Public relations is the most effective tool any marketer has in his quiver. The reason is believability.
Unlike an advertisement, social media post, blog, direct mailing or any other tactic in which you have complete control of the message and how it is delivered, control in public relations lies with someone else – the reporter who writes the story and the editor who decides when and where it will be published (or not).
And it is exactly this lack of control that makes a story generated by a public relations campaign more believable, thus more effective, than anything else you can do to market your business. First, even though a large portion of the news you read, especially business news, is the result of good work by a PR pro, most people do not know this. To them, all news is the same and, to the degree that they trust the news outlet, important and true. Second, even if a reader, viewer or listener of a story knows that it sprang from the efforts of a PR pro, she knows that it still had to pass through the filter of a reporter and editor before it got to her, and is, therefore, likely to be important and true.
How often do you have the same feeling about an advertisement? There’s a reason puffery is a solid legal defense for any advertiser who makes claims to selling “the best that money can buy.” Who’s to say that someone doesn’t believe that the advertiser’s products are the absolute best? We can assume that the advertiser, at least, believes this. Puffery is a boast that can’t be proven wrong (unlike false advertising, in which you knowingly make a wrong claim about an objective fact).
Not all ads use puffery, of course, but it is common enough that most reasonable people take with a grain of salt anything they learn from an ad. (For an idea of how prevalent puffery is, think about the 1990 movie “Crazy People,” in which the only people who create ads that actually tell the unvarnished truth are patients in an insane asylum.)
So, that’s the great thing about PR: It just works. The challenge is proving it. Again, it’s all about control. You can count the clicks on a banner ad, the number of coupons used and other responses that advertising can require in order to buy what it is selling. But there is no way to track the number of people who read a news story your PR firm generated, much less the number who bought something because of that story. The only way to possibly get some idea is to ask everyone who buys how they found out about you. And, even then, their answer may be, “Well, I don’t know. I saw something about it somewhere.”
But, we found a way to put an ROI on PR for our clients, like SIGNiX, by placing in online news outlets bylined columns in which a link to the company’s website is embedded (along with other links, so the column is not perceived as too promotional). Because a bylined column is, generally, published with no editing, you can control the content. However, because it is published in an independent news outlet, the reader also sees the content as important and true because it passed through an editorial filter. That is, someone at the news site had to believe that the content was worthwhile, or they wouldn’t have published it.
So, bylined columns are marketing unicorns – they combine the believability of publicity with the control of advertising, and, if online, you can measure the results. Kind of, that is, because people can still read the column and buy the product without clicking on the website link in the column.
Even with this limitation, the results were astounding. After our first year of working for SIGNiX, the company experienced a 200% growth in number of customer partnerships and a 57% increase in website visits. And, users who came to the SIGNiX website from publicity placements instead of from internet search results were much stronger prospects. They looked at 32% more pages per session, stayed twice as long on the site and had a 39% bounce rate.
That’s the kind of PR ROI you want.