As an avid believer and witness to the power of PR, I’m baffled as to why we PR professionals are still justifying our purpose and our discipline’s instrumental impact on the strategic health and growth of a business.
When companies face a financial squeeze or undergo management changes, PR is regularly an area that is scrutinized regarding its bottom-line value. However, when I look at the significant overall effect we make, I just don’t get it. Yes, there are common marketing tactics, like PPC ads, that can show direct qualified leads and revenue gains, but their impact is short term and can even be short-lived. In most cases, these digital marketing programs don’t directly contribute to shaping and defining a new market, creating a new category, positioning the company as an authority, building trust, connecting with stakeholders to build long-term relationships, safeguarding the business through the worst of times, and positively positioning it for maximum growth. PR’s contribution needs to be assessed beyond leads, as its purpose is much greater.
While PR is extremely pivotal to a growth-orientated business, it gets labeled as a cost center because the number of leads, new clients or exact revenue numbers can’t be tied to it directly. Here are some of the longer-term benefits of investing in PR that may otherwise be difficult to achieve:
• Share positive, unbiased company news.
• Tell stories that drive a connection with your customers.
• Educate buyers.
• Demonstrate thought leadership expertise—show you know your trade and what’s good for your customer.
• Credibly get to the top of a vendor list that is earned, not paid.
• Help create an admired company.
• Achieve syndicated coverage.
• Build trust.
• Rectify an issue before it gets out of hand.
• And so on …
If PR is to be judged by leads as its only contributor, then do yourself, your agency team and your prospective client a favor by walking away from the opportunity. It will save short-term headaches and disappointment for everyone involved. In fact, when a client mentions leads to me early on in a new business conversation, it is a clear sign that the business or the individual misunderstands PR, and there’s a PR ROI misalignment at play. I guarantee that by 90 days of the contract, you will be justifying your agency’s value and by 180 days, the partnership will be over. Sad but true.
I have seen PR achieve sizeable returns for brands, but it doesn’t mean I can necessarily put a number on it. How does one measure damage litigation with rogue employees, DEI representation to attract new talent and business, $80 million new investment due to extensive brand credibility in major tech and business titles, hyper-local market launches to support recruitment and new partnerships, and inclusion in significant analyst reports that drove client inquiries? The list goes on.
So, in essence, it is my opinion that PR professionals need to stop having lead conversations. It is not the space that we play in, as our value is much more strategic and can grow a brand beyond a weekly lead target. PR is not table stakes, and we are not part of a lead conversation.