I think nearly all CEOs share two fantasies. The first being that they could appear on the front page of The Wall Street Journal or cover of Business 2.0 ... if only a PR person gave a bit more effort. The second is that they could save a heck of a lot of money if they slashed the ad budget and got more PR coverage instead. Because, PR is “free,” right?
(Anyway every CEO is convinced that 50% of the ad budget is wasted as things are.)
This explains why PR always gains in popularity during a recession, even an incipient one like what we’re undergoing these days. Unfortunately, this doesn’t help the PR profession all that much. Scads of PR pros were laid off or barely survived in downsized firms during the economic downturn of 2001-02.
It’s due to the “PR is free” thing that your CEO can’t seem to shake from his or her head.
PR is, in fact, a heck of a lot like search engine optimization. A skilled practitioner comes in, redoes your site’s messaging, builds inbound link relationships with hundreds of influential sources and then everyone waits six months to begin to see significant impact. In the meantime, the fiscal quarter is ending and your CEO is getting nervous. “Where are the ’free results’ already?!” “Where’s my No. 1 ranking?” “Where’s my WSJ cover mention?”
Then, your CEO asks, “Hey, if it’s free, why are we paying for this? How hard can this PR (or SEO) thing be? Let’s bring it in-house and save even more money. It’s a recession after all, we all have to work a little harder and tighten our budgetary belts.”
Which is how even the best PR firms get fired. And the best marketers start looking a little hollow-eyed and permanently exhausted. PR is people-work after all. It’s relationship building -- not something a typically introverted marketer tends to be fabulous at. When well done, PR also takes an extraordinary number of man-hours ... something you may not have on hand when the CEO just cut your staffing budget again.
PR is invaluable -- especially when you get strong mentions in niche media that your prospects read passionately. But, it’s not free.
OK, so what’s my advice this week? If you are trying to get more glowing press coverage in this down market, one factor can help you. Trade journalists like exclusive case studies in any economy, but when the going gets tough, they utterly adore them. In 2008, it’s going to be easier to get case study coverage than ever before.
As Micky Long at Aberdeen Group once told me, “In a recession, reporting coverage moves. It’s not about vision or the next greatest thing; it’s about show-me-the-money. Show me the ROI. Reporters say ‘Let me talk to a customer.’ ”
So, there’s your hook. Go forth and build media relationships. Good luck!
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