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Stephanie Macleod

17 Oct 2012

Earn After Reading

The need to prove their value has compelled PR practitioners to hone their skills to a point where those following the correct ideology can have a demonstrable positive effect on clients’ business.

It is undeniable that marketing and PR spend is under more scrutiny than ever before. Clients are under pressure to prove tangible value to the business, and historically this has been a challenge for PR and earned media. However, it has actually been a force for good, compelling agencies and clients to question how activity is actually having an impact on the business.

It’s created even more valued partnerships, and helped move PR away from being a ‘nice to have’ budget-line item to a ‘must have’ activity.

Of course, it isn’t simple and different brands in different sectors will measure and monitor in different ways. A consumer electronics brand selling through Amazon is different from a B2B brand selling complex IT systems. The sales cycles, channels, cause and effect and timeframes are quite different.

However, there are four mantras that we believe help to deliver.

Sales cycles start and end through compelling stories and conversations

We start at the very beginning of the customer journey. What conversations do we need to be stimulating; what questions do we need to answer; how do we position the brand; and how best do we promote the product? When do we need to surprise; and when do we need to sell?

For Truvia sweetener, our Voyage of Discovery event on the roof of Selfridges told the story of the brand and its main ingredient, stevia, to consumers, retailers and partners. It created a potential customer base for well-executed ATL advertising to exploit when the product hit the shelf.

Communities are sales generators, not just ‘likes’ on a page

Although there continues to be a, perhaps unhealthy, fascination with the number of likes and followers a brand has, many are starting to see their social-media fans as more than just numbers. Conversations with these communities are starting to be valued as ways to increase propensity to purchase.

An example is Unilever VIP, a Facebook community that invited opinion, asked for ideas and actively looked to increase customer loyalty. Through a custom-built Facebook application, VIP encouraged consumers to engage more closely with 11 of the company’s most recognisable brands, including PG Tips, Carte D’Or, Persil, Domestos, Magnum and cleaning range Cif.

For this and any community, consistent research into sales behaviour and brand favourability is vital to measure, justify and amplify the role of earned media.

Great coverage still earns its keep – and it can be proved

Editorial coverage for coverage’s sake just doesn’t cut it anymore. A namecheck against an issue unrelated to a brand might satisfy an ‘opportunities to see’ target, but not a business objective. The impact of these sought-after, third-party recommendations, whether by traditional media or the ever-growing (but still less influential) blogger community, is clear if the right measurements are used.

Launching the Visa Prepaid CitizenCard solely through PR was a great example of how we can have a direct impact on business.

With a focus on national media to drive volume of application, we generated 112 pieces of coverage that resulted in a significant uplift in purchases.

Commercial value, not just creative outputs, make the campaign

Pounds (or euros) mean more that print and pixels, but commercial value can come in many different shapes and sizes. For some, it’s sales; for others, it’s changing perception or building awareness.

Our integrated campaign for digital security brand Gemalto created stand-out in the contactless mobile payments arena. It included: a French free-running video (illustrating touchpoints and the convenience of mobile payments) that generated 100,000 views; and brand-building coverage on Sky News and in The Times and Financial Times – all supported by consumer insights. However, the real value was in the collateral package that the sales team took into boardrooms – changing perceptions of Gemalto’s capabilities and increasing deal flow.
These four mantras help us develop campaigns that go beyond the ‘thud factor’ and deliver real value for businesses and brands, be it through changing behaviour, driving awareness, increasing sales or engaging communities. That’s what PR and earned media should be doing, and is what will ensure a mutually beneficial, effective and longstanding client/agency relationship.

The original article appeared in Marketing Magazine.

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