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Gini Dietrich

Traditional PR, Alone, Cannot Create Conversions

By: Gini Dietrich | January 7, 2014 | 
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Traditional PR, Alone, Cannot Create ConversionsBy Gini Dietrich

During the holidays, I read a really interesting article on VentureBeat by Vanessa Camones, the founder of theMIX agency.

Titled, “Startups Can No Longer Rely on Traditional PR,” I thought I’d get all fired up and was ready to defend the industry.

But then…

She began to describe a broken business model that typically is “fixed” by startups with technologically-savvy PR platforms. Some have found a way to quickly disseminate news to journalists without relationships or conversations. A way to get their news out quickly without paying retainers.

Her conclusion that traditional PR, alone, will not save all is wrapped into these three points:

  • Yes men PR firms not adjusting to social media;
  • Tech news releases generally don’t drive conversions; and
  • Startups and their PR firms don’t (generally) value social media and content strategy.

I agree, and…

Yes Men PR Firms

I’m not sure when PR became all about listening to the client, nodding your head, and going off to do their bidding…but it’s been that way my entire career.

But, here’s the deal (and this is something I tell my team all the time): We are the professionals. We are the ones working with journalists and customers and influencers and enthusiasts and critics. We are there on the front lines every, single day. If we already know something the client wants isn’t going to work, it’s our job to speak up.

In many cases, we’ve been lucky with Arment Dietrich clients. We have the power to direct strategy and detail messaging and are empowered to communicate on behalf of our clients as we see fit.

But, with every, single startup client we have had, they all seem to have this idea that we should just do their bidding. It’s quite rampant, actually. They must teach it in startup school.

You are the professional. Even if you have less than five years of experience, you have more expertise on the subject than your client or the big boss.

You do this every, single day.

You don’t have to say yes. It is your job to do what is best for your company or your client…and sometimes that means disagreeing with approach.

It will be hard to do, but it will be worth it.

Tech News Releases

Particularly in the tech world, news releases about new features and benefits and clients added are so rampant – and stuffed with keywords – that Google changed their policy on how they’ll rank them in search results (hint: Not at all).

Another thing they must teach in startup school: Write a news release for everything you do and pitch to every journalist you know.

Even in that very, very small chance a large publication runs with the new feature or benefit, a person may scan the article. And then a very small percentage of those people will go to the website. And an even smaller percentage will actually ask for a demo or sign up for a free trial or download the app.

The lack of conversions will drive you – and your clients or boss – crazy. They’ll keep asking what’s next and you’ll be frustrated the story you got in TechCrunch wasn’t enough.

Rather, help your clients or bosses think about the relationships that will help them convert customers when a story runs. That is where you should be spending your time.

In some cases, it will be with journalists. In others, influencers. And yet others, brand enthusiasts and critics.

Build your list, work your relationships, and for the love of all things grand, don’t send them every news release you’ll inevitably end up writing.

If you are smart and strategic about this, stories that are written or produced will have large conversions and you’ll be a hero.

I can guarantee you right now, your client or boss would much prefer you spend your time there than on writing a news release every day.

Quality over quantity.

Social Media and Content Strategy

We recently won a piece of business and, when I spoke with the new client, he told me we were up against four other large firms. He said it ended up not being a competition because all four other firms regurgitated social media and content strategy they’ve read about on the web, but it was clear they didn’t know how to actually implement.

Our proposal, on the other hand, looked at what the client was doing now, where they could make some changes for quick effect, and what we’d likely recommend for ongoing efforts.

He said, while some of our recommendations were painful to read, we were the only ones who were honest about what needed to change in order to be successful.

The other firms were yes men and told them what they thought they wanted to hear.

A cookie cutter approach, if you will, to the things that evolve so quickly, it’s impossible to execute the same way every time.

This is your competition. The firms out there that have added on social media and content because they have to, but don’t actually understand it beyond building a Facebook page or having a blog.

It might seem like everyone is doing it and you’re just one more person to approach social media and content from a communications perspective, but if our experience is any indication, you’ll shine.

Traditional PR and Conversions

It’s certainly not easy to go against the grain. We’ve had clients who accuse us of not knowing what we’re doing because we push back.

You’re asking them to change their mindset and think less about quantity and more about quality that will actually result in sales.

Even though we all intuitively know numbers don’t matter, it’s hard for clients and bosses to pay for something that takes time. They want to see lots of things happening – news releases written, Facebook fans increasing, videos being produced.

Remember, you are the expert. You do this every, single day. You are talking to human beings daily and you know what resonates. You know whether or not something will work.

Choose your battles. Figure out what is worth fighting for and what is not. In some cases, being a yes man will be okay if only so you can win the next battle.

Change the conversation. Gain some results. Convert some customers.

In those ways, you’ll win.

About Gini Dietrich


Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR. She also is the lead blogger at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro.

96 comments
kadeeirene
kadeeirene

Hi Gini - I loved this post and often come to your blog because I think you do such a great job at marrying SEO & PR when it comes to campaigns, measuring, etc. Something that is largely missing in both industries. At our agency (SEO) we too run into clients looking for quick results and not buying into the longer term initiatives which leaves several projects painfully abandoned either mid-way through or worse, before we even have a chance to launch. 


I'm curious if you have any examples of proposals (or how you create them) based on each individual client - like what do you look at, how do you make recommendations, etc. 


I know you said there are some quick changes that they can make to take effect quickly (which I understand) but I'd be interested to see what you include in a proposal that helps your clients understand that longer term strategies will be beneficial down the road. 


I know that's a lot to ask but wanted to in case it inspired a blog post or you could point me to a sample one you used in a blog post in the past. 


