As part of our ongoing learning series focused on the digital transformation of communications, TrendKite’s Director of Demand Generation, Dave Cardiel had the chance to sit down with John McCartney of Wise Public Relations for an in-depth conversation about the evolution of PR.
John is the managing director of Wise Public Relations Inc., a boutique PR agency with offices in New York and San Francisco. He is also President-elect of the PRSA San Francisco chapter. In 2015, John was named to Hot Topic’s Top 100 Tech PR Agency Executives in the world. He's also a PR mentor to startup entrepreneurs with ReadWrite Labs and also sits on the Women Who Code Board of Advisors.
Here is a recap of their conversation.
Thank you so much for joining me today, John. I can’t wait to chat with you about how the function of PR is evolving for today’s digital world. We recently did a poll and asked how PR teams are structured, and about half said they were 100% in-house and half said they had an in-house team, but also used an agency. Does that surprise you?
Thanks, David. Happy to be here. No. I’m not surprised by the results of your poll. At Wise PR we primarily work with our client’s in-house team. I think that’s quite common. Some of the bigger companies and brands don’t need to hire an outside agency because they have larger teams and more resources.
We also asked about budgets and found that most people are seeing an increased budget for PR this year. Do you see that trend at Wise PR?
Yes. We are definitely seeing that trend at Wise and other colleagues in the industry tell me that’s their experience as well. Again, I’m not surprised by this result. The economy is in a better place than it has been, and people are feeling freer to listen to and execute on some of the ideas that we are proposing. Business is good in the PR world right now.
John, one thing that you and I discovered that we have in common is that we’re both fans of the movie Moneyball. The film is about the Oakland A's baseball team's 2002 season and their general manager Billy Beane's attempts to assemble a competitive team. Faced with the franchise's limited budget for players, he built a team of undervalued talent by taking a sophisticated statistical approach towards scouting and analyzing players.
I feel like this is a time of Moneyball PR, where PR professionals really need to process and measure the data related to their efforts so that they can make confident decisions with concrete analysis. The days of focusing only on press pitches are gone. What are your thoughts?
I absolutely agree. I think we have to forget this idea that knowledge is power and start thinking a different way. These days, technology is power. What has been developed in PR technology in the last ten years has changed the landscape from night to day. We have new platforms and tools at our disposal that help us do a better job with our work day today. We do a much better job when it comes to reporting. I think as we continue to navigate this new world of data and digital capabilities people will begin to see the need to think like a data scientist. It’s an important shift in the role of PR professional.
Because we have these new technology platforms, there are now better ways to measure the efficacy of campaigns. When you put on the new hat as a data scientist and look at the number, it gets easier to pivot and change the approach to every campaign that you do. It will help brands increase their audience, expand the pool of new customers, influence lead generation, and so forth. Technology is definitely power.
Let’s talk about what that means from a practical perspective. We’ve seen research that shows that there’s a PR professional for every journalist out there and that 40% of those journalists note that Twitter is the most valuable social channel. But then, 95% of journalists say they prefer to receive pitches via email. Are you taking a scientific, data-centric approach to media outreach?
Absolutely. Another thing to note is that about 80% of journalists want a tailored pitch to suit their feed and coverage. What all that means is that there’s a lot of competition to get your brand covered by reporters and journalists. Journalists don’t want press releases. They don’t want pitches really, even. They want stories. You’ve got to give them a good story. That’s what the platforms and technologies out there do to help us do our jobs better.
Technology really does have a role to play in every part of the PESO (Paid, Earned, Social, Owned) model, but I don’t think we’re quite at the point of being fully integrated with the marketing mix. Media management isn’t fully part of the marketing stack in most cases. But to maximize ROI, you’ve got to understand how journalists and influencers are talking about you, and whether you are reaching them in their preferred ways.
Yeah, Dave. I feel like for many years PR has been viewed as a stepchild of the marketing ecosystem. Everyone sees PR sitting at the top of the marketing funnel as a tool to drive awareness. But, I think as we continue to leverage new technology platforms, our role as communicators is evolving into something that is more insights-driven. We are now the people who can measure the efficacy of campaigns. We can also have an impact on the PESO model because we have all of these tools and resources that we can leverage when it comes to paid media to own it and share it. I don’t see the need for different marketing and PR silos. I feel like we can work across all of the different areas of the PESO model.
I feel like earned media has been an outlier, but I think there's a great opportunity here for us, as PR professionals and communicators to leverage the whole model. For example, if you get an interview on the Today Show and they post the interview on the Today Show website. I don’t believe that should be the end of our work. With our new role, we have to ask, how do we extend the life of that story? How can I think about this as an integrated marketer? Maybe you’d buy a paid ad on Facebook or LinkedIn about the Today Show hit. Maybe you would create some new original content as a follow-up to that story. How are you going to share the clip? This all speaks to how our role as communicators has evolved in recent times.
That’s a great example. I look at it from a marketing standpoint as well. We want to be squeezing the juice out of all the stories that are out there. I remember when if you got simple mention, the organization would celebrate and that was about it. Now we look for more ways to take advantage of the mention, maybe with personalized content, blog posts, or even paid placements to push the envelope.
