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Exactly what is your PR budget achieving?

A curious thing happened to me the other day. I was asked to come in and talk to an organisation about providing it with some PR and communications support.

This wasn’t the odd thing, of course. What befuddled me was that this organisation was huge – globally it was worth many billions – but its approach to PR in the UK was miniscule to say the least. From what I could make out, just one person was responsible for publicity, and they weren’t employed full-time.

As a result, there were many holes left unfilled. Only two news items on their website in six months and much of the copy I read was so badly put together that I felt embarrassed to point out the various errors.

As for social media, that box could be ticked but the approach was piecemeal. One outlet relied on automated systems so much that every entry every day was the same. And when you clicked through, what you read had clearly not been monitored or edited. As a result, its effectiveness was undermined by content that was totally irrelevant to the target audience. It is simply pointless firing material out there using automated tools if you don’t take the care required to make sure it is doing its job.

Another concern was that the company didn’t think it had any interesting stories to tell so its PR appeared to consist of ‘lightweight’ efforts, including peculiar competitions and, frankly, out of date and crass messages. Looking at them made me cringe, so I was surprised that the powers that be had not had the same experience.

I could only assume that these senior people never looked at their PR output and that the spending did not really have to be justified. Since there was barely anything tangible how on earth could any attempt be made to calculate ROI?

So two main questions come to mind… is a company of this size so big that it cannot see over its swollen belly at what is going on down below? Even though you haven’t seen it for years, is it safe to assume that everything is still working? Or is it just a case of the company not really knowing what its PR aims are, so it is prepared to ‘leave it to the professionals, they must know what they are doing’?

And a third question arises… how many of these massive organisations are there who simply do not have a clue what is going on PR-wise, who have no idea how much bang they are getting for their buck, who delegate the process so far down the corporate line that accountability and quantifiability are extremely difficult to achieve?

We didn’t work together in the end and I parted wondering whether they would ever get anyone to deliver what they said they were looking to achieve. There may well be many PR outfits out there prepared to do fluffy, 1980s-style publicity that cannot be traced to the bottom line or to sales but I would hope – nay, pray – that they are few and far between and that clients who find this acceptable are equally scarce. However, I suspect this is wishful thinking on my part.

So my message to corporations has to be: never take your PR for granted, always make sure you are getting the very best outcomes for the money you are shelling out, and don’t just leave it to the professionals. Question them, ask them to explain why they are doing what they are doing, and get them to show you how it has helped you to increase visibility, sales and maybe even profits.

And if your PR programme can’t be shown to have achieved those goals, tear it up immediately and demand a new one.

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Rory Baxter, owner of The Word Factory, has decades of experience as a writer, editor, and public relations practitioner.

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