Public Relations or “earned media” is a fantastic marketing channel. Like every element of marketing it needs to have a process around it. Moreover your PR outcomes are only as good as your story. In this video power session Jessie Paul tells you what you need to know before you sign up that PR agency. Or if you are wondering why you are not getting sufficient results or traction from your current PR program, this module might answer those questions.
This video is from the client perspective, based on Jessie’s experience in working with PR agencies on behalf of her clients and employers since 1999.
30 minutes today could save you lakhs tomorrow!
This session was initially conducted for a group of entrepreneurs.  


Transcript of the video:

Hello, and welcome everyone to the session on pr 101. In this I’m going to tell you a little bit about what is PR how you can get it and when is the right time to start doing PR.

So first a quick definition,

what is PR? It is public relations. It’s a communication process that gets you to reach out to the public. So based on this, you would have to decide who is your public and then decide how you’re going to reach them. So a lot of people have the misconception that PR is about media relations. It’s actually not. It is about the media helping you to reach your desired public.

And a quick clarification, what’s the difference between PR and ads? Clearly, advertising is what you pay for, you control the message you can decide what goes up and publicity is what you pray for, because you don’t really know what you’re gonna get based on what you say. Let me come to the ways to reach the public and PR is not the only one.

When you’re a startup, it’s very easy to say, “Hey, you know, PR is free”, but it’s actually not. And that’s something we are going to cover in today’s session.

But first, what are the three types of media? There is paid, there is owned and there is earned. Paid, you’re all familiar with, it’s essentially ads, where you pay the media house to get some space in their publication. But sometimes it isn’t as obvious that this particular communication has been paid for. For example, when you see an advertorial or they’re also called native ads, it may have a small disclosure saying that this is a promoted content, but not always. And in India, the rules are not very strict that you have to declare that you have been paid for promotional content. So sometimes it doesn’t carry any marking at all. Then we have Google AdWords and digital ads. But you also have like a speaking engagement at an industry conference. That’s also a form of advertising that can be considered, or webinars where you get to speak to your public would be a good media too.

And then we have paid news placements. You could pay for a release to be covered, but it could also be something like say Outbrain or Taboola, where it is promoted after organic content. And then we have paid release services like PR Newswire or Business Wire, where you can pay to have your content disseminated, it will appear in a list of publications that have a tie up with the service, but usually in a different section, not in the main editorial. In theory every press release is sent to their media database.

Second category is owned. So these are things that you as a company can run. So this could be your thought leadership programme, you could have a speaker bureau where you allow conferences, web organisers, publishers to reach out to your experts. You could have an awards programme, where you both apply for and give out awards, company hosted events, either digital or real, and social media presence. Those are your own sites as well. So your Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, whatever you have, online community, if you run one for your customers and prospects, very popular way to stay in touch with your customers and something that, we have managed for a number of our clients, it does work really well. And then the research lab if you have one that can produce research on topics. This doesn’t have to be a physical lab. It can be a virtual lab, but it does have to produce good quality content, original in nature, and then a newsletter which again goes out to your database. And if you don’t have one of these, it’s actually one of the most effective things you can do.

