Over the past few weeks, we’ve been examining PR for B2B from a variety of perspectives and speaking with experts in the field to get their reflections on what does and does not work. Recently, I’ve had the opportunity to speak with several experts about how to assess the effectiveness of your strategy.

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My conversations revealed an overarching theme: The ultimate goal of PR is to raise brand and product awareness, but ideally PR represents only one of many strategies to accomplish that goal. Paid advertising and earned awareness based on thought leadership, industry reputation, and quality content should go hand in hand with your PR efforts. To ensure your PR strategy is effective, you need to focus on reasonable expectations while demanding results. Here are some key tenets to take your PR from strategy to success.

Know Your Why

One of the biggest mistakes companies of all sizes make with PR is to start the PR process without knowing clearly defined goals. This frequently leads to unhappiness because no one in the business has a firm grasp on the results PR is supposed to be producing.

So to know your why, a company should first identify the fundamental goal of the campaign. Is it to drive a sales pipeline? To attract prospective buyers, investors, or users? To cultivate product evangelicals who spread the word about the benefits of your technology? Or if a company is in start-up phase, is the aim just to create industry buzz? This is the foremost question companies need to answer before they engage PR. And they must answer it themselves – a PR firm does not know your business the way you do. You should know what you need to achieve.

Don’t Wait Until It’s Too Late

In PR, good things do not come to those who wait. Several of the marketing experts I spoke with recounted numerous businesses that delayed beginning PR to the point where it could not be successful. The way to avoid this mistake, especially for start-up B2B companies, is to start on your PR strategy at least six months in advance of your end goal or product launch. That timeline gives you enough breathing room to sanity check your message and nurture your contacts. If you are outsourcing PR, you also need time to build a close working relationship with your firm so that your strategy is cohesive.

Create a Message That Stands Out

If your message doesn’t differentiate you from your competitors, it will fall flat. There are just too many other businesses, people, products, and social media outlets clamoring journalists’ attention. And part of standing out is avoiding “me too” syndrome. Don’t regurgitate the messages of others in your space. Ask yourself: what do you do that is entirely unique?

Once you can answer that, your PR strategy should focus on crafting a message that sounds credible and relevant. A good PR firm will help you refine your message, but they’re not there to create your content. PR can be the guide, but you need to provide the map. If you do outsource your PR, your firm should also very quickly let you know if your message will stand out. It’s one of the most important functions a firm can play.

Value Quality Over Quantity

Effective PR is about quality over quantity. Therefore, it’s not about how many publications a PR firm gets you mentioned in, but rather the quality and reach of those publications. One Wall St. Journal mention is worth a thousand obscure blog posts.

Treat Journalists Like Humans

Instinctively, we probably all realize that PR is predicated on relationships. You should approach and interact with journalists as humans and not just means to an end. If your PR firm isn’t able to help you forge these types of relationships, it’s failing you. But the role of a PR firm is to make that initial connection; it’s up to you to nurture the relationship.

It’s crucial to actively participate in your own PR. Don’t approach PR with a transactional mindset. Journalists don’t owe you anything and they’re not in the business of re-running press releases. You should be providing journalists with quality content and a distinctive angle from which they benefit. Don’t reach out only when you want them to promote something. Ask for their advice on your product and content. After all, they cover your field for a living; they’ll have insight.

Start-Ups Should Play Offense

It’s also important for start-ups to make people notice them, rather than waiting for attention to come. In some cases, you don’t need a PR firm to do this. If you’re the founder of your business, it’s often more valuable for you to directly pitch journalists and outlets. And if you do use a firm, you have to be your own champion. Good PR firms are in demand and often have many clients. You can’t be the quiet kid in class and expect to be noticed. You have to ask for attention and have high expectations. You should be prepared to drive the firm to meet those expectations, rather than thinking it will just happen passively.

Do Your Own Metrics

Often, PR firms tout how many pieces are written about your company instead of prioritizing top-tier publication placements. To him, 80-90% of coverage will get very little traffic, but it’s the 10% in top tier publications like Forbes, The Wall Street Journal, and Wired that matter — they’ll drive 90 percent of your future business. Being able to separate the proverbial wheat from the chaff is up to you: you should set up your own PR tracking and metric system. PR people are in the business of making you think you’re getting good PR. You should be in the business of knowing whether that’s true.

Avoid Common Pitfalls

As we already discussed, if you don’t know why you’re doing PR, your strategy is doomed. But part of the strategy should also be advanced preparation for when things go wrong. PR is a practice and you need to prepare for all eventualities.

Additionally, expecting too much from your firm is a common problem. You, not your PR firm, are responsible for creating content and messaging. It’s PR’s job to refine.

The experts I spoke with all agreed that it’s best for companies to be their own best advocate –have a designated spokesperson so your message comes across from a single voice, prep before every meeting, and read journalists’ work in advance of meeting them.

Finally, PR is a relationship, and as in any relationship, you need to know when to move on. If you’re working with a firm and you’re not getting the results you want, or you’re only being connected to people who you already know, don’t be afraid to cut the cord. If you’re paying for PR, you deserve satisfactory results.
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Check out the whole blog series:

Find the Right PR Match

The Right Chemistry Matters: B2B Tech and PR

Your Big PR Agency Is a Person Too

Marketers Tend the Content Fires for Successful PR

PR Needs To Be Watered with Quality Content

One Size PR Does Not Fit All for B2B Tech Marketers

How B2B Tech Marketers Know When PR Isn’t Working

Pack Your Bags for Your PR Journey

The Best Outsourced PR Is an Inside Job