Big Marketing QuestionsAt the end of 2017, we compiled the very best of the Big Questions for that year, noting “the best part of The Big Question is there are always newer, bigger questions to ask in our industry.”

And that’s a good thing! It’s why the Spin Sucks community exists.

It’s why Spin Sucks exists.

As we crest the halfway mark of 2018, we thought we would reboot a bit, and have a little fun.

What constantly confounds PR and marketing professionals? Are there questions you still find yourself asking day in and day out?

This week’s Big Question is:

What are the biggest questions you’re still asking about PR, marketing, and/or your career?

At the tail end of last week’s column, we positioned it like this: if you had Gini Dietrich in front of you, right now, what would you ask her?

Queue landslide. In a good way.

Some asked PR and marketing questions we’ve provided various answers for in the annals of Spin Sucks, but many were, truly, big questions with elusive (or at least less-than-definitive) answers.

Overall, this exercise is designed to let us know what stones we’ve left unturned, providing us with fuel for further Big Question conflagrations #burnbabyburn.

Big PR and Marketing Questions: Social Media Saturation

There are tried and true tools PR and marketing professionals use to reach and engage audiences and, if that’s your goal, convert customers.

But “tried and true” is hard to rely on in our industry.

Access to data, machine learning, and natural language processing are changing, if not yet revolutionizing, how we reach and engage the people we want to connect to.

As a result, the question Ada Chen Rekhi continues to ask is: What’s next?

The question I always continue to ask is, “What new channels are working for you to reach customers?”

The marketing channels that marketers use to reach customers like email, search marketing, PR, Facebook, are rapidly getting saturated over time, decreasing their viability to reach customers at scale.

And the tactics for effectively leveraging them are changing as well.

I ask this question all the time because an effective marketer needs to be able to keep a pulse on what new channels are emerging and how to effectively leverage them.

Evergreen PR and Marketing Questions

There are questions we get all the time. Ubiquitous queries we get no matter how many times we answer them (yes, Mike really is that funny).

And that’s not (necessarily) because people aren’t paying attention, it’s because oftentimes there isn’t a one-answer-fits-fits-all response.

For instance, Joshua Wilson in our Spin Sucks Community asked:

How in the world do I keep up with all of the social media trends, SEO trends, other digital trends… implement them, and still have time to do my daily job?

Two words: PESO Model (well, the first word is really an acronym, but work with me here). As far as taking the guesswork out of implementation, there’s really no other answer.

Similarly, we’ve written countless articles on productivity.

Taken together, they may help Joshua with his dilemma, but it’s not always as easy as that.

The questions may seem simple, but the answers aren’t always easy to incorporate into our busy lives and existing workplace infrastructure.

It takes time, discipline, accountability, some failure, and a desire to keep learning.

And that’s the point. It’s why we wake up every day. It’s why Spin Sucks exists.

Our industry and how we view our role(s) in it are ever-changing, so the answers don’t always seem to fit the questions have.

The PR and Marketing Questions We Aren’t Asking

For Joshua, the quick answer is to stay active in the Spin Sucks Community, keep reading the blog, and keep asking questions like these.

That said, while there are many evergreen questions like Joshua’s, there are also many questions-du-jour… timely/time-sensitive and/or trending conundrums that we address when and where we can, but by virtue of their newness, we haven’t talked about them as much (yet).

Or enough (or at all, for that matter), according to Aaron Norris:

My biggest concern is talking to PR peeps who don’t understand what’s happening in the tech space for voice search and zero interface.

As in, it’s not on their radar at all and there still doing lame stuff like counting impressions and excited their firm now has a mobile-friendly website. Yikes!

We’ve talked about voice search at length, especially as it pertains to content creation, but there is definitely a lot more to be said on the subject.

How it relates to zero interface, and the implications of that in and of itself?

We’ll have to throw that one around in our Slack community to see what sticks, thanks, Aaron!

Return On Investment

This is a big’un. We talk about ROI regularly, but there are always more questions and challenges around the ability to define, deliver, and ultimately measure it.

Perhaps more accurately, people ask how they can communicate that to the client and/or c-suite.

You and your team may be rock solid in your understanding of what the ROI of your plan is, but your client needs to be crystal clear on that as well.

From Bill McCue:

With limited budget for investing technology tools, I’m constantly wrestling with the challenge of demonstrating ROI to my clients.

There are tools sold by the likes of TrendKite and Meltwater that can help you demonstrate how many people viewed the media coverage you generated, how many clicks on links within the article occurred, how much traffic was driven to your client’s website, but the cost of these tools for a one-person shop is astronomical.

This is a big problem for me because clients don’t only want to know you got them into Forbes or Business Insider or TechCrunch—they want to know what resulted from that coverage.

Did it drive sales leads? Or raise brand awareness? Did it lead to more coverage?

That’s what people want from a PR program—quantifiable results.

At some point, an accountant within your client’s organization is going to look at the budget and Accounts Payable ledger and question why there’s a line item for PR services.

You better have an answer or they will make a case to delete it.

PR and Marketing Questions: They Just Keep Coming

Once you open the floodgates (I think I called it a landslide earlier, but please bear with my metaphors), it’s hard to stop the flow.

