How to tell if your business is PR ready.

“Whatever happened to my cigar op-ed? Whatever happened to my PR? Bastard must have died”

“Whatever happened to my cigar op-ed? Whatever happened to my PR? Bastard must have died”

PR can be, relative to other marketing channels, incredibly good value for money.

But to paraphrase Withnail & I, attracting media interest is “free to those who can afford it, very expensive to those who can’t”.

Having worked with a number of startups and challenger brands, PR success often depends less on the ‘quality’ of the agency or freelancer charged with landing coverage…. and more on other factors such as the quality of what the client has to offer, and the readiness of the client to use those resources effectively ie how ‘PR ready’ they are.

However good the PR cook, you can’t bake a fame cake without ingredients (sorry).

So what do the ingredients look like? Below is our handy checklist!

1. Do you understand your brand capital?

A famous brand (like Google, for example) could put out a statement saying that “Brexit is an issue on people’s minds” and probably get media coverage.

For lesser known brands, the bar is somewhat higher.

So it helps to get a sense of your “Brand Capital” before you do any PR. We define it thus ;

  • Power: how much visible market power you have. This could be measured by market cap, level of billings, turnover, industry ‘rankings’, number of customers, carbon footprint etc. It’s a measure of where you are in life’s pecking order. PPR for instance, has less power in the PR industry than Edelman.

  • Presence: how often your brand or people is seen in relevant places. Blogging, at conferences, at industry events etc etc. For example, if you are announcing a new hire, if they have been mentioned by the target trade mag five times in the last year, that hire is more likely to be seen as ‘news’ than someone unknown. It’s also why Google spends billions on EU lobbying. How often your brand is seen has an impact on how likely your story is to be listened to by journalists.

  • Reputation: this is about consistency of competency and character. Competency can be measured in metrics, but it’s also about word of mouth, industry awards, case studies. Character is about personal style; the behaviours of your people. Arcadia is an example of a business struggling reputationally. Getting attention for anything positive is going to be a challenge for them.

Usually startups have very little brand capital, so they have to ‘borrow it’ in the form of hiring people with good brand capital, or surfacing case studies from customers & clients.

2. Do you have the people?

This is about business leaders, expert spokespeople and a point person to support the agency.

Business leaders are best placed to communicate the vision for the business and its place in the world. Help them find that story using a device such as the Hero’s Journey. This is a huge PR asset. This is why people like Richard Branson and Sir Martin Sorrell get so much PR. Yes they are successful, but they have a clear sense of vision, story and work bloody hard on their own PR.

Beyond the business leader, having other spokespeople helps a lot - as it does if they are opinionated, expert, diverse (female in particular), and above all, available. 99% of the time you won’t control the story, and media won’t wait for you; so you need a roster of people available for media, quickly, when they need you.

And having a point person to coordinate and allow your PR partner to be effective makes a massive difference.

3. Are you clear on your position & category?

Thought leadership is not about saying how great your company is.

It’s about offering a different point of view, or something new about the categories in which your own business and your clients/ partners operate in.

Being clear on what your company stands for makes it easier to find these points of view.

This is not about your ‘USP’. This is important for marketing, less so in PR. Journalists tend not to be particularly interested in a USP, they are more likely to be interested in what you have to say about your category.

You may be a challenger in an existing established category (so gaining market share) or creating a new category around a new idea. This is sometimes called ‘category design’.

The main point is, if journalists recognise the category, life is a little easier, and your point of view most likely derives from how your category is different from the incumbents.

If it’s the latter, you need to focus on explaining what the category is.

4. Do you know your customer, their market and their problem?

This may sound obvious, but the more specific you can be about what the customer looks like the easier it is for your agency to create content that is relevant to them.

So be clear on who you are trying to reach, how they currently buy, and what’s wrong now. What are their pain points & where do they hang out?

This is when beach-head markets are useful. No one can talk to everyone. Start with a specific audience. This may be a geographical area, trade vertical or community interest. Invest there first, then build.

Unless the customer can self identify themselves in the story as a person with the problem you’re describing, they aren’t likely to pay attention so it risks becoming generic and bland.

5. Are you currently active on social?

DIY social is key for building your own digital profile; both in terms of SEO, visibility and surfacing your point of view.

Social media also gives you the chance to engage directly with your audience, without the expense (and risk) of trying to reach them through journalists.

Active social media also shows journalists that you have things to say.

Others have lots to say, why don’t you? So if you can’t publish useful things on your own platforms, what chance have you got in publishing on others?

If you’re not sure what to say, some PR advice/ consultancy can help you develop a story - but this takes time. Social media is a good way to see if your story has impact, before investing in the expense of an agency.

6. Can you afford it?

Clients can waste a lot of time, energy and money in recruiting a PR partner, only to find they don’t get the service or results they want.

We’ve written a blog on PR budgeting here, but the general point is that paying an agency a low retainer is a probably a false economy unless you strike gold and get a super-smart junior on your account who loves your brand.

The other key point is that PR can’t do all the work; you need to leave some money in the marketing pot.

If you are not news, views can only get you so far. Bring the story to life by doing something interesting (we call these ‘vehicles’ - also known as a PR stunts). But  this will cost money to pull off, so factor this into your budget at some point.

So… to summarise, the rules of Brand Capital means PR is free to those who can afford it, and very expensive to those who can’t. PR can be a great way to build up that capital but make sure you have the ingredients in place to make it work for you.

Matt Phillips