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How to PR: When should you be happy with the ROI of a company press release?

You've been tasked with distributing a company press release about a company milestone. You're faced with questions like:

  • How can you know how much effort to invest in the story?
  • How can you manage expectations of internal stakeholders?
  • How do you know that your PR agency is achieving a good result?

In other words: when should you be happy with the impact of a story, and when should you commit more effort and budget to the story?

To help you assess your PR efforts, here's a framework that allows you to gauge the newsworthiness of your corporate milestones.

We start with two simple lines: a horizontal one that indicates whether a story will drive sales or other business results; a vertical one to indicate the attractiveness of your story for journalists:

What's important for you isn't necessarily important for a journalist.
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1. The gold quadrant: it's interesting and it generates leads

Let's start with the good stuff: it is possible to win at PR and pitch stories that are both salient to the media and have a high potential to convert to your products and services.

They are not easy to create, and the key here is to create stories that have a link to your own website or app almost hardwired into the stories: 

Winning at PR feels good
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We can best illustrate with a case:

Case: For a client in the financial industry, we developed a representative survey about how much parents save for their children. On the client's website, we provided a calculation tool where parents could input some key variables (their income, number of children, age of the children) to see whether they were "on target" or not, compared to other parents with a similar profile. Some consumer media included the link to the tool with a call to action: "With this calculator, you can check your own savings against people who are similar to you". 

Be mindful that the media will usually avoid linking to lead capturing apps and landing pages, unless they see significant added value for their readers.

In the above case, the success factor was the fact that journalists understood that parents would want to know how much they "should" save for their children given their individual situation (income, age of children, etc). 

In general, this tactic works well in cases like personal finance, where averages don't mean much because of the effect of age and income on personal finance. See also the success of articles like "Here is how much money you should save at 30, 40, 50"

Successful stories in the "gold quadrant" are rare. If you find one, try to develop it into a franchise: a PR-able, ownable and repeatable story. Think of it like the 'Mission: Impossible' series: there's a new installment every year, and you know that Tom Cruise will be in it.

Once you have a franchise, make sure you keep on top of it. It's more common than you think for a successful franchise to be "borrowed" by competitors, and even by the media: they notice your success and copy your ideas.

  • Key takeaway: this quadrant is one you should invest actively in. 

2. Tough but worth it

Then there's the stories that are important for or interesting to your stakeholders, but less so for the media.

Here it gets tougher
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Typical examples include:

  • A product or feature update. Your customers and leads might want to know about these. In the case of a long anticipated product or feature, there might even be a lot of pent-up demand, so the potential for sales might be big. However, journalists don't like to write about product and feature updates, especially if they regard the update as incremental, and especially if you are not selling a hardware product. It's quite tough to get journalists interested in a new release of your software.
  • Events. Even if your event is a must-attend in your industry and you do a ton of business at your annual conference, journalists are usually less enthused about events. Add to this the problem that most events feature external speakers, and the problem of capturing some of that media juice for your brand rather than the personal brand of the speakers. (That's for another blog post).

So should you forget about this quadrant?

No.

It's too important for your business. Even though your PR colleagues or your agency will push back a bit and try to manage expectations, you should try to generate coverage for these stories.

Just don't overinvest in them, and try to set realistic expectations for yourself and your management. Doing extensive follow-up to reluctant journalists can be incredibly time-consuming and you do have to keep a close eye on the ROI of your efforts in these cases.

Success in this quadrant is often coverage in trade media and on the social media channels of friendly influencers. It's true that they might not be the major business publications that you're hoping for, but usually their reach and credibility is still a lot higher than your own brand channels. 

  • Key takeaway: stories in this quadrant are tough but worth it

3. Easy to pitch, hard to measure

This quadrant is possibly the one where the most discussions arise, although for a PR professional it is a no-brainer.

"Why do we need to do these stories? Show me the ROI"
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These are stories that are easy to pitch, but hard to convert into website traffic and/or leads. In some cases, these stories are harder to sell to your colleagues than to journalists. Often, these are "data driven" stories that have news in them and that are timely or seasonal.

The luckiest brands have some sort of story engine to create these stories. Digital companies (especially B2C brands) can delve into their own data to find stories there.

Data + emotion = story
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Some examples:

These examples illustrate the idea: take your brand storyteller, lock them in the server room with a data analyst and don't let them out before they have a good story.

The attraction for the media here is that through the data, we get an unfiltered look into people's behavior. That's irresistible for journalists who so often have no choice but to believe what people tell them.

You can easily push out one of these stories per month if you manage to build a good story engine, especially if you find ways to vary between more serious, more niche and more fun stories and if you make sure that your stories are seasonal (Christmas, Mother's Day, Valentine's...) or plug into the Zeitgeist (millennials, Brexit, Trump,...).

The goal here is to create a process to create these stories as cheap and abundantly as possible.

While these stories usually resonate well with the media, we sometimes feel a lot of resistance against them internally. First of all, because data analysts are expensive and they have important work to do. Second of all, because some data driven marketers will demand to know how much business these stories will generate.

The answer is that these stories build awareness and support your positioning. While that is not immediately attributable, tons of research show that earned media is a good way to build a brand.

Key takeaway: try to find a way to mass produce these stories 

4. Ugly ducklings: "important" stories

Finally, there are the stories that are "important to us", but not to many people outside the company.
 

"This is really important for us. We want to make a big bang with this milestone"
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Think of things like:

  • Your company is 25 years old
  • You moved to a new building
  • You hired a very senior leader away from your biggest competitor ("YES!")
  • You won an award

By all means, send out communications about these milestones, if only for reasons of internal politics. But try to keep things in perspective by asking yourself: How many companies are celebrating an anniversary today?

Remember that not all PR efforts should be converted into (immediate) coverage. It's perfectly fine to regard these communications as FYI communications to journalists and other stakeholders.

Also, it’s not because the media don't write about this milestone in isolation that they don't understand its importance to you. They might reference it in a future piece ("the company recently made waves by hiring away several senior leaders from its biggest competitor"), so there is definitely value in being in journalists' inboxes with these stories. But some stories are just too small on their own.

Key takeaway: don't overcommit to these stories, and don't blow your PR budget on them (it happens faster than you think)

The full model: realistic expectations for PR 

We summarized all that for you
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Talk to us! 

What would you add to this model? What are your experiences with setting expectations for PR campaigns?