The Slow Build

I’ve had the recent pleasure of hanging with some of my favorite PR pro’s. We’re all cut from the “same PR cloth” and are passionate about re-defining what PR is and how it’s perceived. Also core to these discussions are commiserating over the executives that won’t just let us do our job as it should be done (thankfully not my problem now.) Some are control freaks that can’t extract themselves from marketing details, others think PR is mainly for SEO purposes, there are all kinds. Almost all are guilty for not understanding how you get the most power out of PR.All of us over the course of our careers have worked with start-up CEO’s who are bright and ambitious, who come on board the PR train with a mutual understanding that PR takes time. That you should not evaluate success on what happens in the first month alone.

There is always a start-up process when beginning a PR program. There’s messaging, collateral development, media trainings, research, market analysis…so many activities that should be done to set a program up for success. Yet, often these CEO’s become impatient. They look at other companies in their space or that they liken themselves to and, like 5 year-olds say, “but they’re getting covered there. How come so and so didn’t write about us?” And in doing so, lose sight of the bigger PR picture that was agreed upon earlier.
A recent discussion with a marketing friend who’s picking up PR responsibilities at her small start-up shared a story with me.

The measure of a campaign’s success at this company is number of downloads. They’re getting going but are still very much in the start-up stage. Some decent name recognition in SV and LA and built with some solid SEO. Top download number to date was around 400, which isn’t bad, all things considered given what they do and how young they are. The CEO asked my marketing friend to come up with a campaign that drove 10,000 downloads. 10,000. From one campaign.

I laughed.

For companies that are very well adopted, then OK, but even that is an aggressive goal. I mean there’s aim high and then there’s….crazy.

It’s typical. His company is gaining some momentum and he wants more. More, more, more. Which is great to keep the fire in the belly lit but not great if losing sight of the foundation that still needs to be built. You don’t get to the top without building blocks that carry you there.

This is a particular challenge for PR and marketing people. Especially PR. Marketing is more tied to lead gen activities. PR is fuzzy. The metrics are largely based on press hits and it’s hard to quantify the slow build of relationships, trust, company story development, and evolving messaging. To name but a few.

If CEO’s really want to view their PR people as partners then they should treat them like such and they’ll get a lot more out of them. The relationship between the executive staff and their PR person is crucial. Through trial and error I’ve learned that being viewed as a peer, a fellow professional, in their eyes results in the ability to have honest conversations about what needs to be done. PR people need to be able to push back and clearly explain why 10,000 downloads is unrealistic at this time. And then offer some building blocks of ideas while setting higher goals that are more realistic.

Look, CEO’s, we understand that you’re excited. And we are too. But, you have to come to terms with the fact that building a truly positive and well-known brand for your company takes time. Show me one company that did it any other way.

So when you do some press briefings and no coverage appears within a few months don’t blame the PR person (unless they’re not following up like they should.) Understand that sometimes building a relationship with the reporter and having the slow build of story development can be the difference between a brief mention after a first meeting versus a feature story about your company. Which one matters more?

The slow build. Try it.

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