Behind the staging of the pitch and the showmanship of the presentation there are seven basic ingredients that can make or break a public relations pitch.
Creativity in pitching is important – it showcases an agency’s talent and it helps ensure attention during the presentation. But there may be a fine line between wooing the client with sensory enrichment on one side and plain overkill on the other.
Content is what really matters. It defines an agency’s approach – and should, without any further embellishment, enable the client to make an objective decision.
So, whether you are writing the pitch or considering a proposal that has been delivered to you, here are the guidelines for content and evaluation that work for me:
1 The situation: Demonstrate an understanding of the client’s organisation, markets, products and the business need for a PR campaign. This may be supplemented by a SWOT analysis.
2 The objective: Define the purpose of the campaign, together with a quantifiable outcome.
3 The targets: Identify the target audiences for the campaign as aspects may need differentiation to suit a range of needs across the audience spectrum.
4 The Messages: State the key messages to be delivered to each of the target audiences.
5 The Activities: Describe the various strategies and tactics proposed to convey the messages to the target audiences. This should include an aspect of PR campaign management to ensure that there is flexibility to adapt to changing circumstances during the campaign.
6 The Budget: Detail the cost of the campaign, including estimates of agency fees as well as products and services to be purchased for the campaign.
7 The Evaluation: List the measures that may be applied to give the client an indication of the campaign’s return on investment.
Don’t treat this as the ultimate definitive list: every pitch has specific needs and there may be some great ideas you would care to share. As an example, the agency’s credentials may be essential in a first-time pitch to a client.
Once the content is in place, give thought to the ‘staging’ of the presentation. Now’s the time to give free rein to creativity. There’s the talk-through, the visual aids, the work samples, the leave-behind document….
Don’t overpower the content with technology, simply use technology to enhance your message.
And a final thought: Don’t spoil your effort with errors of fact, spelling or grammar. It ranks you with a baker selling mouldy bread!
A website is as essential in your marketing armoury as a distinctive logo and snappy business cards – but is your organisation reaping all the benefits of being on the internet?
Never before in the history of commerce have businesses enjoyed such opportunities to broadcast tailored corporate messages cheaply, instantly, to wide or targeted audiences and without fear of editorial intervention. But many organisations still don’t make full use of the internet to spread their messages: as a result they are not being heard.
One of the reasons the internet and its spinoffs – email and social media – are so powerful is because the content that reaches the reader is precisely what the sender intended. This is also true of printed newsletters, brochures and direct mail – but the internet has immediacy.
In contrast, the traditional press release was often edited and rewritten by journalists keen to add their own touch – sometimes with dire consequences for the original corporate message. Not that all editing was bad – some press releases were (and still are) in need of extensive improvement.
Companies now have virtual carte blanche online to say anything (within the law and bounds of common decency, of course). Some have in-house resources to craft creative content. Others rely on outsourced skills (like mine) to produce copy that ticks all the boxes. Either way, good content is essential.
As citizens of the internet, we are all looking for a massive return on our investment in a domain name and content. To achieve that ROI we have to get the right people to visit our sites and then to be sufficiently impressed to take action.
The first step is to ensure we have the right content. This means providing information that people will need in order to make a ‘buy’ decision. People respond more readily if they are told what they want to hear, rather than what we want to tell them. But too many companies focus on how good they are rather than what they can do for the customer. In short, promote the benefits not the features.
Content needs to be refreshed frequently to keep the search engines interested and to give customers a reason for returning to the site over and over again. Just think of the big e-commerce sites: people keep looking at them to see what’s new.
The second step is to attract people to the site: unless you are extremely well known or on the first Google page you’re unlikely to get random hits that mature into valuable customers. This is where social media marketing plays a vital role, affording the opportunity to publish a brief ‘teaser’ with an all-important link to the real article. And if your posts are clever enough, others will ‘like’ or ‘share’ them to the wider audience of their own connections.
Now, please share this article and have a look round my website!
Along with hundreds of people of varying age, shape, size and ability, I exercise fairly regularly at our local swimming pool. Apart from the obvious cardiovascular and related heath benefits, I find my pool time provides a great opportunity to think. During a leisurely early morning 1,500 metres this week I found myself exploring the parallels between swimming (or a visit to the gym, if you prefer) and public relations activity.
Watching others as we passed in the water I came to the conclusion that, unless one is engaged in competitive swimming, distance covered, speed and pureness of stroke are irrelevant. What really matters is progress towards achievement of personal goals and the 'feel good' factor this engenders.
Translating this into PR terms, it does not matter which mix of PR tactics one chooses to employ, or how they are implemented, providing they move the PR campaign in the right direction. Detailed measurement of PR results is always problematical, but in my experience most clients start to feel good when they know they are making progress: so much the better if there's a tangible result such as increased inquiries or substantial media coverage.
So what's the best way to swim yourself to fitness in the choppy waters of PR?
Your campaign needs frequency to build top-of-mind awareness. Remember that your target audience is constantly being bombarded by thousands of other messages. Don't assume that a single media release will be seen by everyone – it won't. To be effective, you need to parcel your messages in various ways so they can be used repetitively – but without obvious repetition.
At the same time, spread your PR tactics across a wide range of media, ranging from traditional print titles to newsy websites and your own in-house channels such as the corporate website, e-mailers, newsletters and your social media sites. Don't pump out the same message every time – make it varied, new and interesting. Don't waste time worrying about what you 'should' do – just get on and do something!
Measure what you can
Even the weakest athlete can benefit from keeping half an eye on the clock and counting laps. Similarly, in PR, some measurement is better than none – if only to prove to management that their investment is paying off. Your campaign should always elicit one or many forms of formal or informal feedback, all of which can be quantified.
… and feel good!
You should always get a thrill out of seeing/hearing your company's name in print, and on TV, radio, social media or websites. The more bases you can cover, the greater the chance you have to influence your target audiences. And there's no greater thrill than seeing target audiences responding positively.
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 17 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.