Years ago, an elderly journalist colleague gave me one of the simplest and most useful tips for success in the media business – and most other occupations, too. His advice was this: “If you want to write a good story, get enthusiastic about it. Whether it’s the page one lead or a one paragraph filler for an inside page, if you show enthusiasm, you’ll do a better job.”
I’ve carried that thought with me through all my newspaper and PR years, and it’s been a great help for the days when the assignment was particularly challenging. Now that I have the benefit of experience, I can see that the same simple philosophy can be applied successfully by just about everyone in an organisation. The difference that enthusiasm makes should be clear, whether it’s the lowliest worker or the chairman of the board.
We all know about inner conflicts and cognitive dissonance – the stress of holding two contradictory ideas at the same time: I want something, but I know it’s bad for me. If we have willpower, we may decide not to eat the whole chocolate bar. If we don’t, we throw caution to the wind and eat it all. But if we are clever, we take a compromise route, eating just part of the chocolate now.
In PR and marketing we also encounter many situations with dissonance potential. Just like Newton’s third law of motion, every communication action has a consequence – but if it’s not handled correctly the reaction may take the wrong direction and achieve an undesirable result.
One of the big challenges is to strike a balance between doing the right things and doing things right. For example, as long as we are communicating, should we worry about spelling and grammar? As with the dilemma of the chocolate bar, we need a compromise: for without adhering to the rules of spelling and grammar, we risk making our communication ineffective.
If we are implementing communication strategies, there is often no clear-cut distinction between ‘right things’ and ‘things right’. Experience and good judgment are needed so that we can confidently make PR and marketing recommendations or decisions that won’t leave us feeling dissonant.
When business conditions get tough, it’s a natural reaction to cut costs wherever possible. Sadly, many PR and marketing budgets are among the first to suffer the accountant’s axe – ironically when survival and maintenance of market position really depend on the ability to fight more fiercely.
Unlike sales activity, which produces easily measurable results, much of the PR and marketing effort involves shaping people’s attitudes to products or companies and so the benefits tend to be qualitative, rather than quantitative – and therefore more difficult to measure. Evaluating the spend on PR has always been tricky, which is why budgets often cannot be justified in difficult times. But there are ways to argue the case for PR:
Space has value
PR space in print media can be evaluated in terms of equivalent advertising costs – and arguably at a premium if it is published in editorial rather than advertorial columns. Get a good cuttings agency to ensure all your coverage is collected, measure it, then work out its cost using the single column centimetre price. If the total value exceeds the cost of PR, you are on the right track.
Time on commercial radio and TV can be valued in the same way as print media. Appearances on the internet are becoming more and more valuable because of the growth of the medium, although value is difficult to assess – and this is complicated by the spread of both positive and negative comments on social networking sites and intranets. It’s worth seeking help from specialists in deep web searching to get a proper grasp of the return on your investment in PR, identify your true ‘share of voice’ and find out what the public really thinks.
Make sure that the PR message includes a call to action – such as ringing a dedicated phone number or sending an e-mail response – that can be measured. Then it is easy to show when PR – or a specific part of a campaign – is doing its job properly. There’s a possible bonus: many of those responses will have potential for conversion into real sales.
Invitations on the up
Building a strong presence through PR gets noticed by the media, too. Expert opinions identify market leaders who are always in demand for off-the-cuff comments or specialist articles. Leading company figures may also be invited to speak at local, national or international conferences and other events. All these invitations can be tracked to amplify the PR case.
Speak to people
When you have evidence that PR is more than just a nice-to-have, spread the word among the influencers inside your organisation. Let them see that you are investing your budgets wisely and contributing to success on the bottom line. But a word of warning: don’t get hooked on reporting – always focus your effort on creative PR.
David Goddin was born in the UK and educated in South Africa. He began his career on daily newspapers and trade journals, before moving into public relations consulting. He produced award-winning writing and became an Accredited PR Practitioner, the highest qualification of the Public Relations Institute of South Africa. Since his return to the UK 16 years ago he has also contributed to a number of highly successful PR and marketing communications campaigns for major national and multinational clients. He is currently also President of the Haslemere & District Chamber of Trade & Commerce.