When the question of whether to hire an agency comes up there are always plenty of opinions to go around. A few of the good opinions can be found here, here and here. In fact, there’s even some that argue that you can automate the whole function of PR and forego hiring an agency altogether (a topic for another blog at another time.) In this week’s #TBT, we’re revisiting the topic and sharing thoughts on what makes PR strategic and critical to any company and how PR is strategic in enhancing strategic communications. My colleague Bill McLaughlin eloquently shared these with many of us at LPP recently. Let us know what you think, and if there are any reasons we missed.
Why PR is strategic and critical to a company:
- Public relations raises your company’s profile, manages its reputation by proactively developing relationships with key influencers – media, analysts, social experts, partners, customers — interested in your business, all of which are vital to your success.
- PR is often the anvil on which all core aspects of the company’s story are hammered out – positioning, key messages – PR is especially important in bringing the outside market perspective to this effort.
- Through coverage in the media (both traditional and online), PR can significantly increase a company’s profile, raise awareness of what it does, educate target audiences and position the company and its employees as experts in their field. This, in turn, can generate more inquiries/leads and sales.
- Earned media coverage generated through PR can be more cost-effective than advertising, is shown to have strong influence, and is considered to be the least biased of all communications content.
- A consistent PR program and associated coverage demonstrates that the company is active and connected in the market. A news room with lots of press releases and coverage, as well as social channels with links to related third party content, sends a positive message. Conversely, sparse or stagnant news room and social activity implies that little to nothing is happening at the company.
- Earned media coverage is used by marketing and sales as fulfillment assets to positively influence customers and prospects.
- Public relations news monitoring services can keep tabs on market trends and competitor activities and help the company develop appropriate and effective responses.
- Public relations can focus the media, customers and prospects on areas the company wishes to promote, i.e., product innovation and excellence, and minimize attention on negative aspects such as employee turnover, executive departures, layoffs and poor financial performance.
- Public relations can identify hot trends and help the company determine its strategy for capitalizing on them.
How an agency benefits a company:
- Reputation and connections – An agency keeps the client up-to-date on the media landscape and the latest trends. An established agency has spent years building its reputation. The firm interacts with reporters, editors, bloggers, industry analysts and other influencers every day. This enables them to not only know what is going on but to build trusted relationships with those key audiences.
- Experience – An agency works with many companies across many different markets, and as such, has seen virtually every kind of communications activity, both good and bad. The client benefits from this experience and won’t waste time pursuing strategies and tactics that will not work.
- Independent thinking and counsel – An agency can bring an outsider’s perspective and help to keep a company from drinking too much of its own Kool-Aid. Regardless of their standing, companies can always benefit from a seasoned third-party perspective.
- Scale and reach – In a world where determining who matters changes so quickly (media changing jobs, new channels emerging) and is increasingly harder to find, having an agency partner who’s constantly out there searching for them and engaging with them on the client’s behalf is critical.
- Speed and focus –An internal corporate communications person’s responsibilities are usually very different from those of an agency professional. Typically, the internal person has to manage relationships with many internal constituencies including product management, marketing, sales and customer service. They are responsible for creating content and often own internal communications as well. At the end of the day, a relatively small percent of their time is actually spent doing external facing activities like media and influencer relations. Whereas, for the agency, that is where the majority of their time is spent.
- Tools and techniques – Agencies have the tools and services that help keep them abreast of the latest developments regarding media and influencer beats, assignments, and editorial focus. Research services through tools such as Cision, ITDatabase, Meltwater, Muck Rack and NUVI are a few of the leading services that provide insight into key audiences and channels.
- Benefiting from other client experiences – The volume and variations of strategies and tactics developed and executed by agencies will vary a great deal. This exposes agency team members to ideas that they can bring to other clients based on those experiences.
- The “Serendipity Factor” – Because agency personnel are working with so many clients and constantly communicating with influencers, they have the ability to uncover and share opportunities with each other and their clients so much faster than any single individual or small internal communications team can.
- Flexibility – Clients can use agencies as a variable asset, increasing activities or scaling them back as needed around things such as one-time special projects or important initiatives that will require more effort and investment.
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