Last Tuesday, it happened twice. In the morning, lunch at Oyster Bar in Grand Central Station, a company executive grilled me on the “real ROI of public relations.” That evening, a different company, a different part of the city–this time dinner at Balthazar in Soho—and another CEO, asking why the thousands he’s spent (in $2000 increments) never materialized into more than a few profile pieces.
I’m in a unique spot as CEO of Write2Market, the Atlanta-based public relations agency. I get to hear the “True Confessions” of CEOs all over the country about how they’ve spent–and burnt–major bucks on public relations. As their confessor, and often as my agency becomes their publicist, I’ve learned a lot the last few years about what it takes to fund a public relations campaign that inspires real results.
Some investments, the ones we are most familiar with, give a fairly simple return–think CDs, money markets, savings accounts. You invest a dollar, you get some fraction back, plus your dollar. Then there’s the other end of the spectrum, riskier investments–most of which, have a minimum or a “floor.” Public relations is like that–there’s a minimum level for every firm that up until that, all investment is negative return. I tell my clients “You invest $2 in public relations, you get negative $20 and a big headache. You invest $5 in public relations, you get a lot of work and your $5, but you wonder why you did it. You invest $20, and you get $50 and feel like a king.” That’s why there are so many big public relations agencies–it works. But only at a certain scale of investment.
And that’s the holiday tip I’d give executives checking out their 2011 budgets right now. If you want to make waves with media, treat it like an investment. It’s not your savings account–it’s a high risk, high reward investment that takes a certain commitment to achieve results in. Your public relations company should approach you like a partner, helping you evaluate the risks/rewards before you make your move. That’s how we try to treat our clients–public relations is inspiring, interesting, and volatile. It has tremendous upside potential, and no company has “hedged” their prospects well without it. But like other hedges, you need a certain size or scale before you’re ready for it, and before it makes sense.
Want to have that conversation? Feel free to call me before Christmas while you’re looking at 2011.