I used to work at another PR agency whose main focus was media relations and getting media placement for clients. We didn’t measure website traffic, and there were no real metrics we were tracking; the focus was strictly on quantity of media placement. Not even quality, just quantity.
This was back in the old days when you would print out a media clip and put it in a plastic sheet in a big three ring binder. Each client had a binder full of the media placements we’d worked to get them. One day early on in my time there, my boss said, “You need to be able to go into a meeting with a client and wow them with the ‘thud factor’.” As in the thud the binder makes when you put it on the conference room table!
Believe it or not, that’s how we measured our success: how good is the client’s “thud factor”? Literally, how heavy is their binder full of media placements? In hindsight, that method was super bizarre, but I think a lot of agencies still operate that way. Their sole focus is on getting as much media placement for a client as possible.
Focusing on Business Impact
If we’re strictly focused on the number of media placements (or the number of likes on social, etc.) instead of on the impact these media placements are having on the audience, are we actually achieving anything? We as PR people need to focus on how PR fits into the client’s bigger business picture. What’s the business objective, and how can PR help to achieve that objective?
At Geben, early on in every relationship with every new client, we lead with the same question: “What is the business problem we’re trying to solve?”
This simple question gets right at the essence of what kind of help the business needs, and helps us devise a plan to attack that specific issue.
Finding the Right Client Fit
In discussions with a potential client, we have to consider whether they are someone we can truly help. For example, PR isn’t a magic wand that can fix a bad product. So if someone wants to use PR for something we can’t actually help with, we try to assess that early on.
It’s no good to jump into a relationship we can already tell won’t be successful! So prospects who don’t seem like a true fit are naturally filtered out. This way, when we’re engaging with a new client, we’re already pretty confident they have a problem we can help solve.
Adapting Strategy to Solve the Right Business Problem
Clients may not necessarily know how PR can solve their problem, but they do know what challenge they’re facing. For instance, a lot of times, especially in B2B sales-driven organizations, the problem is that they need more leads. PR is a valuable tool tool for generating more leads, particularly at the top of the sales funnel, so we can build a strategy around that.
We have a large retail client that is almost exclusively focused on revenue and sales and doesn’t care much about social engagement, followers, likes, etc. For them, one of the top priorities is profit margin. When we run a social advertising campaign to sell product, how much money did we spend to hit the sales target? Is it a good margin, or not? What can we tweak to improve the margins? A huge part of their success hinges on very technical business intricacies that PR people historically haven’t focused on; however, we focus on those financial nuances because that’s what is important to the client.
We know that engagement and size of the online community are key indicators that we need to track. We need a smart approach to organic and paid social content to ensure we hit the product sales goals. By pushing ourselves to think beyond traditional social metrics and taking a multi-pronged approach to social, this client has begun exceeding revenue goals tied to social media — something they hadn’t done in the prior twelve months.
I think it is best practice to always begin a client relationship by getting at the essential business problem. While this sort of investigation might not have the dramatic effect of, say, the thud of a heavy binder on a conference table—it is no doubt a more direct route to success.