The third category, which is the primary focus today is earned media, which is what we call what you get when you get space in somebody else’s publication. And here we have the focused efforts through your PR work. We also have influencer relations. So if you’re in IT services, you’re probably familiar with a Gartner or a Forrester or HFS research. So those are influencers. If you are in the consumer space, then it’s more fragmented, but there are a number of influencers who also have a following and who may be guided by what the influencer says. And then analyst relations is a subset of influencer relations. And these are essentially organisations of bodies that have credibility and try to influence their audience. Then we have trade bodies. So groups like say a NASSCOM or FICCI, or a CII. They also have publications for their members and are tremendously influential. We have partners. So these could be any partners you work with if they have publications or own media in which you can participate that is also earned media. And then we have awards. So when you apply for an award and you win it, and if that award is doing its own PR, you will get coverage as a part of that. This is more common when it’s a media driven award. And so the publication will give considerable amount of coverage to this particular award. So what’s the role of media? different media has different roles. So the thing which people really want From PR often is just reach, but that would be only when you go to a mainstream publication. Definitely you can get reach, but you may also look at a smaller kind of reach when I go to a niche publication or a newsletter, but definitely you are going because you want to reach their particular audience. The second thing that you will do media relations for is credibility. So when you get covered in a very credible publication, like a New York Times or Economic Times or Forbes or what have you, you get credibility by being able to say ” featured in this particular publication”, it is an endorsement and a third party assessment that you are good at what you do, and this particular publication may not have reach but you might have to ensure that this message reaches your audience, but nonetheless, they have given you credibility. Third part is Seo. And it’s actually one of the most common and the lowest cost forms of public relations, which is where I pay for a press release to go out on a paid service such as PR Newswire or business wire. And they ensure that it gets into the pages of a large number of publications which are on their roster. And this helps to help drive traffic to your site in search, as well as increase your domain ranking. And if a publication is able to give you all three then that is, of course the Holy Grail. You want something that gives you credibility gives you read, and gives you SEO, but mind you, each one might have to be delivered by a separate publication. And it might actually make it easier for you to run your programme if you structure it as three different goals to be achieved from a particular outreach.

So moving on, what can a PR agency do for you. Now, most people think that the PR agencies’ only job is to take your message and go out and give it to the publication. Partly true, that is definitely something that they do. But that’s just a starting point. They can also help you with communication strategy. They can help you with creating the content you need to go out in case you don’t have it already with you. Corporate reputation, they can guide you on how to build a positive reputation. . When things go wrong, they can help you with that. Next is financial communication. If you’re heading for an IPO fundraising, there are agencies that specialise in that type of communication. In India, I think the biggest in that space would be Adfactors, which does a lot of investor relations. Then we have influencer outreach. And there are again, specialised divisions of the firm for that. And then media relations which is what is more commonly known as PR services and also public affairs. So if you need to have Government Relations lobbying. Some firms may also do some of that. Now, one caveat is that this is the basket of services from a large PR agency. Not every agency does all of these things. And secondly, very important to remember is that your retainer may not cover all of these elements. So it’s very good to ask which bits you’re actually getting as part of your retainer before you start negotiating for the lowest possible fee that you can pay. It’s good to know what you’re actually getting. And this avoids having wrong expectations when you actually start working with the agency. And it’s also good to ask questions as to how many clients they have in each of these spaces. And do they have a body of work that they can share with you in each of the spaces that you’re interested in working with them on? And really good to remember that media relations forms a large part of what an agency can do for you, but it’s not the only thing that they can do for you.

So how do we measure the value?

very common question,

How do I know what I got delivered value?

So first, one of the most common measures is advertising value equivalency. Now the PR agencies have got together and 2015 they updated something called the Barcelona principles that you can google and see how do people actually want to be measured and how does PR want to be measured? And they say, advertising value equivalency is not the best way, but it’s still one of the most prevalent ones. And it’s very simple, because it’s like saying that if I had to pay for an ad of a similar size to the coverage that I have received, how much would I have paid? So if you had to pay, you know, $10,000 for the ad or one lakh rupees, and you got free coverage for that value. Then you say Hey, man, You know, PR was worth $10,000, or one lakh or whatever it is. It’s not exact but it was easy to do. But it’s not a great way to value because there is more credibility in organic versus paid. But nonetheless, it is something that you could use. But the second is impact on your business outcomes. So if, for example, you felt that in order to get, let’s say, a funding round, you needed to show that, publications have covered your product or service and you know, they have been positive about it, then that is a great business outcome as a result of your having PR, and that is somewhat qualitative, but good to measure. Now the other part is, you know, we get carried away saying did we actually get coverage, but no PR agency, however good can actually ensure that you are going to get all space in the publication. Remember that they can, however provide you with opportunity to brief the publication, how many opportunities can they provide to you. So the input is really in their control, the output depends a lot on whether your message was appropriate for the publication that we reached out to. A lot of clients like to measure output.