Thanks, Gini!


Kadee

dbvickery
dbvickery

Enjoyed the post, Gini - I read it through "technology consultant" glasses because I've preached the same thing. We are not heads-down contractors simply saying "yes sir/ma'am" and blindly doing our client's bidding. We are consultants. We are hired for our expertise! We need to consult, to counsel with great tact, to provide the best possible outcomes for our clients.


I'm also big on not regurgitating what every other products/services company is going to say. Otherwise, we are all delivering the same message where the only differentiator is price. We need to show value and a willingness to "listen first" vs fit their square peg problem into our round hole solutions.

kanya632
kanya632

Sweet article, Gini! It can be quite intimidating to tell clients or management who knows best. But I feel it all boils down to educating them. One of the many reasons why I love working at a start-up is the open-mindedness of the environment. As you mentioned, the boss initially wanted to see me do a million things simultaneously, like pitching to the media without forming relationships, sending out news releases to hundreds of publications, etc. But after I sat down with him (nervously, I may add!) and explained how PR works nowadays and the timeframe needed to achieve results, he was very receptive! This gave me the confidence I needed to do the same with my clients. Win-win!

EdenSpodek
EdenSpodek

One of the best pieces of advice I had from a former supervisor on the client side, went something like this:  "You're not here to agree, you're here to provide counsel and share your expertise. If you've done that, you've done  your job whether or not the client follows your advice." So true. 

Gini Dietrich
Gini Dietrich

Let her be, Laura. She's Canadian. She didn't even know about American Girl.

Laura Petrolino
Laura Petrolino

It's a bunch of people doing things they aren't skilled at and the catch line is 'no I"m not a XXX but I did stay in a holiday inn express last night"

JRHalloran
JRHalloran

Wow, spot-on! I really enjoyed reading that, Gini! 

I definitely agree with you that a true professional needs to stand their ground. If something is not going to work, it's not going to work. The client can pout and shout, but as you said, you're the professional who does this every day, not them. If it was so simple, they wouldn't have to pay your company at all, right?

PR professionals are not psychiatrists or shrinks. We're not meant to be the "Yes Men/ Women." It's against our code. We're not there to make the client feel better about themselves. We're here to do business. And if the client isn't tough enough for the "real world" criticism, then they shouldn't be asking for your services to begin with. 

And like I've said before multiple times on this blog already -- quality trumps quantity any day. It's a shame so many bosses and managers practically choke themselves with this false idea of productivity.

belllindsay
belllindsay

Data's a huge goal for me this year. I'm actually quite excited to break through the fog and mystery. 

T60Productions
T60Productions

The whole "Yes Men" thing drives me nuts. We run into it all the time with video because everyone is an "expert," right?

I definitely pick my battles though. I usually only speak up if a client wants something that is going to sabotage the video. A lot of requests don't hurt the video (nor do they help), but there's not much sense in fighting them.

I do have the opposite to your "winning new business" story. We were recently up against three big video companies in a RFP and the client interviewed each of us. I told them what I thought of their previous video (wow... boring) and offered a SUPER creative way to turn dull information into something fun to watch. They even told me how much more creative my ideas were compared to the other companies.

A week later I got the "we regret to inform you" email.

Oh well... you win some, you lose some. I'll put those ideas in my back pocket for an Arment Dietrich client. :-)

--Tony Gnau

stevenmcoyle
stevenmcoyle

"Choose your battles. Figure out what is worth fighting for and what is not. In some cases, being a yes man will be okay if only so you can win the next battle."


If I didn't learn anything in 2013, it was this. Going into a "team lead/client facing" position truly taught me how, when and what to fight. It is constant and sometimes exhausting to debate about things, but I think not being a "yes" guy has made me a more valuable professional. At least, I hope.  

Karen_C_Wilson
Karen_C_Wilson

We're not a PR firm (though that's Lara's background) and I feel like you've just laid down a challenge for us to think differently than our competitors about how we do business as well. I like it - thanks for that!

KateFinley
KateFinley

::applause::


Man. Startups can be so challenging for the reasons you listed. There is this assumption that the PR team is trying to 'pull the wool over our eyes' and must be micro-managed. It's a MAJOR issue of educating the client, as you so beautifully explained. 


1. No, we do not use wire releases and here's why.

2. No, we cannot guarantee specific media outlets will cover your news, no matter how you adjust your retainer.

3. Yes, we do follow up with media without your reminding us.

4. Yes, the date media coverage is promised is subject to change.

5. No, that does not mean the media lied or we made up an opportunity. 

6. Yes, rest assured that we will rework a date or media opportunity to ensure you get what was promised to you to the best of our ability.

7.Yes, we are doing everything in our power to build trust with you and represent your brand ... let us advocate for you.

8. No, it is actually not helpful for you to try to micro-manage the job you are paying us to do for you.

9. Yes, you have to trust us to continue working together. :)

10. Rinse, repeat.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@kadeeirene Hi Kadee! We actually don't talk about our proposal process because (in my experience) it's so different than what our competitors do. I'm pretty open about most things, but the proposal process and our financials remain proprietary information.


That said, being in the business you're in, I can venture to guess just a simple look at source code on a prospect's website would give you quite a lot of things to recommend initially that prove your know your stuff.

Digital_DRK
Digital_DRK

@KateFinley  I want to fame that and hang it on a wall.....(and I'm not even in the business)..yet. 

JRHalloran
JRHalloran

@jasonkonopinski I'm swamped with other projects for Brand.com at the moment. But I'll definitely get one to you soon!  :-)