure what to expect from it.
Why are so many companies continuously unhappy with their PR results? It's common in the industry to hear someone say, "We hired a PR firm and we got nothing. It was a waste of money.”
Companies jump from agency to agency, doing the same things and making the same mistakes -- instead of taking an internal look at what they might be doing to sabotage their own PR efforts (and the agencies they hire and fire).
Here are six reasons your PR may be failing:
1. Not being ready for PR.
It’s exciting to tell people what you’re working on, but sometimes your story isn’t quite strong enough to share yet. This can happen in the case of exuberant startups or older companies coming out of a crisis period or a downturn.
Perhaps you have not vetted your market messages or competitive positioning. Or your financials might be tough to share in an interview.
Or maybe you do have a great story but you don't have the infrastructure in place to support the interest that public relations will drum up. You should have a plan to scale up the company's response and activities if you're going to invest in public relations.
When the PR team does a great job and the inquiries begin to pour in, you need to be able to answer them, sell appropriately and provide great customer service. Because if you don't, you will have a whole other type of PR issue at hand.
2. Letting ego get in the way.
There are tons of startup founders and CEOs who believe they are changing the world. And some are. But many are not.
When a marketing executive sets realistic expectations for the type of fanfare you can expect via PR, listen. If you think results should be better, have that discussion earlier rather than later.
Your PR counsel can tell you what’s needed so your company can reach the level of success you're seeking.
The problem is that ego can result in not listening, which is equivalent to having unrealistic expectations. And thus the PR will likely fail.
3. Thinking journalists owe you something.
So your PR team secured some really important interviews for you. You sit down and have conversations with the journalists and then great stories appear, right?
But just because a reporter met with you doesn't mean he or she owes you a story. Rather, a reporter owes his or her readers a story -- and if yours wasn't interesting enough, the journalist won't offer it.
4. Not understanding PR's role in the marketing spectrum.
Everyone is defining PR differently these days. Is PR social media, digital content or analyst relations?
You have to be clear inside your own company what the public relations operation is responsible for and the expectations for success.
5. Not measuring results.
Too many PR measurements are based on possibilities and not realities. With today’s data and PR-analytics tools, dig deeper to analyze real outcomes.
Consider the following: Are you engaging with the right audiences? Are these consumers sharing your content and influencing others to buy from your company? Are media articles conveying your company's core messages, positioning it in the correct industry and thus driving traffic and referrals?
Do awards, speaking and events increase sales leads as well as awareness? Which ones perform well and which are a waste of money? What’s working to positively affect the company's bottom line and turn PR from a cost center into a profit center?
6. Working in a vacuum.
Companies often put a big effort into searching for the right PR partner, yet fail to follow through after the publicists are hired.
Agencies can't be successful if they're working in a black hole. Hire publicists you can trust and integrate them into your team. Involve the professionals in discussions and decision making. Trust them with confidential information and updates as things change.
When you fail to communicate clearly and consistently, the publicists will fail. Involve them during the decision making, not after the fact. If you’ve hired the right agency partner, the publicists will have some good counsel to add to the discussion.
PR is an investment of not only your money but also your mindshare. It's not a magic wand and must be weaved into the fabric of a company in order to return the value expected.