But to be fair, that’s teamwork. Unless the agency was also managing your content and strategy, it’s hard to put the ball in their court saying that they were totally responsible for the fact that you got or did not get any coverage. A more qualitative and gut feel based measure, which I actually personally think if you’re not doing a whole lot of PR is good to use is to see if things improve on any front. So I mentioned there are three things that they can do for you credibility, SEO and reach, and you take a call as to which of these you’re going to measure. Did it meet the objective on any one of these? Also, a small note is that don’t evaluate the credibility media on the same metrics as the ones you’re going for reach. Often, you may be successful with getting credibility media, but you may end up having to pay for reach. So for example, if you’re rated as the super awesome widget in a particular credibility publication, you might then have to do a press release, or send it out in your newsletter to get the actual reach with your target audience. And similarly, assume media that can only deliver SEO, it does not deliver credibility or reach. You may have to have different efforts to do that. So to summarise, it’s not easy to say this, I mean, how do you measure value and at the higher end, there are definitely tools and subscriptions where they will b. Put some, you know, before and after value to it. But it’s all still a little hard to assign, you know, to attribute and say, PR got me the specific thing. So you may also need to have measures that you are comfortable with and where you control the measurement of the process, right.

So the next part in this crash course on PR is the payment models. And I know a lot of people are interested in this. So my personal favourite is a fixed price campaign, where you say that if the retainer per month is x, you convert that and say, Look, why don’t I take that retainer of x and give you three x. And in three months, I’m hoping that you’re going to show me these kinds of results and how you define that could be setting up a strategy could be in setting up the content could be in terms of the initial outreach, all those elements can go on to your fixed price campaign, and you feed it as a campaign rather than as a monthly list of things to do. The second, which is most popular with the agencies is retainer. It’s a classical model. It’s like a consulting fee you’re paying them. Personally not a fan, it does tend to kind of encourage a little bit of status quo ism on both sides. Retainer plus performance model bonus is a model that I’ve worked with works really nicely, where you say this is a flat fee for you. And over and above that, if I achieve these goals, I will give you x amount per goal. This aligns your goals nicely with the agency and there is also a distinct financial upside for them. So I think it’s a pretty fair model to work with. And I frequently get asked this question, can I do barter You can’t do barter with a PR agency, they don’t really have something that they need from you, and they much rather that you actually paid the money. Contrary to popular notions, PR agencies for the most part are not swimming in money and it’s not, you know that they have money to give away. But publications will be willing to do barter with you. There are publications that have a separate division where you can go talk to them and say that look, why don’t I give you let’s say 10 apartments and you can in return, you know, give me these kinds of advertorials and so on. Bear in mind that very few organisations will give you organic PR with this barter. It’s more likely to be an advertorial. Though like I said, Because India’s rules on indicating where you have taken a consideration for publication are very lax it is possible also to get PR with a bartering arrangement, though not very common. Most common is retainer second most would be retainer with a performance piece. Third would be fixed price.

Now some of you have written in to me and asked how much do you actually have to pay for a PR agency? Well, it varies. In the US, you might be able to start at perhaps $5,000 per month, but usually I would say between 10 and 15,000 is kind of going rate in the US. In India, if you’re looking at the very basic starting level, it would be maybe 75,000 rupees a month, though one lakh would be a more common starting point, with one and a half to three being more common from a larger organisation. We are in the process of doing a report on PR, the Red Book of PR, and once that comes up, we will have more current and up to date information on the kind of money you have to pay. But broadly the other consideration that you have to have is that if you’re paying X amount for the actual media outreach, you need to allocate another 50% to create the content and drive a campaign around it. Because without content, we cannot have media outreach. And if you’re signing up saying I want to have, you know, five different outreaches a month, you also have to think through what you’re going to say in those five different outreaches. What collateral do you have? What data do you have, so, I do have another slide on the media magnets, but please budget for that as well. And in India, I would generally say that if you don’t have around the lack and a half a month to spend, you might not get the, you know, the actual output that you want. And similarly in the US, 5000 is your starting point. But if I had that kind of money, I would probably convert it to a fixed price campaign for a particular piece of news that I had, rather than look at it as a retainer.

