Christine originally wrote this article for Forbes. To read it on the Forbes website, click here.
How Your Statement Of Work Should Change To Accommodate A Strategy Of Paid And Organic Media
Hiring a PR firm isn’t just about getting media placements anymore. The introduction of social creators (aka influencers) and paid media opportunities, and the shifting dynamic of who actually reports the news that people consume, means that the “old” ways of doing things aren’t working like before.
There has long been tension in negotiations for public relations’ work product. It has always been hard to guarantee results because, traditionally, you are pitching an idea to a reporter, and they take it from there. After the pitch, you’re at their mercy.
When I started in the ’90s, people hired PR firms because reporters only took the PR pitch calls from people they knew and trusted. So, as a PR person, you could reasonably guess the outcome of a pitch because you had spent years building up a rapport with the reporter and knew which way the wind would blow.
That dynamic was coupled with greater respect for the written word in trades and newspapers. The model was flipped from where it is today — print came out first, and then maybe it was put online if the organization had a good IT department. We’d clip all of this coverage and tape it into a clip book, which was then often thumped on the table during client meetings to drive home the value of working with the agency.
For most brands and in most everyday situations, those days are over. They’ve been over for a while, but some loyalists have been hanging onto the remnants of this old way of doing things. Most misunderstandings are due to some level of this adherence to old norms.
I recently asked business owners on LinkedIn what kinds of experiences they have had with PR agencies. Shocking no one, most of them said they had been “burned” more than once. By digging into what “burned” meant, it is easy to see the changes needed in the statement of work (SOW) that need to occur to avoid miscommunication. That’s what is at the heart of most of these fails.
So, as a 2021 New Year’s resolution for both brands and agencies, I challenge you to begin to define the value of communication for your brand. What is the (actual) goal you’re trying to reach? Make sure your contract reflects how you’re achieving that goal.
Here’s an example: A brand wants to begin an online store and close its two brick-and-mortar stores. So, its immediate and overarching goals are to make sure that current customers know about the switch, that they don’t lose any during the transition and that the new e-commerce store gets a strong launch.
Since this needs a whole complicated plan, I will break out just the PR part to show evidence for a few points I want to make. Let’s say we’ve hired a PR agency to get coverage of the switch. What needs to be in that statement of work to make sure what we want to achieve happens?
First and foremost, this is what every brand or buyer looks for — what can you guarantee? PR folks (and most clients) know that you can’t guarantee organic earned media. You just can’t. It’s based on a third party’s assessment and decision. There are many other metrics you can measure and guarantee, like sentiment, key message tracking, traffic to the website, a certain number of new followers and increased reach by the calculated content spread.
So, in the case of our retail store switching to online sales, PR can guarantee that the articles it places will be seen by a certain number of people. Everyone can easily agree that they should be favorable and include at least one to three very key messages and a link.
Finally, this activity should impact traffic and conversions on the e-commerce site, which we all know are very measurable.
So, if it were our statement of work, I would include something like:
“…Before the hard launch on July 15, 2021, we’re going to reach at least 1.2 million people in the Chicago area (defined by both article reach and resulting website traffic). Those people will have seen the three messages in our plan as well as this link (https://www.notrealexamplebrand.com/shop) in at least 85% of the content. Brand agrees to set up Google Analytics to measure conversions from the sources defined in the strategy.”
Notice that these metrics don’t have anything to do with the number of articles or specific magazines or which website they’ll be placed within. They all point back to what the brand needs from PR — in this example, public awareness that leads to sales.
It’s up to us as a good PR team to figure out if one solid hit in the Chicago Tribune will achieve this or 20 separate blog placements with corresponding social media calls to action. Or, more likely, a mix of both. They also know how much time it will take to get there.
The price of achievement is often at the heart of most agency misunderstandings, and, again, it’s not usually handled correctly at the SOW stage. Here’s the added tricky part — there’s no textbook way to figure it out! The one constant is what the result is worth to the brand.
My firm keeps this simple by baking in a 10% expense allocation into our blended fee and having only one hourly fee. We also hire 1099 content creators when needed, so they’re working for us similarly to freelance writers or photographers. That puts the ability to achieve the goals described in our hands and allows us to be accountable for the results we get.
There is so much information available about how to blend paid and organic media and activate online influence; there is no excuse for complacency. It is time to make positive changes to the way we do business that will benefit everyone on both sides of the table — brands and agencies.
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