Let’s dig into the power of earned media a bit. According to Nielsen, 83% of consumers “completely or somewhat” trust earned media. That’s more than paid, owned or shared. According to the Edelman Trust Barometer. 59% of the public trusts journalist-created content above all other types of media. What does that mean to you?
It was interesting to see that even in this “fake news era,” the majority of people still trust earned media more than any other channel. I’m sure the fake news epidemic has had some impact, but journalist-created content is still generally trusted.
One of our responsibilities as PR pros is to leverage that trusted earned media effectively throughout what we’ve come to think of as the Communicator’s Funnel. How do you think about that and measure success across channels?
PR has always been viewed as part of the top of the marketing funnel, driving awareness. But it has the potential to have so much more impact. It can also drive mindshare and reputation, impact SEO, referrals and social engagement, and also influence the pipeline.
We need to determine who are the advocates and brand ambassadors that will help tell the story of the brand and how to help them target audiences and help convert the audience into buyers of the brand. I think this is a new way of thinking that PR folks are starting to live on a day-to-day basis. I can tell you that for most of my clients, I’m dealing directly with CMO’s or global heads of marketing. Our PR efforts are being integrated with the marketing teams. We look at what the other areas of marketing are doing to see if we can collaborate rather than living in a silo.
This goes back to how our role as PR pros is changing and how we have to start wearing many different hats, including that of data scientist. We also have to think about ways to create original content, and how to use social media, both paid and shared, to get the story out there. This is another area where technology has helped us collectively do our jobs better and more efficiently. It also gives us the opportunity to become more integrated with the marketing stack.
Good point. I think that marketers have been blessed over the last 10 to 15 years with the quick acceleration and evolution of the tools within the stack. PR tools and technologies that can accompany that technology stack have started to take off here a bit more recently. This is an exciting time to be in PR.
Let’s break things down a little bit more, starting with Brand Impact including awareness, mindshare, and reputation.
The first question I ask when it comes to awareness is “What does success look like.” For us at Wise, whenever we’re assigned to pitch an announcement or a story, success is usually viewed by quarterly goals and KPIs related to how much coverage can we get. “How many mentions can we get?” is a good start because it does capture the sort of volume of the conversation, but not all mentions are created equal. When it comes to mindshare, we want to look at the trend-line of those mentions and the valuable featured mentions.
We also have to understand how our brand is being compared to the competitors. I think it is useful to have a goal related to increasing the share of voice amongst the competitors. Of course, you also have to consider reputation and determine if the coverage is resonating with the target audience. This is a great use case for social amplification. I see social sharing as a good proxy for audience engagement.
I agree. What are your thoughts on the digital impact of PR including SEO, traffic, and social amplification?
Again, this is a new way of thinking about PR. People are starting to ask what role does PR have as far as helping to improve search rankings and increase inbound website traffic. They want to know how it is helping when it comes to social and what elements we can help put in place that goes beyond just focusing on pitching a story to get a piece of coverage. It goes back to what we talked about earlier regarding how to extend the life of a story. Thinking like a full-service marketer and breaking down our digital measurements into meaningful components.
Knowing how many website visits are attributable to PR is a good starting point. You can map that against your overall site traffic to understand the impact and then go even deeper to understand how those visitors engage, how long they stay on the site, how many pages they consume, and what the bounce rate is. Then you can differentiate between articles that drive one hit wonders and those that get visitors to engage in a positive way with the site and the brand.
When it comes to SEO looking at the authority of your referring domains helps assess whether you are contributing to an increase in your rankings for desirable search terms. You can also disavow links from low authority publications that Google considers toxic links.
Social engagement is the third element that we think about when it comes to digital impact because it tells you how readers are extending your digital footprint across social outlets like Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.
Let’s talk about the bottom of the communicator’s funnel, bottom line impact. What are your thoughts there?
When I talk about how PR can influence pipeline, conversion, and revenue a lot of people are unclear about how we can measure the impact that PR is having on lead generation and sales. But there are tools and resources that can show us where our traffic that turns into revenue is coming from. We can track the efficacy of a particular piece of coverage or placement and tie the customer back to where they came from. This is possible with the new technology platforms that we’re able to leverage.
I agree and think that bottom line impact is one of the most exciting frontiers of PR measurement. With a good framework and the right metrics, today’s PR pro can understand their bottom line and conversion impact.
Yes. Google Analytics is an important piece of the puzzle. It helps you understand where traffic is coming from.
I also teach PR 101 at General Assembly here in San Francisco, and I tell my students that the world of PR has changed. I think that’s largely due to technology that has given us a greater opportunity to expand our role beyond gest getting placements. We have a new voice and the ability to be more integrated with different departments. That’s how PR gets a seat at the table.
What about the place of traditional PR tactics? Are folks making a mistake by just focusing on the digital at the expense of other elements?
I don’t think so. At the end of the day, it’s all about what’s best for the client and the brand. That comes down to aligning with the goals they need to achieve to move the needle forward. We need to understand what are the metrics that matter most. What’s going to help the sales team drive more leads? What’s going to help our stakeholders increase their thought leadership? What are we going to collectively do to increase our share of voice? That’s how you develop a robust strategic plan.
Thanks, John, it has been a delight to chat with someone with your broad background and accomplishments, even if you are a New York Giants fan. Go Cowboys!