Gini Dietrich

Traditional PR, Alone, Cannot Create Conversions

By: Gini Dietrich | January 7, 2014 | 
96

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.

Spin Sucks in Your Inbox

Leave a Reply

96 Comments on "Traditional PR, Alone, Cannot Create Conversions"

avatar

Sort by:   newest | oldest
DoyleWheeler
DoyleWheeler
2 years 8 months ago

ginidietrich this is exactly the approach to take! It’s a hard battle to win…but it’s possible! Patience wins the race. …Good Morning!

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
2 years 8 months ago

DoyleWheeler Good morning to you!

ClayMorgan
2 years 8 months ago
I think the hardest part of this whole post is “choosing your battles.”  When you are a young firm, struggling to get its feet under it, or a firm like Arment Dietrich, where we’re entering into aggressive growth mode, it is easy to want to say “yes,” do what you are told, and just move on. But that doesn’t work for long-term success. What keeps those clients is delivering results and that requires our expertise, creativity, willingness to do things non-traditionally (and perhaps integrate that with some traditional tactics) and a good bit of independent thought. It is a tough… Read more »
EleanorPie
2 years 8 months ago

My neck hurts from all the vigorous nodding I did while reading this article. Sharing – internally and externally. Thanks Gini!

Howie Goldfarb
2 years 8 months ago
This is what I am dealing with right now from a marketing stand point. There is a huge disconnect between how we each use social media personally, what agencies and trade pubs tell Brands what to expect (with never any proof what they say works), and what is reality. My reality is sober but also optimistic. It is different. It works. But I can prepare any number of briefs with recommendations, and months, a year later I get asked the same questions, time is lost, and we are at square one. Content Marketing is NOT Social Media. Though some networks… Read more »
Howie Goldfarb
2 years 8 months ago

EleanorPiedon’t encourage her. She will start thinking she is always right. And while she might of trained her husband to always agree, there was a blog post in 2012 that she totally was wrong about. I just have to find it.

Howie Goldfarb
2 years 8 months ago

@ginidietrichDoyleWheeleryou must of had the same avatar photographers?

lauraclick
2 years 8 months ago
I wrote something a couple months back about the fact that the client is NOT always right. I think there’s some entitlement issue where companies and business owners think that agencies and consultants should just do the company’s bidding. But, what good does that do? If you really want to move forward, you must trust that the agency has the expertise to get the job done. And sometimes, that means going against what the client wants. I’ve told many clients and prospects this – you probably could do your own taxes or write your own legal documents. But you don’t.… Read more »
annelizhannan
2 years 8 months ago
With your analogy of the cookie cutter approach, I think of all the gingerbread professionals out there and the one size fits all batch approach. Sure they might be tasty at first, but it is the ‘personalized’ design, placement and texture of the icing that will keep them coming back, while the others just end up crumbling or go stale. No two companies needs or objectives are exactly alike, neither should be gingerbread cookies. Of course you always have to expect that a few heads may be lost in the process but as you ‘choose your battles’,  I’d rather cry… Read more »
jasonkonopinski
2 years 8 months ago

annelizhannan Food metaphors FTW!

jasonkonopinski
2 years 8 months ago
Man, this one hit close to home. Having previously worked in the startup tech space, I’ve definitely witnessed a distrust (or full-out dismissal) the communications discipline by developers and tech-minded CEOs. They often believe that marketing (erroneously) that marketing is only necessary when you have a less than perfect product or idea. Phooey, I say.  The roots of the problem are, IMO, based on a developer/nerd love of meritocracy: if the idea is good enough, you don’t need marketing or advertising. The whole world is going to go bananas based on the brilliance of the idea and they’re going to make… Read more »
Jill Pollack
Jill Pollack
2 years 8 months ago

So interesting to see you thinking in terms of “conversations” as that’s how we approach our communications training as well. Every piece of writing is a conversation, a story…not a pitch. I also struggle with the tech world’s love for data. Life would be so much easier if I really could judge success based on clicks.

Thanks for offering a great conversation to start the new year, Gini.

