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.

Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder, CEO, and author of Spin Sucks, host of the Spin Sucks podcast, and author of Spin Sucks (the book). She is the creator of the PESO Model and has crafted a certification for it in partnership with Syracuse University. She has run and grown an agency for the past 15 years. She is co-author of Marketing in the Round, co-host of Inside PR, and co-host of The Agency Leadership podcast.

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