The best PR campaigns in the world do one thing very well: they capture the attention of the customers they are trying to reach.
How do they do this? When you look at communications strategies that work, it’s clear the PR people behind them share something in common -- they all have relentless focus.
However, many communications teams -- in house and external agencies -- completely miss this, and their lack of focus leads to unmemorable, ineffective campaigns.
In the heat of a fast-moving startup or challenger brand, it’s easy to miss this. You might be scaling your entire company all at once, and trying to simply grow every aspect of the business, including marketing. You’ll hire quickly, and try to get the PR machine up and running as fast as possible.
But without the right focus, you’ll end up letting quantity win over quality. This might help in the short run but the law of diminishing returns applies.
These are the telltale signs that the PR people responsible for your brand are lacking focus:
Everyone is too obsessed with the number of media clips you get
Are your PR people, or the people managing them, mostly talking about the number of media mentions of hits they are generating? You might be getting reports from them with phrases like “we generated $3 million worth of media coverage this week,” or “we were mentioned 328 times in the media this month.”
It’s an easy thing to be allured by -- after all who doesn’t want to boast about being in as many publications as possible? However, an emphasis on quantity rather than quality of results is an obvious sign of a lack of focus from your PR strategy. The main problem here is that this type of approach doesn’t give you any read on whether your messages are resonating with people, if they're actually interacting with your brand, or how they feel about you.
Focused PR teams are not obsessed with the number of media clippings -- they want the right kind of attention, at the right time, in the right places.
You’re too focused on competitors
I’ve seen this far too many times: “why did competitor X land this story?” and “why aren’t we in this story about company Y?”
Well, the reality is that if you are investing in a PR campaign, it’s a safe assumption that your major competitors are too. You might outperform them but they’re still going to get some results.
Don’t get too hung up on this.
The best marketing and communications teams care much more about what is being said about them, than what their competitors are doing. You may be tempted to judge PR success by your share of voice against competitors in the media. But your prospective customers or intended audience aren’t judging you based on that. The right messages and stories, in the right publications and channels, are far more important.
You’re commenting on anything and everything
It’s unfortunately too common to see a brand talking about things when they simply shouldn’t be. When you see an executive or a spokesperson commenting on issues or matters that don’t relate to their core business, it’s a sign of a desperate PR team that will say yes to anything they can get their hands on.
This plays out in the media every single day. It might be a tech executive forcing a political opinion to suit the flavour of the day, or an entrepreneur in an unrelated industry trying to jump on the latest (irrelevant) trend. It’s all a distraction, both for your team and your customers.
Just because a reporter wants your opinion on something, it doesn’t mean you have to have one. I’ve seen too many executives shoehorned into commenting on something they genuinely don’t care about. The best brands know what they are experts at, and they stick to that swim lane.
The good news
Even if your company’s PR campaign shows some of these signs, it’s not too late to fix it.
Be focused about who you are trying to talk to
You don’t need to be all things to all people. The most successful mass consumer brands like Apple have nuanced PR strategies that focus on audiences they want to target for each product. In any one week, they could be talking to investors about their longevity as a company, wooing the professional crowd with news of new desktop hardware, targeting the fashion-conscious with the Apple Watch, and convincing casual computer users that an iPad is all they need. It’s complicated and certainly not a strategy everyone should mimic, but it works.
Start by building out a detailed profile of your customers and stakeholders. Figure out which media outlets they read and what events and channels they frequent. Become obsessed with talking to them and only them. Map out your customer and stakeholder base and know that, heading into your marketing and communications, you don’t need to speak to people outside that.
When you have opportunities that come up in media outlets or stories that don’t relate to your target customers, don’t be afraid to (politely) decline. No brand needs to communicate with 100% of the population.
Be focused about the story you are trying to tell
Figure out the stories you want to tell -- and become strict about not deviating from that.
Don’t jump at every opportunity that presents itself. In order to pull this off, you need to become comfortable with saying no. All your marketing and communications must be in sync on this. The best PR teams I’ve worked with say things like, “this isn’t the right story for us to participate in.”
What happens if you listen to this advice
If you’re able to identify and fix these issues, the newfound focus in your PR campaign will have a lot of flow-on benefits.
Focus on your marketing and communications will mean the results you actually want will have much more passion behind them. Giving your people and teams the additional resources and headspace (by removing the clutter) will deliver huge return.
This focus will mean real conversations with your actual customers, and the respect of the media who will finally understand what you actually stand for. You won’t just capture people’s attention, they will remember you, and eventually, they’ll actually believe in what you are trying to achieve.