JoeCardillo
2 years 8 months ago
Howie Goldfarb The primary problem IMHO is that both social media marketers and brands/companies have created a false reality by acting as if social media marketing tactics are strategy.  Think about it, brands / companies were suddenly told by multitudes of social media “experts” that they could use Facebook to change everything, but it was all measured around tactics that could be blown up and then blown out.  “Post all the things” isn’t a strategy. And creating useful/valuable content is not the same thing as distributing it (another problem, “everyone is a publisher” mentality hides the fact that distribution is still… Read more »
jenzings
jenzings
2 years 8 months ago

lauraclickThat’s a really good question. Maybe it’s because some companies only acquiesce to hiring a PR firm when they pressed to, thinking that they *could* do it themselves if they only had the time. So they think they are hiring a pair of hands really, not a brain.

JoeCardillo
2 years 8 months ago
jasonkonopinski Bingo. Distribution / marketing / PR are and always will be crucial disciplines. For example “anyone can be a publisher” via search and social media is a problematic underlying assumption because it comes from individual, personal use and assumes the same usage/goals from brands.  Also: while startups love to talk about scale, they rarely address it in relation to growth, marketing, PR. I think that’s one of the keys for talking / working with them, is making sure that they understand that marketing and PR need to be scaleable and include a mix of tactics, medium and short term, and… Read more »
JoeCardillo
2 years 8 months ago

jasonkonopinski And of course that’s where the arrogance / dismissiveness tends to show up as well.

RobBiesenbach
2 years 8 months ago
lauraclick I’ve often wondered about this myself—why people assume they can do their own PR or writing but they’d never think to do their own lawyering or accounting. I think part of it is they go through intense professional training and are certified CPAs and JDs. I know you can get PR accreditation, but it’s just not viewed on the same level. But I think the bigger issue is people think that talking and writing is something they do every day so it’s not some special skill that requires a lot of expertise. Also, they feel like nobody will ever know… Read more »
annelizhannan
2 years 8 months ago

jasonkonopinski Beta testing a new approach to diet> if I talk about food enough, I won’t need to take action. To date, it has failed. Mind is not working over matter..

DwayneAlicie
2 years 8 months ago

JoeCardillo jasonkonopinski Drives me insane that startups tend toward the product orientation. You can code all day every day, but if you don’t have a target market, a compelling story and a distinct way of telling it, why would anyone care? Much less, BUY?

timfrick
2 years 8 months ago

Love this piece, Gini. Well done!

timfrick
2 years 8 months ago

Jill Pollack  Data is great for many things, Jill. It is your friend. You can indeed judge success based on clicks. But they have to be the right clicks. And you have to know what success means to you, specifically, in terms of data and analytics. It can’t be qualified at the expense of real human interactions or relationships that bring business value. Person-to-person is better than persona-to-persona, for certain, but many valuable insights can be gleaned from data. It’s not an either/or situation. It’s a delicate balancing act.

Jill Pollack
Jill Pollack
2 years 8 months ago

Tim! What took you so long to reply(;>

of course data is helpful and vital. But you tech guys live and breath it whereas we writers tend to think in adjectives….

Seriously, it’s a big struggle to determine data points for services that are not easily measurable, like face to face interactions like we have at StoryStudio. Would be interesting to hear what Gini measures for PR success. I also consider it my job to keep reminding everyone that the content counts just as much as the clicks.

jasonkonopinski
2 years 8 months ago

DwayneAlicie JoeCardillo jasonkonopinski SO. MUCH. TRUTH.

JohnMTrader
JohnMTrader
2 years 8 months ago

jasonkonopinski I like what Jason has to say here. I too work in the tech industry and if I had a nickel for every time our CEO thrust me into the news release gauntlet because of a new innovation or idea, I’d be a rich man. I keep trying to explain that everyone and their brother has great innovation and ideas, what journalists want to know is how is your idea and innovation making a difference and who has it helped? That’s the real story.

Great post GD.

