It is that time of the year again. Stocktaking is the order of the day. It is time to ‘measure’ success, look at one’s ROI and see if this year has been a hit or a miss. For the service industry such as PR, which relies heavily on intangibles such as customer satisfaction, engagement and innovations this task can be a challenge. That’s not all. Over the years, the role of PR has evolved and so have the clients’ expectations. Today a client does not expect a PR agency to merely resort to typical tactics such as coughing up a press release/editorial and send it to media or to organize a press conference. They are not reposing their faith in the agency that they have chosen merely for providing an ‘n’ number of coverage, media shares or Facebook likes or retweets. They are looking for something more innovative, better defined and strategic in terms of improving their brand presence, sales figures, visibility and above all their ‘influence’ in the media.
With the influx of digital platforms and large number of avenues to publish and options to self-publish, the ‘traditional’ PR roles and tactics may have kicked the bucket and so have the ‘traditional’ tools to measure success in PR. Yes, you have heard it right. It is essentially time to ring out the old and ring in the new. Even in terms of ROI. Here are some pointers to get you started on assessing your agency’s IQ (Influence Quotient) this year:
Influence: Influence is the new word for success. Achieving a high number of coverage in numerous publications, exponential rise in Twitter followers is not always a reliable measure of achievement. You need to ask these questions: Whether these clippings and retweets resulted in actual income or rise in brand awareness? Did the press release resonate with the target readership? Did these digital media followers engage with the brand?
Another valuable indicator of influence is the coverage achieved in the target media list. This is where Big Data and innovative technology tools come in handy. With the help of these cutting edge tools, it is relatively easier to determine suitable markets for your clients, to gain access into them and also measure your influence. So, next time, you leap with joy over the incredible number of coverage achieved, do take a moment and ask yourself: Have I helped my client make inroads into the right target market? Have I helped my clients identify their ideal readers?
An oft overlooked part of influence is the number of times your client is mentioned in an article on the competitor. For businesses, emerging and established alike, this can be an important measure of achievement, especially in increasing brand awareness. Once you identify these articles, it is essential to ask: Was your client mentioned in a favorable way? How was your company depicted in relation to other channel players? This analysis, over a period of time, can indicate the perception of your client in the media.
Media relations: A good PR strategy is a no go without its most vital ingredient: excellent rapport with the press. Often underestimated, the relationships you build with journalists play a critical role in achieving media coverage thereby your client’s influence. This is a good way to assess which publications need more consideration and where you are spot on.
Knowing what a journalist wants and providing them with the requisite information in the proposed deadline is how you garner increased media coverage. From time to time, take stock of the journalist’s activities and assess how they influence your PR plans. Try to foresee what they would want to write about next, either through regular interaction or close evaluation of their reportage. Another factor is leveraging them as a resource to contact other reporters or gather the general knowhow.
It is also important to constantly review and note the list of journalists that have habitually kept in touch with you and also approached you with story ideas. Keep a record of their enquiries and examine the nature of their queries and identify if there is a pattern to their communication.
And always remember to add your journalist contacts to your season’s greeting list and send a personalized card on their respective birthdays.
Innovation is a not a new word in PR. To reiterate the phrase ‘think out of the box’ is like flogging a dead horse. Yet we fall prey to the routine and rigors of the mundane. In such an event, it is time to press the refresh button and get ahead. Think of leveraging PR releases as opportunities for interviews or opinion pieces or part of larger feature stories. There is a need to plan events and drives to constantly innovate the brand’s image in the market. Keep track of industry events, enabling a wider platform for clients to participate. Plan campaigns as a strategy to not just garner media coverage but also to increase sales and increase the bottom line. This can take a longer period of time however, in a way, by achieving positive coverage and an increase in exposure; you are likely to see a momentum in activity at a certain point.
Engagement and Counsel:
As much as PR is a service oriented industry, its role is much wider than providing mere solutions to crisis or problems. Consulting plays a pivotal part in this industry. An agency’s role is not to carry out their client’s needs in a robotic manner. In fact, it is imperative that the agency engages with the client, understands their needs and demands and provide honest feedback to their plans and make recommendations where necessary. Be it to make amends to the press release in order to receive better media traction or propose an alternate approach to the brand’s identity in the market by conducting a full-fledged survey.
Referrals and Recommendations:
If there is anything more uplifting and motivating than a glowing feedback from the clients, then it is their recommendation and referrals. Make a list of new clients and projects that you have secured this year and make a special note of the ones that have come by the way of referrals/recommendations. Now, you are allowed to give a little pat on your back. Take a deep breath. It is time to get back to work and put together another flawless PR strategy.
