One of the biggest concerns I hear from #tech CEOs and CMOs as they embark on 2019 strategic planning (and are looking back on 2018) is wasting through a #PR budget with little to show for it. They know they need to raise brand or product awareness, and that PR is a necessary line item in the budget, but they also believe that by paying a PR firm all their pre-existing pain points will be solved. This is a big mistake.
Companies need to understand what a communications plan can and cannot achieve and work closely with their PR partners to build a smart strategy that gains traction– and cost-effectively. In today’s noisy media environment, it’s tough to cut through the clutter to secure share of voice, let alone differentiate your company from the competitive pack. The companies with the most successful PR campaigns get one thing right: they focus on educating their target audiences—internal and external stakeholders alike. This is the foundation of building strong brand awareness and how the companies that are getting the most from their PR dollars are doing it.
- Lead with Relevance: A strong PR strategy is not set in stone—it evolves based on industry news, consumer moods, internal goals, and overall trends. While product announcements and milestones can be planned out in advance, the most effective way to raise awareness will be to react to news that is happening in your industry in a timely manner. Building awareness doesn’t always mean solely pushing your own agenda; it’s about staying on top of news and trends to become part of the broader conversation. This means having your core messages ready to go, but knowing when and how to fine tune them to apply to a larger context. Reporters are hungry for timeliness and relevance; they’re less inclined to pursue an evergreen story unless it’s a particularly slow news day.
- Designate an Editor-in-Chief: PR efforts must include an editorial strategy, which means someone (on your PR team or in-house) must be constantly looking for ways to push the boundaries in content. If your PR team does not have an editorial staff or content studio arm, make sure that someone in-house is keeping a close eye on this. For all that’s said about content being king, good, compelling content is hard to create and even harder to scale if you don’t have the right resources behind it. It’s best to have one point of contact who can approve content ideas quickly and one voice or perspective that the content is coming from. It doesn’t always need to be the CEO (though that certainly helps, see number 3). We simply need to hear your POV—that’s the base of strong content.
- Solidify Your CEO’s “Platform”: In 2018 it became abundantly clear that consumers/ customers/clients across sectors and industries care what a company stands for (this is especially true among Gen Z). This means that CEOs need to be front and center sharing the company’s values (with authenticity and humility a bonus). As noted at the recent Forbes CMO Summit, when consumers perceive a brand as ‘human’ they are 1.6 more times likely to buy. The time to invest in this is not when the company is in crisis or needs a turnaround. This should be done regularly and proactively. Creating opportunities for CEOs to share their thinking will help “put a face” on a company and give the public and clients more chances to connect with someone (and something) bigger than themselves.
- Think Creatively about Channels: PR is no longer about pushing out press release after press release, nor should it be limited to traditional media news sources (especially as editorial staffs continue to shrink). For the new PR landscape, look to a broader range of content channels, including developing your own branded platform, podcasts, and social media. It’s about maximizing the increasing number of channels out there to generate reach and frequency of your key messages and unique point of view.
- Don’t Forget IRL: If we can take a page from retail, 2018 saw retail need to come offline to scale (from digital-first brands opening up brick and mortar to Facebook doing a pop-up). The same is true in building awareness. Challenge yourself to think more outside of the box. Look at real-life opportunities like curated groups, informative salons, and thought leadership roundtables. As long as it’s worth while to attendees, don’t be afraid to pursue a new direction.
It’s great that PR is a line-item in most tech companies’ budgets (trust me, we love this!), but you need to make sure that you’re getting the most mileage out of your PR dollars. Reframing your thinking to focus on the most surefire ways to build awareness of your product/service/ company is a good first step. But it’s the making sure you’re continuously tracking toward that goal that will help make sure you (and your PR strategy) are positioned for success in 2019.
I am the CEO of RAISE Communications, a boutique PR and content strategy firm that helps tech leaders and innovators shape ideas, create influence and inspire action.