In addition to guest posting on the UpCity blog, Dark Horse PR is featured as one of the Top Public Relations (PR) Agencies in the United States. Check out their profile here.
If the title of this article catches you off guard, then please, continue reading.
For new brands and small businesses, the idea of hiring a public relations agency to help gain traction can be exciting and overwhelming all at the same time. You’re excited to bring your vision to fruition and start sharing it with the masses, yet at the same time, it can feel like you’re spending money before you’ve really even started to make money.
That’s totally understandable.
Hiring a PR agency straight away may not be a great fit for every brand or business, especially when you’re just starting out. A legitimate agency will be honest with you when the timing or need simply isn’t there. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t revisit things later, but if it’s not a good fit for both sides from the beginning, no use in wasting your time, energy or worse – money.
That said, it’s also important for new business owners to have realistic expectations in regards to what strong PR efforts will actually help them to achieve.
What are your goals for the next six months, the next year? Start there and reverse engineer the process.
Oftentimes, a PR agency can play an integral role in helping you achieve these goals, but it’s important to understand what a PR agency does and does not do.
What is PR and What Does It “Do”?
Simply put, public relations is the art of gaining visibility and credibility for your brand or business. It’s about getting your brand name in front of the right audience, and the “right” audience is the one that best aligns with your product or service and will likely be interested enough to buy; however, that’s not guaranteed and in terms of a sales funnel, PR efforts would be at the top of the funnel. If no one knows you exist, then how could they possibly buy anything from you?
When it comes to “making sales”, brands have to consider the myriad of factors that are either working for, or against them, rather than banking on visibility alone to be the deciding factor. That said, public relations professionals wear many hats, but one that they do not wear, is that of a sales associate.
A real life example: years ago, we had a client who put all of his eggs in one basket to develop a very niche product. He had a very nice website that had been built out by another agency, and even though everything had been done correctly in terms of SEO, new websites do take some time to properly index with Google. Not to mention, at the time that we began working together, he had zero mentions or backlinks to his website and no blog articles to speak of, all things that play a part in boosting domain authority (and something PR can help with). With a nice product and a nice website, he thought all he needed was a PR agency to get the word out, and sales would start rolling in.
Literally 24 hours after his website went live, he was calling and demanding to know why he hadn’t had any sales yet. You can’t make this stuff up.
So, it was advised that if immediate sales were what he was after, he might want to consider hiring an outside sales rep to push his product up and down the west coast. This particular product was a perfect fit for high-end restaurants or even stadiums and event companies. A full-time sales rep would be able to take meetings with restaurants like maybe, Nobu in Malibu, or secure contracts with the Los Angeles Coliseum, or even the Hollywood Bowl by pitching the product as the perfect addition to their establishment. He also might have connected with wedding vendors and event planning companies to have them bring the product onboard; possibly securing major wholesale deals. These were all great ideas and totally viable options, but they are also outside the scope of work for our PR agency.
What we could do for this client, is make sure that he gains visibility and credibility by getting the product in front of the right demographic, and garnering praise and reviews for the product. This looks like everything from making sure the brand was capitalizing on at least three major social media platforms, those that are the best fit for his target market, while also sharing it with the media contacts and influencers who would be most likely to actually use the product and share about it. Who’s to say that he might not have gained a major wholesale deal after a wedding vendor saw a feature of the product on The Knot? In addition, having the product mentioned in an article by a major publication, we are able to secure a backlink to the website which boosts it’s ranking in search, but it also directs traffic to the site where they may have a look around, and possibly even buy something.
What PR Does Not Do
Are sales likely to increase with PR efforts? Of course! The more people who know about your product, the more likely you are to secure sales, right? Yes, that’s true, but we can only lead a horse to water, we can’t guarantee that the horse will actually drink.
This is why it’s so important for brands and businesses to properly maintain their marketing or sales funnel. Let’s say your product is featured in a major media publication, traffic to your site is on the upswing and we’re even seeing a reasonably low bounce rate, yet, still, sales are not increasing. Maybe the checkout process is over-complicated and seems cumbersome, or maybe your best-selling items always seem to be sold out due to inventory issues. Both of these examples could contribute to stifled sales, and yet, both examples would be out of a PR agency’s hands.
Another thing to keep in mind is that PR professionals have to align their efforts with the current media landscape. This means abiding by media lead times and staying abreast of any major developments. For instance, securing a digital feature will have a much faster turnaround time than seeing your brand or business in print. So, we may be working on a feature for weeks, or even months, before the sum of our efforts hit the newsstand. The idea that your website will have a ton of hits, and be racking up sales shortly after your PR efforts have begun, is simply unrealistic.
When it comes to media coverage, timing is everything, and sometimes that can work against us. In terms of major developments, we have to taper efforts if something more pressing comes to the forefront. For example, the summer of 2018 was one of the worst years on record for wildfires here in Los Angeles. It was all you saw on the news, and it was the only thing anyone wanted to talk about. While the public sits glued to the TV, learning how another celebrity’s house burned down, you can be sure that no one is interested in a segment featuring your new product. If there is a way to pivot, and somehow tie your product or service into this current news cycle, or even showcase how your brand or business is helping those affected by the wildfires, let’s go for it. Otherwise, it’s simply not a priority at the moment, and we have to respect that.
What to Expect When Working With a PR Agency
The examples above are exactly why a PR agency should never guarantee sales as a direct result of their efforts. Are increased sales a likely byproduct of public relations? Yes. However, there are plenty of other factors at play when it comes to a brand’s sales funnel. Many of which, a PR agency simply will not have a hand in.
For brands and businesses looking to work with a PR agency, the goal should always be increased visibility and credibility. After all, if no one knows your product or service even exists, you’re definitely not going to increase sales anytime soon, right? An agency worthy of your investment will be able to track analytics and metrics in a way that shows the impact of their efforts; increased traffic to your website, along with brand recognition and a reputation for being the leading source in your given industry.
At the end of the day, it’s difficult to know what external forces may be influencing a buyer’s decision-making process. Consider an economic down-turn, for example. For brands and businesses working with a PR agency, you should at least be able to rest easy knowing that when a consumer in your target market is ready to buy, they know who to go to.