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What PR Can Learn From Digital Advertising

A banner ad and a press release walk into a bar . . .

Bartender ignores the press release and blocks the ad. But the next day, lets the ad come in. Appalled by the unfair treatment of the press release, a witnessing journalist writes a story that goes viral. When asked about the incident, the aghast bartender exclaims, “It must have been the sketchy banner ad I let in!”

Bad jokes aside, paid display advertising receives preferential treatment (a.k.a. larger marketing investments) than PR because display advertisements can provide advanced analytics that are desperately lacking in PR. Even when a “press release” pushes a story viral, the “banner ad” usually receives more credit due to its ability to showcase qualified success metrics.

Currently, press releases and display advertisements are seen as similar marketing strategies. Both sit at the top of the consumer purchase funnel and are best known for building general brand awareness. But marketers know PR and the potential for earned media are more effective than paid advertising. In fact, 81 percent of senior marketers believe earned media is more effective than paid media.

There is good news for PR pros is that 75 percent of marketers plan to increase their PR spend over the next five years. If PR can learn to incorporate the analytical aspects of digital display advertising, it will be primed for great success and further investment.

Focus on Reaching Your Target Audience

Before a single dollar is spent, display advertisers have a clear definition of their target audience. They know the target market’s age, gender, income level, and media habits. Display advertisers deny investment to publications and programmatic partners that cannot prove their ability to reach the campaign’s target audience. To a display advertiser, it is obvious that there is no point in investing in media that doesn’t reach your target audience.

Unfortunately, the idea of media coverage — any media coverage — has become an obsession for the PR industry. Somehow “public relations” has turned into “media relations.” The Public Relations Society of America defines public relations as “a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.” In essence, PR pros need to focus on their publics just as display advertisers focus on their target audiences. For too long, PR pros have measured success based on media coverage alone without asking, “Will this coverage impact my target audience and drive business goals?” As we learned from the display advertisers, there is no point in investing in media that does not reach your target audience.

Track Your Campaign

Display advertisers kno you make smarter decisions when you track and measure the performance of your ad campaigns. Display advertising has created so many data points (impressions, click-through-rates, view-through-rates, interaction-rates, etc.), the issue display advertisers struggle with now is knowing which metrics are effective in showcasing success. Luckily analysis-paralysis is not a common ailment for marketers. If there is data to report, there is a story to be told. We see this first-hand with display ads. The metrics have proven display ads to be ineffective in driving revenue, but marketers continue to invest in display ads because they can measure its worth and thanks to programmatic platforms, can buy display ads for a few cents.

The tragedy for PR pros is that PR is assumed to be ineffective in driving sales due to the fact there is no way to attribute value to their campaigns. 75 percent of communications professionals feel the communications industry can do better at measuring and proving its impact on business objectives. As digital display advertisers moved from impressions to click-through-rates, PR pros need to move past potential impressions and work to tie their success metrics to tangible business goals.

Optimize Your Campaign

Digital display ad campaigns are living, breathing, changing entities. Until every impression or click is accounted for, the campaign can be optimized to improve the overall success. If a certain placement or creative is proving to be more successful (higher click-through-rates, video views, etc.) than another, display advertisers can optimize their campaigns in real time. A/B testing of call-to-actions or creative is especially useful in discovering what draws a target audience’s attention. Most importantly, display advertisers are able to use the data collected in their campaign to gain real knowledge about their target audience and use these statistics for their next campaign. Every display advertising campaign, even the failures, are an opportunity for advertisers to learn more about their target audience.

PR pros struggle with content and campaign optimization. When it comes to content, over half of communications professionals (52 percent) said their biggest challenge is determining what content is most effective. This is no doubt due to the fact that press releases are a single piece of content distributed to thousands of media points, newsrooms, and journalists, and syndicated across thousands of websites and shared on the leading social media networks. In fact, 72 percent of journalists suggest PR professionals improve their content by tailoring the pitch to suit their journalists’ specific beats. By incorporating and testing tailored pitches to journalists, PR pros can improve their earned media success and gain insights into the types of content journalists want to receive for story leads.

The other major concept PR pros need to learn from display advertisers is that once the press release is distributed, the campaign is not over.  PR campaigns are also living, breathing, changing entities. Earned media coverage should be amplified using social media and digital advertising to reach the best audiences at the right time.

Another great tactic to borrow from display — retargeting. PR pros need to embrace the always-on media environment we all live in. Press releases are no longer check-the-box tasks within a launch campaign. Especially as analytics improve for PR, press releases should be embraced as a vehicle to continuously communicate with your publics.

Embrace Data

As tracking technology evolves for PR, communication professionals must embrace the new data and effectively incorporate it into their campaigns. Thoughtful use of audience analytics and campaign performance metrics will help PR pros evolve their art and attribute the real value of their campaigns.

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