For many years, I invested almost nothing in PR. Then, at one point about five years ago (maybe around 2015), I thought about using PR to simplify our hiring. After that, with the pandemic, homeschooling became big news.
Local PR for Local Hiring - This worked pretty well. I made a point of speaking at the local business groups where the marketing and engineering types that we were interested in would see our name. I also personally did some PR and even local advertising to support this. We took some billboards and put some ads on NPR (our local affiliate is WLRN). I spoke at some business promotion groups locally giving a speech up at FAU (organized by the Ten Golden Rules guy), a talk at Citrix organized by <what's the name of htat group?>, and so on (I never spoke at SFIMA nor at ??? the directo marketing group) etc etc. I got stories in local blogs, newsletters, Ft Lauderdale Biz News, and Ft Lauderdale Sun Sentinel. Plus tons of social media..
Pandemic Time: Homeschooling is Big News: By April 2020, we had decided that we could contribute to the national discussions and hired a PR firm. We hired and I started doing press. Generally, I pushed for focusing on using moms local to the news story which everyone agreed with as more engaging and convincing. I tried to remain in reserve to use when they wanted a business talking head. Generally, the campaign seemed successful with three big caveats.
- Me as a talking head spokesperson. While I'm comfortable with a live audience as a speaker, I'm awkward with a camera and a soundbite. Despite good training by the PR team, I seem to have a crooked smile, a shifty gaze (glancing at my script or notes), and to be long-winded. I'm working on it. In response to a request for a few minute speech, I just developed a new recording style in which I simply write myself a list of points. And each point is a separate take (entrepreneur talk on 5 points). This solves the "speech" problem but doesn't address interviews. I wish I had thought of it when I got to give the Time4Learning Graduation Celebration speech (my part starts at minute 36).
- National Press. We've only succeed with the regional stories and had a paid insert in USA today and a huge run with one AP Press story. But mostly, we've gotten coverage in regional press especially in South Florida. If our goal is press for SEO purposes, this is pretty good.
- Impact? While the agency makes a good point of routinely documenting that hundreds of thousands or millions of people are exposed to these stories and our name, I've seen no evidence that it helps our business in terms of name recognition, stimulating follow-up by potential customers, or selling customers. We recently cut a sponsorship of a TV program (The Cat in the Hat Knows a Lot About That) since while the numbers of people who saw our initial 20 second blip was huge, it seemed to have no measurable impact anywhere after six months. While the PR effort for exposure is cheaper in terms of total monthly cash, it's also a ton more work. One added bonus however has been very useful work and thinking from the PR firm where thy function also as a marketing agency helping with message refinement and projects.
- Anecdotally. I never hear from anyone that they have seen our stuff. I know people everywhere so this seems weird. Especially since I know tons of people in SoFlo. Is old media just dead?
- None of our marketing tracking tools have shown any surges related to where the stories ran.
- Our SEO team has not shown that the additional links and citations have been picked up, recognized, or counted by the search engines.
- Even in social media, while I see mentions by our team, they have never seemed to have any real momentum and get large numbers of links or shares. Is there a way to spin these stories to our audience which might encourage them to share the story. Many parents talk about other family members or community's skepticism about their homeschooling direction, could we write and share a link to these stories in a way that would get shared?
- The PR effort is very much a traditionally media focus. Except for a podcast (which had a tiny audience), it's focused on TV, radio, and newspapers. It's not designed to get big coverage from online websites or social media. Does PR of that sort exist? Or does that really just mean doing paid work with influencers. We use to work with bloggers very effectively, both large and small. Recently, I haven't seen any real focus or success on it.