Why you should focus on small gains, not glory

The role of PR is to drive commercial success. How do we prioritise an approach driven by facts and figures over kudos and cachet?


In the world of earned media, often what a client wants isn’t what they necessarily need.

The New York Times may sound impressive but what if your client’s target audiences can be found reading vertical-specific trades or watching local TV shows? Sure, Garden Center Magazine doesn’t quite have the same cachet as Vogue but if you’re selling to horticulturalists in Ohio, there’s no better place to be.

Should we be selling sensible?

It’s often at the start of a relationship that a client introduces what we might euphemistically call “ego metrics” into the conversation. And why wouldn’t they? They’re human and they’re paying—plus it’s an instinctive measure of success. If I’m being honest, I know where I’d rather be.

But it’s time PR pros were more confident and upfront about our serious role as a business-builder and not an ego-fluffer. The onus is on us as experts in the field of earned media to both educate our clients and deliver , insight-driven outcomes that positively impact the bottom line.

Do metrics help or hinder?

As many in the industry are experiencing, metrics in PR are becoming a minefield. The more data we have access to, the more convoluted it becomes. AVE is slowly (too slowly, for some) being replaced by algorithms and artificial intelligence models that allow us to develop complex matrices of numbers—some more meaningful than others.

Combining factors of column inches, page views, media impressions, and positive vs. negative share of voice might look impressive on paper, but translating this into a tangible and consistent demonstration of success still challenges the best of us.

To navigate this space between numbers and subjective views of success, we need to lay the foundations of a trusted relationship where we agree on shared objectives—taking into consideration personal ambition as well as commercial goals—from the outset. What’s more, we need to stick to them.

The strategy and tactics might (and should) change over varying degrees of time, but in staying the course and remaining faithful to a mutual objective, we can build a solid track record for delivering bang for buck while still respecting the intrinsic desire for kudos.

Sarah Taylor is the client partner at futurefactor


3 Responses to “Why you should focus on small gains, not glory”

    Ronald N. Levy says:

    We may do even better if we focus on BIG gains, the biggest we can achieve, and on not only lots of gory but a better job plus more money and better titles.

    When someone in our management looks at what we are achieving for what we are costing, that busy checker-upper is likely to be more impressed with The New York Times than with Garden Center Magazine.

    Those who pay have the say, and what they say determines whether we stay. Those of us who’ve had the experience of working in a restaurant as waiter—or the experience of rising from being a cubicle grunt to having two windows or more—we’ve been able to see firsthand the wisdom in giving people what they want.

    Money! What the bosses want is money, to keep what they have, to make more of it and to find new ways of making still more. So the bigger the gains we help them enjoy, the bigger the gains we may also enjoy.

    We almost all of us try to hire who will hit home runs for us. We invest in the hope of getting rich or richer. Not all clients want us to “educate” them. Many have already been educated enough to now be clients, and even more than additional education what they want is additional money plus safety.

    Nothing wrong with that so long as they let us go for it honestly.

    If it turns out that there’s really a heaven, I’ll try to give the bosses up there what they want—with big gains—instead of trying to educate them. Glory is good as are glorious rewards, a glorious life, and the glorious happiness of being able to give people what they want.

    Sarah Taylor says:

    Thanks for your comment, Ronald. I love your zeal and enthusiasm! While I agree that there’s always a time and a place to ‘go big or go home’, for many clients that’s not an immediate reality. You can deliver more value (to the bottom line as much as the reputation) by building them up from a strong foundation with a loyal grassroots following.

    Ronald N. Levy says:

    Sarah, you are a winner. Many in PR—too many—shrink from controversy, hoping silently that the day will thank heaven just end. But instead of choosing silence you’ve written a positive response and made a positive case. Are clients who use your firm more likely to win? Positively.

    Repeatedly in PR, as we can see from the work by presidential press secretaries of both parties, victory goes to the spokesperson who tries harder and longer and with more appeal to reason rather than anger. The best jobs and accounts go to those who don’t just pitch and then wait to hear but to those who then pitch some more and then still more.

    The journalist is way less likely to blast a client whose spokesperson answers with logical statements. Blessed are the persistent for they shall see above average success and money. The only thing that bothers me when I look at your pleasant answer: wondering whether more of us could see more success and more money by giving answers that are more pleasant.

    I admire the PR firm whose corporate symbol is a big dog because success in PR often goes to the biggest son of a bitch. But sometimes, perhaps often, your pleasant way may be even better.

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