The attribution is unsupported, but Albert Einstein is often credited with the quote: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting different results.” Its source notwithstanding, the axiom applies perfectly to the great number of companies that retain PR firms, year after year, to generate publicity that will have little or no impact on tangible business outcomes.
Over the past 5 decades, to rationalize hefty monthly fees, the PR profession has successfully promoted three underlying assumptions:
- Any publicity is good publicity.
- The more publicity, the better.
- Publicity generates revenue.
Here are just a few reasons why it’s insane for most businesses to base their marketing strategy on any of those assumptions:
- Lots of Media Exposure is Worthless. The “worthless media” category can include one-off quotes or mentions in round-up stories that also reference your competitors…if you’ve gained no unique mindshare. It can include appearances on network and cable TV…if the topics have a short shelf-life, or are unlikely to be of interest to target audiences. And it always includes exposure in advertorials (regardless of the sponsoring publication’s stature) and feature articles in pay-to-play vanity publications…because you gain no credible 3rd party validation.
- Counting Media Clips is a Zero Sum Game. PR firms often justify their value by the sheer volume of media exposure they generate…regardless of whether it stakes out intellectual territory, supports a client’s value proposition, or differentiates them in the marketplace. The goal should be to create an arsenal of effective credibility tools; not simply to generate clippings to hang like hunting trophies in the “Media” section of a website. This zero sum game is also played in social media, where scorecards of “likes” and “followers” are used as hollow substitutes for meaningful business metrics.
- It’s All About Merchandising. Business leaders must address two key questions in advance of seeking any publicity: “1. What type of media exposure will benefit us most?” and “2. If we gain that exposure, what will we DO with it?” Responses to Question #2 must provide clear direction regarding how it will support the firm’s sales and marketing strategy; how it will be used to drive leads; how it will initiate meaningful conversations with clients and prospects; and how it can be leveraged to gain other opportunities for targeted exposure.
Most PR firms fail to deliver on the potential of their craft because performing it correctly requires really hard work, takes time, and demands accountability for business results. Your role as a responsible client requires that you hold your PR agency’s feet to the fire by expecting results that have a measurable impact on your company’s balance sheet. It also means that you must provide your agency with the time and guidance necessary for them to deliver something more than a pile of useless press clippings.
If you’re unwilling to make that commitment, or if they’re incapable of delivering on your expectations, then it’s time to stop the insanity. Fire your PR firm in 2014.