So how long does it take? So I’m just putting Something where if I were to create a communication strategy, it would take around six weeks from the day I started to the day that I actually had a plan that was, ready to go. And if you’re signing up with an agency, you need to factor for at least a month of onboarding, which is all of this. If you try to skimp on this, and you know, you’re basically going to market half baked, and you will not see the results that you expected.

Another very popular question. Can I do this in house if I am a cash strapped startup? Should I do this in house? Well, yes, and no, I do my own PR and I’ve been pretty successful. I’ve been doing my own PR for around 10 years I do get coverage but it is a lot of hard work. As with anything the decision on whether you should do it yourself or outsource depends on your trade off between time and money. Do you have time to do the following things. On average, I would say you need one hour a day for outreach. This would mean hanging around on LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, wherever and trying to reach the influencers and the media that you wish to connect with. This is not spamming them this is actually trying to build a connect to understand the topics they are interested in, and to engage with them and say, Hey, I really liked your post on this or that and, you know, build some kinds of engagement before you say, Hey, I would like to share my information with you. You would also need an hour a day at least to create content. Otherwise, what’s the point of the outreach you need quality content, and it actually works best when you are an established executive brand. If you’re not an executive brand, you have to build one. And when I say established executive brand you are known and acknowledged as an expert in the space that you are trying to promote. So for example, we were part of the launch of Happiest Minds. And the founder is Mr. Ashok Soota who has a huge executive brand as he has been known as the CEO of Wipro is known as a co founder of Mindtree, he’s known as an industry leader. So we don’t have to, you know, establish his credentials. He’s an established executive brand. So if you don’t have that, then that’s the first step to work on. Because that builds credibility for your message, then you need to have a campaign idea. You can’t just say I want PR without saying, I want PR because I am launching this new widget, which is the first of its kind that can do this particular thing. Remember that in order to get PR, you have to have a unique story you have to own or create. If you don’t have that in place. What you need to start with is actually a communications plan and a strategy with a communications consultant like myself who sits down and tell you that these are the go to market messages. This is the unique value proposition for your brand. You then need original content, then build on this campaign idea. And I would actually suggest that before you rush off to outsource, you create your own media plan. What is it that you can do which is in your control, and get used to producing content with a certain rhythm with a certain style with a certain team, before you go out and tell someone that I’m going to provide you with content every week on media is in your control, and you can do it in house or with your agency. And it’s perfectly easy to do and it’s a good start, I would suggest doing owned before rushing off to do earned, make sure your superlatives are in place. Why are you the best the first the fastest, the best, the the you know, whatever. You are the most organic, the most environmentally friendly, whatever superlative you want. But you must find a superlative because that’s what publications like to hear.

And lastly, you have to have access to those publishers. So if you don’t have it, you’re going to have to build it. So the point of outsourcing is that someone else will take care of the access for you. And trust me, if you don’t have access, it will take you a few months actually to build that organically. And it will require considerable time investment for you. So if you also have to first build your executive brand. In the same context, some of you have asked me saying that agencies tell me that when I sign up with them, it will take them time to actually get me coverage on Yes, it will take time because they do have to reach out. But you need to ask is it to actually do the outreach? Or is it to establish your as an executive brand before they reach out to the publication? Because in that case, it’s a much, much longer timeframe. And you can ask the agency what is the lead time. Use the six weeks or three months of whatever you’re advising is a lead time for ramp up. My advice is that if you’re a startup which is strapped for time, you should look at outsourcing. If you’re an individual contributor or consulting firm, or where you have access to, you know, really good content and can package it well, then you can consider doing it on your own, at least to start with. Another way to do this is to say that look, why don’t I try on my own and get all the content in place? And if the only barrier to success is access to publishers, then great, I will go ahead and sign up with an agency at that point in time.

