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“What’s the ROI of PR?”

Whenever I mention my last company, a content marketing firm I co-founded, I get that question. People want to know: Does content actually generate leads? Can it boost my search rankings? What about attracting talent?

Thoughtful PR can help with all those things. But it’s a long game, and it requires reasonable expectations. Unless you manage to score a shoutout from Oprah, don’t expect any one asset to flood your site with traffic.

The key is aligning your content and goals: Forbes might be a publication you’ve always wanted to be in — but if you’re trying to rank for “teen apps,” it isn’t likely to move the needle. Try a site like Teen Vogue instead.

Especially if you’re doing PR for sake of SEO, be strategic. Short-term plays are the surest way to destroy long-term rankings, warns Ahrefs, a popular SEO tool. If you’re stuck on big-name sites with no regard to your strategy, you’re not going to get the results you want.

What PR Can Do for You

As long as you keep your goals in mind, PR can:

1. Create third-party credibility.

When I’m not building companies, I do keynotes as a motivational speaker. Because speaking gigs are competitive and hosts research their choices, I use content to build trust. Building trust is so tough, in fact, that 7 in 10 CEOs recently told Edelman they consider it their top priority.

Consistently getting mentioned online may not net you thousands of leads, but it does indicate people trust you or your company. People want to buy from businesses they perceive to be industry leaders. Therefore, it’s valuable to have third-party assets that can be used in sales, marketing, and recruiting. 

2. Boost your search rankings the safe way.

When I first got into PR, publications saw SEO as shady. Like any industry, SEO had (and still has) bad actors. But Google’s latest update reinforces its position that educational content benefits everyone. Content that’s spammy or false gets penalized.

Today, major publication editors send me SEO questions at least once a week. They want their sites to rank for the same reason our clients do: to become the go-to resource in their space. To that end, quality content is key. 

3. Generate leads — within reason.

Let’s be honest: Even the best feature in Entrepreneur isn’t going to inundate you with leads. But a series of mentions, placed on relevant sites and supported by other tactics, can certainly grow your pipeline.

The reason traces back to those SEO and credibility benefits. Think about what happens when someone searches a keyword associated with you: If your site ranks high in search and multiple authors recommend you, you can bet your sales cycle will show it.

4. Get you in the door with investors.

Name recognition is a huge plus with potential investors. So what did I do when someone I was pitching hadn’t heard of Calendar? I showed them how many search terms we ranked for. Even when I searched “Google Calendar,” we were there, right on the first page. 

By showing investors that you have your search area locked down, you bulldoze an objection you’ll hear again and again. Investors want to see that you have solid PR and can own your space.

5. Attract top talent.

As Calendar grows, I’ve been doing a lot of recruiting. Recently, I asked a prime candidate why she was so interested in us. “I want to work for an market-leading company,” she told me, “not one looking to make a quick buck.”

Fly-by-night firms don’t bother with thought leadership. It’s the companies trying to innovate their industries that want to get their ideas out there. Candidates understand that better than anyone.

6. Remind workers why they chose you.

For the same reason recruits want to work for PR-forward companies, so do your employees. Imagine how proud it would make your team to see something they worked on featured in Inc. Not only will they read it, but they’re likely to come away with innovation ideas from other leaders mentioned in the piece.

Don’t expect Mark Cuban to call you every time you’re mentioned online. Disgruntled Googlers aren’t going to suddenly show up at your door. But as long as you’re patient and set partners up for success, you’ll see results.

Working With PR Pros

Even the best PR agency in the world can’t boost your brand without your help. To maximize your engagement:

A. Be a good client.

Not long ago, a lead told me they were unhappy with their Los Angeles-based PR firm. After looking into the situation, I could see why: The lead treated their agency like crap. They missed meetings and ignored emails — and then got upset that they weren’t seeing results. “What did you expect?” I asked him. “You were a jerk.”

For reasons I can’t understand, some leaders treat their vendors terribly. What do you think happens when those vendors have a limited number of opportunities? They certainly don’t give them to bad clients. If you want your partners to prioritize you, act like it.

B. Pump up the best pieces.

Very rarely does content go viral. The article has to be strong, the timing has to be right, and the publication fit has to be perfect. Even then, luck plays a big role. 

If you do see an article start to gain steam, amplify it. Invest in paid search. Share it out on social media channels. Ask someone with a major email list to blast it out.

C. Be consistent.

A friend of mine has hired the same PR firm three times in the past two years. Every time he’d start to see results, he’d stop paying. Not only did it kill his search rankings, but it meant his audience suddenly stopped seeing his company mentioned online. 

People have short memories, and competition for search is steep. If you want to win the race, you can’t stop running once you’re ahead. And if consumers or investors want to look a little deeper, you want to be sure they see a narrative of growth rather than a snapshot. 

D. Know how to measure success.

You wouldn’t buy a bike and expect it to fly you around like a plane. Before investing in PR, know what you want to achieve and how to measure it. Don’t expect one strategy to deliver the results of the other.

If brand building is your goal, spend the first few months focused on getting placements. Use social listening tools to monitor how the conversation about your brand shifts. If you’re in it for SEO, tracking success is as simple as watching your company’s media move up in search.

PR’s strategic scope is a blessing and a curse. It’s flexible, but it’s not magic. To get what you want, choose a goal and stick with it. And it should go without saying, but apparently it doesn’t: Treat partners the way you’d want to be treated. Anything less will come back to bite, no matter how much you invest in PR. 

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