With today's cost-constrained budgets, PR can be an important strategic component of a marketing mix. Extending beyond the press release, PR encompasses a wide range of communication and customer-engagement tactics. It can cost-effectively help build a brand, drive traffic, appeal to new customer segments, attract new investors, increase revenues, and accomplish other marketing objectives. To achieve this, a PR strategy must be more creative and be integrated into your total marketing plan.
To fully leverage the benefits of online PR:
Understand your marketing objectives and how PR can help accomplish them. Just as you tailor different marketing strategies for each business objective, you must target and integrate your PR message and approach. "As the line between marketing and PR blurs," says Edelman VP Morra Aarons, "you need to consider what will work best for each PR campaign. It may be a press release, a keyword buy, or an ad."
Examine your marketing calendar. Look at your marketing or editorial calendar to determine when targeted PR can strengthen your promotional efforts. Consider whether you're doing something newsworthy that people care about or that can create buzz.
Create a hook consumers, bloggers, and the media will find interesting. Focus your pitch on the story or consumer benefits, not on your company. Survey results are always a favorite for garnering press attention. For example, Unilever's Campaign for Real Beauty research finds only 2 percent of women thought they were beautiful, which generated lots of press and buzz. Also, being the first in your category to do something different or adapt a new technology is a time-proven approach.
Assess which consumer segments are interested in your campaign. Consider secondary targets as well. Find a PR theme that will catch your target audience's attention.
Leverage online engagement to extend a story's reach. This can work especially well if you're marketing a media site that may have difficulty attracting press. Options include:
Create a special section with deeper content.
Develop viral content to fuel buzz. PR firm Vorticom promoted the Hollywood issue of "Vanity Fair" with five campaigns containing links to the original VanityFair.com video content in February and March 2006. As a result, VanityFair.com traffic spiked dramatically. The traffic generated an increase in online-generated print subscriptions.
Include customer involvement features, such as a quiz.
Use a blog to engage users in a dialogue or a podcast to provide useful or entertaining content.
Partner with a non-competing site so you both gain from the cross promotion.
Use online functionality to increase your PR campaign's impact. Check out the following:
Search. Make press releases search friendly by using search-rich keywords and links to your site. Augment important promotions with related keyword buys, and check that links direct to the appropriate content or press release. Ensure your site is optimized for these terms.
"Online press releases can be an important component of your search marketing strategy," Reprise Media's Josh Stylman notes. "Since the content is valuable, it should be visible for the people trying to find it." (Note: This topic is covered at a number of sessions at Search Engine Strategies.)
Web site promotion. Publicize the promotion, event, or press release on your site with links from the home page and onsite ads. Make the promotion or content easy to find on your site. Have a press center associated with your site's corporate information section. Post press releases, recent media stories, and blog mentions.
E-mailings. Promote the event to your email database in an engaging way.
RSS. Use feeds to distribute your information to a wider audience.
Analyze PR Efforts
From an analytics perspective, PR doesn't always yield predictable or quantifiable results. A story's timing and placement is beyond your control. If PR is well integrated with your other marketing initiatives, its impact may be even more difficult to isolate. But you can assess the impact it has on achieving marketing goals over time. Here are some metrics you should look at:
Assess site visitors, page views, and revenues. Compare the period before your release with that following it. In addition, many business-to-business (B2B) marketers ask for registration to allow readers to get white papers, which aids tracking.
Monitor blogs for company mentions. This can be augmented by using a third-party monitoring service, such as Nielsen BuzzMetrics and Cymfony, which track a wide range of consumer-generated media sources. They can be very useful for brand and reputation monitoring.
Track press pickups and related media mentions. This can be done by using online services, such as Google Alerts, or more sophisticated paid press-tracking packages for offline media.
Measure brand impact. Use surveys and related metrics to assess impact. Alternatively, some marketers use time spent on the site as an engagement indicator.
Assess search impact. Check referring URLs to determine where traffic is coming from.
In a connected, digital world, PR isn't just about the press release; it's about connecting with customers. PR is an integral part of a multichannel marketing program. At its best, PR is the communications, media-focused component of a broader marketing campaign. With well-thought-out goals, a good understanding of your target markets, enabling technology, and a cleaver, relevant hook, PR can be one of the most cost-effective tools for spreading the word.
Heidi Cohen is the President of Riverside Marketing Strategies, an interactive marketing consultancy. She has over 20 years' experience helping clients increase profitability by developing innovative marketing programs to acquire and retain customers based on solid analytics. Clients include New York Times Digital, AccuWeather.com, CheapTickets, and the UJA. Additionally, Riverside Marketing Strategies has worked with numerous other online content/media companies and e-tailers.
Prior to starting Riverside Marketing Strategies, Heidi held a number of senior-level marketing positions at The Economist, the Bookspan/Doubleday Direct division of Bertelsmann, and Citibank.