As an agency that prides itself on technology expertise, few topics have been more reverberating in our media’s focus this year than the recent cyber-attack on Sony Pictures – the biggest ever to affect a company in the US hasn’t gone unnoticed in the Middle East either. The attackers stole a huge amount of confidential information, including email conversations, bank account details, unreleased movies and salary documents, which were then made available to the public on file-sharing networks. Since then, journalists have released compromising information about the company, such as the difference in pay between the male and female employees and actors, controversial emails with personal opinions on certain actors and movie scripts in the making. Needless to say, Sony will have a long way to go to recover from the disaster.
Furthermore, the effects ripple beyond the company’s image, to endanger the country’s diplomatic relations with North Korea, suspected to be behind the hack. The hackers reportedly wanted to prevent Sony from releasing The Interview, a movie that depicts the assassination of the North Korean. To show how serious they are about it, the hackers made a terrorism threat against cinemas showing the film. Eventually, Sony had to give in and cancel its planned Christmas Day release. While North Korea denied the accusations, president Obama criticized Sony for cancelling the release and advised that companies should not give in to such threats.
The issue concerns all the free countries around the world that can suffer similar attacks in the future. With all eyes now on the US to see how the situation will be mitigated on a political level, Sony has some reputational damage to undo and a crisis PR to implement. Aside from cancelling the distribution at the pressure of cinemas in the country, there are a few other steps that can help rebuild its tarnished image.
Offer public apologies
Many of the emails leaked by the media had delicate conversations that denigrated certain actors, as well as making racist remarks about the president. This has been a big slap for Sony, since the respective actors will most likely not want to deal with the studios again and their fans will also not take it very lightly. Sure, there’s no easy way to cover up once the cat is out of the bag, but some public apologies will be a good start.
Take preventive measures for the future
With so many records and documents stolen and now available to the public, Sony should first and foremost ensure that the employees are protected and that the necessary measures are taken to prevent such leaks from happening in the future. Encrypting data is essential, since it is the only way to truly protect critical information. Data can be lost or stolen, but without the keys to access it, it is useless to the hackers.
Fight for the industry’s freedom
How will this attack and subsequent threats affect the film industry and the freedom of speech or expression in the future? Is it fair for one nation to dictate over what movies can be produced or not? With acting and cinematography as one of the seven arts, it is important that studios retain their independence and liberty to produce films without being afraid of terrorist or cyber-attacks from whoever does not agree with the topic. Sony admitted they will try to release the movie on other platforms, which can be beneficial to both the people involved in the production, as well as the studio’s image, as it will not have to admit total defeat.
Like many things in life, it is good to remember that experience builds character. At times I wish someone had saved me the pain and whispered the secret to become a professional. And it is now time that I share my experience in order for someone to hopefully benefit from my mistakes and overall young experience.
I listed the 5 things that I wish I had known when I started working in public relations.
Stay perseverant, as many challenges will come your way, it is important to always remember the objectives you set yourself in order to follow that goal. This may seem like common sense, it is a mark of dedication and both your clients and your boss will love the attitude.
Experience is probably the best advice that was given to me while I was studying. Get as many experience as possible. This will not only give you an immense added value at interviews, it will also help you understand the industry you are stepping into work and prepare you for real life. Be proactive, as opportunities will not come your way, so you should go out there and search for them and the outcome may be priceless.
Read: start reading now, if you don’t have a book, go to the store and get one. Not only this will become part of your PR life, it is an infinite well of power to be able to understand the various environments around you. As a colleague once told me, if you can sustain a conversation while stuck in the elevator with Bill Gates, then you have done your job. It is also important when approaching new clients to show that you are able to understand their brand and actually have a long time understanding of their industry.
Pay attention to details. I’m sure some will appreciate this more than others, and I am the first to recognize my flaws. As the typical representative of the Gen Y, I usually rush through things. I forget that details are key for the impression that you will give to others. Imagine working on a campaign for months then realizing it is full of weaknesses. How would that make you feel, and more importantly, how would your client feel. You may find it is a good way of boosting your ego and feel confident about yourself, as I always say reach for the moon and you’ll land among the stars.
Build your network. PR industry is a relatively small world and while we are all junior one day, your classmates will soon be your colleagues and the university newspaper editor will move on to become editor in chief of the cool publication you are pitching to. As you understand that reputation is key it is important to start building your network early. Mainly as social media now gives all the tools to connect with the right person.
Hoping that this provides all the insights, it is important to remember that public relations is about relations, and should be fun. This is not a guide, but mere thoughts of a young PR hoping to bring more communication specialists to the PR force!