Joshua Wilner/A Writer Writes
2 years 8 months ago
JoeCardillo Howie Goldfarb jasonkonopinski How many times have you sat in a meeting and listened to someone talk about the importance of strategy and tactics and wondered if they would ever say what the strategy was and what sort of tactics they would use. Many people use those as buzzwords but they don’t understand how to move from buzzwords to execution and they won’t admit it. Fear and insecurity drive many business decisions because people don’t want to admit that they don’t know XYZ. I have also heard more than a few executives say they could do PR/Marketing because it is just a… Read more »
KateFinley
2 years 8 months ago
::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.… Read more »
ginidietrich
2 years 8 months ago

Howie Goldfarb EleanorPie I AM ALWAYS RIGHT!!

Karen_C_Wilson
2 years 8 months ago

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!

JoeCardillo
2 years 8 months ago

timfrick Jill Pollack A good shorthand for this is “data informed”, as opposed to “data driven”

JoeCardillo
2 years 8 months ago

jasonkonopinski DwayneAlicie JoeCardillo One of the lesser talked about secrets of SV is that the most successful founders and funders have also had someone who’s main thing is marketing (now sometimes called growth hacker). 
In the build hierarchy, engineer/developer and marketer are the two most important pieces IMHO…..”What is the thing, and how do we share the story of this thing”

SpinSucks
SpinSucks
2 years 8 months ago

AmyVernon Thanks Amy! ^lp

JoeCardillo
2 years 8 months ago

JohnMTrader jasonkonopinski To your point, a startup’s story is crucial not just for gaining users and clients, but also for branding, and VCs/funding

lauraclick
2 years 8 months ago

jenzings Ooooh! I like how you put it – “hiring hands instead of a brain.” I think for some that’s probably an accurate sentiment.

ginidietrich
2 years 8 months ago

Karen_C_Wilson That makes me happy to hear!

ginidietrich
2 years 8 months ago

KateFinley And 11: It takes longer than two weeks to get results.

ginidietrich
2 years 8 months ago

timfrick Thank you, sir!

lauraclick
2 years 8 months ago

RobBiesenbach I think some of it is education, but I’m not entirely sure about that either. Think about mechanics – they don’t have advanced certifications, yet, we still trust them to fix our cars.
I think your point about writing being easy might be right. I think it’s just hard to put a value on strategy and creativity. Photographers likely struggle with this too – everyone has a phone or a camera, so that makes them an expert. But, it takes skill to take GOOD photos. Not everyone can do that. Just like not everyone can develop strategy or write well.

ginidietrich
2 years 8 months ago

Jill Pollack It kind of drives me crazy that my peers mass distribute news releases and call it a day. We are in a human relations business. No one likes spam. It’s ALL about relationships and it begins with a conversation.

BTW, so sorry to hear about the flooding! That’s a terrible surprise.

ginidietrich
2 years 8 months ago

timfrick Jill Pollack I agree data is great for many things. I would like to be able to measure everything we do because my brain loves numbers. But reputation and brand awareness can’t be measured in numbers. So we look for things such as: How many people asked for a demo after an email was sent or how many people visited the site after a story ran? From there, you can watch those people go through the conversion channel as you create conversation with them.

KateFinley
2 years 8 months ago

ginidietrich YES.

stevenmcoyle
2 years 8 months ago

“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.

T60Productions
2 years 8 months ago
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… Read more »
ginidietrich
ginidietrich
2 years 8 months ago

ZenYinger LOL!!

ginidietrich
2 years 8 months ago

stevenmcoyle I can guarantee it did. I promise.

Jill Pollack
Jill Pollack
2 years 8 months ago

ginidietrich Jill Pollack This was a great post! You can tell by the amount of commenting. I’m desperate to find good metrics and that’s actually one of our 2014 goals.

Thanks for the flooding sympathy. We’re running a flash sale today as we had to postpone an event scheduled for tonight and it’s been busy. So maybe we’re makin’ some good lemonade out of it.

belllindsay
2 years 8 months ago

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

JRHalloran
2 years 8 months ago
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.… Read more »
belllindsay
2 years 8 months ago

JRHalloran You always make me feel better. 😉

JRHalloran
2 years 8 months ago

belllindsay I try!  🙂

SpinSucks
SpinSucks
2 years 8 months ago

joecardillo Just say NO to YES men! ^lp

wpDiscuz
286 Shares
Tweet
Share
Share
+1
Pin
Email
[postmatic_subscribe_widget]