Alicia Lawrence started, and quickly realized she had a few questions she was looking for answers to:

  • Mentorship: While you can always learn from those you work with, if you are the senior expert at the company should you look to outside mentors, or just stick with what you can read online/in books?
  • How do you handle legal and compliance teams who won’t accept risk with blog content?
  • Video content is becoming a big component of search and engagement. What type of video is best (webinar, explainer video, whiteboards, animations, short social videos), and how can you consistely create video assets in a scalable and affordable manner from an agency perspective?

Can Your Parents Describe What You Do?

When I was a journalist, it was easy for my Mum to explain to friends and family what I did for a living.

“He’s a writer. A journalist,” she would say. And she was right.

When I switched over to marketing and communications? For someone who helps brands and people tell their own stories, I’m clearly terrible at telling my own. Mum still has no idea what I do.

Jill Caponera faces the same dilemma:

One question I still ask myself day-in and day-out is how do I explain what I do to family and friends?

For whatever reason, explaining PR to someone might as well be trying to explain how to build an airplane.

No one ever understands, and sometimes I even confuse myself when I try to over-explain my industry.

This initially comes across as humorous, but it hits upon the larger question and issue we face as an industry: The PR vs marketing discussion/debate.

Ask a PR professional if they are a marketer, or a marketer if they use PR tactics, and you’ll get many different answers.

When Do We Bow Down to Our AI Overlords?

We have published a number of articles speaking to the nature and value of artificial intelligence and how it fits into to (pervades?) PR and marketing.

That said, it didn’t come as a surprise that many, while increasingly aware of the benefits and various applications AI will provide for PR, marketing, and communication professionals, still wonder what that means for their business in the long term.

Jill Manty put it plainly:

Generally, how long until AI makes my business obsolete—or at least decreases my work?

And what can I do to adapt before it’s too late?

Jill asked this in our Spin Sucks Slack group, and, unsurprisingly, Christopher Penn was at-the-ready with a practical answer:

Reducing your work? Soon. Business obsolete? Probably a decade or more to completely eliminate 95 percent of tasks.

AI is the 3As—acceleration (of business processes), accuracy (of processing), and alleviation (of boring crap).


Since I work a lot in web development, I’m trying to build a bridge out of dependence on that within five years.

I think there will be work for at least 10, but it’s evolving rapidly.


The easiest way to judge is this: what is repetitive in your work? That goes away first.

What doesn’t go away are non-repetitive tasks that require multidisciplinary thinking and/or significant human to human interaction (which machines still aren’t good at and won’t be for some time).


Yes, and AI will help us be more efficient, but we work FOR agencies, so at what point would they rather just invest in AI than working with us?

That’s the countdown, IMO.


Soon. I just made a video about that.

Sidenote: It was really fun to watch this discussion unfold. Sign up for the free Spin Sucks community on Slack, and you can join in!

The Question of Qualifying

A huge challenge any person or organization faces in their sales process is qualifying prospects.

The sales funnel pushes potential sales towards conversions, but what many fail to acknowledge is how much time and money is wasted on those prospects that could have been easily ruled out early on in the process.

From Keith Pillow:

What protocols can I put in place that would enable me to properly vet prospective clients on a more detailed level?

How can I avoid problematic client-side issues we agency owners constantly encounter: lack of direction/background info; being unresponsive/uncommunicative; fail to grant approvals in a timely fashion; have unrealistic expectations; and, of course, don’t pay invoices on time (or at all)?

Where’s the Bottom?

As some clients move PR and marketing capabilities (back) in-house, and small agencies/solopreneurs flex their muscles alongside larger, traditional firms, the latter find themselves wondering what’s next.

From Joseph Thornley:

Where is the bottom?

We have seen so much competition from management consulting firms and sole source practitioners. In turn, we have watched as large chunks of our business have been commoditized.

We are being squeezed on prices and margins in order to win business.

So, my big question is, “Where is the bottom? How can we escape this trend?”

Penny Wise, Pound Foolish

Okay, I’ll admit that this header is a little misleading, but it was the best and only way I could think of to get Tori Hebert’s question in:

I never know if I’m supposed to read IT as Information Technology or IT the child eating clown…

We’ll just leave that there for you to ruminate on. You’re welcome.

Keep Asking Questions

There is a quotation attributed to Voltaire that I like:

Judge a person by their questions, rather than their answers.

Finding answers to questions is important. Searching for them is important. But asking is, in my opinion, how the wheels are put in motion.

This week’s big question yielded a number of amazing queries. We have answers to them all, I assure you. You just have to keep reading.

Up Next…

The next Big Question comes directly from this week’s curated questions! Aaron Norris asked, and we (and the Spin Sucks community) will try to deliver:

Zero Interface: Why are you excited about Zero UI (or why aren’t you)?

Why is it important to the future of content and how we engage with it?

You can answer here, in our free Spin Sucks Community, or on the socials (use #SpinSucksQuestion so we can find you).

Mike Connell

Mike Connell is the director of client services at Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. He is also a contributor to the award-winning PR blog, Spin Sucks, the leading source for modern PR training, trends, and insights. Find more of Mike's musings on his blog, Communative. Join the Spin Sucks   community!

View all posts by Mike Connell