So what are the media magnets? You have research. If you have original research, it is something that media sees value in for their readers. Their readers are excited to learn about the latest research. So for example, a friend of mine who runs Arrka consultancy in the space of security, does research on how safe are apps and that’s an annual research and it comes out it comes up infographics.

She does get covered in major publications like say in Economic Times. Another company which has done a great job with research is WakeFit mattresses, where it’s a mattress but they have a tonne of data, including one during the lockdown about how marketers are sleeping less because they’re working so hard and so late at night. Now this is kind of like classical great PR research because the story isn’t about the mattress, it is about the benefits that they provide. And it is broad enough to appeal to a large group of readers. And so somebody like me would give them free coverage on my newsletter and my website because the content is so good. Similarly, I would use the Arrka infographic to explain why, it’s not just Chinese apps, it’s all apps that want to have access to your privacy data. And it’s more a policy issue than an app issue.

Awards. Yes, if you’re winning an award and it’s big enough, you will get coverage. And definitely you will get coverage, at least from the publication, which is giving out the award. But you could also look at giving out an award that would be really appealing to their readers. So creating an award is a great media magnet.

Good deeds. Everybody has a heart. So if you’re doing good stuff for community and for the readers and for society, in general, chances are they can justify giving you organic coverage. But remember, it has to be really good and not done just for the purpose of PR. Trending topics. You can be part of someone else’s feature or a story that they’re writing. So use Google keywords, check what are the trending topics in your space, and write about that and then reach out to the journals and say, Hey, I have this tidbit, could I be included in a story that you’re working on. As a thumb rule, it is far, far easier to get a mention than to actually get a feature. You need to work quite a bit to get a feature, but start by getting mentions in somebody else’s feature and start but piggybacking on trending topics, for example, in the midst of the COVID lockdown, you would definitely get coverage if you were talking about anything or immunity, anything that can help someone with work from home, anything that could help you with health issues that come from working from home, any of these would be likely topics that would get coverage during such a period.

What about controversies? So again, if you’re a small player and you’re a challenger brand, you have to be controversial. If you say what everybody else is saying that’s not media, right? That’s not media story. The old adage goes that it is far more fun to hear about that the man bites dog, then the dog bites someone. And that’s actually how you get coverage. So if everybody says one thing you have to say the other, otherwise you don’t really have a POV that’s catchy. So work on looking at the trends and seeing if rather than agree, you could find a particular perspective to disagree and argue that point because then you will be included in a story as the CounterPoint.

Do you have experts that you can provide access to?

So for example, if you were, let’s say, a maker of smoothies, and you have the world’s best smoothie maker, can you give tips to people on how to make a smoothie at home? If you’re into IT and you have security experts, can I give access to the writer to my experts to give advice on how to secure your apps. Your experts are credible and have credentials to prove it. And of course, all media loves something that’s of value to their readers. So you have to find that thing. Don’t think about your product, think about the benefit and think about how you can add value to your target publication. Right. So everybody is not your target audience. But whatever is your target audience, you have to define something, a story that is of value to them. I like this quote, which I read in an interview, published about Girish Mathrubootham. So he says data is your enemy, story is your friend. And that’s actually true. You have to have the narrative you have to be a storyteller. I think the point is not that data is bad. It’s just that if you go with a fact based approach, people don’t understand the story. And Freshworks is fantastic at doing PR.

They’re fantastic at actually creating a controversy and then showing how it is beneficial. Doing something like #failforce as a counter to Salesforce, going back against, say, a tweet, or a message from Zendesk or their copy. There are lots of examples and it’s on their website. So if you’re looking for inspiration, go check out the marketing section on Freshworks that will also give you some ideas on you know, like, if you’re in SaaS, how to get PR. So media magnets without creating this, I would say that it’s very, very hard for you to do PR. And if you’re signing up a PR agency, ask if they can give you ideas on this media magnet. Alternatively, create a media magnet and then sign up with a PR agency so that you can get more value for their time.

So lastly, if you have any questions, here are my details. Feel free to write in and ask your questions or if you want to do the session separately with me, we can chat about it. And I hope you found this useful and Have a great day. Bye


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