Guest Post: 6 PR Myths Smart Marketers Must Douse

August 30, 2010

This post is part of a continuing series of guest posts. Dorothy Crenshaw is CEO and Creative Director of Crenshaw Communications.

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 If “Mad Men” depicts the golden age of advertising, we just might be living through a similar era for public relations.

6 PR Myths Every Marketer Must Know

Not since the World War II propaganda machine launched today’s mega-firms has PR been more respected as a key ingredient in the marketing mix. And it’s not just press agentry, or publicity stunts.

Marketers in particular understand and appreciate what PR brings to the table.  Except when they don’t.

Last week a client, the CEO of a web-based company who came up through the marketing ranks, told me he’s always thought of PR as “the cheapest form of advertising.” It was a compliment about our results, but I hope he didn’t mean it too literally.

Misconceptions about PR linger even among seasoned and sophisticated marketers.

Here, then, are six myths that persist about public relations, and my perspective on each.

1.  PR is like advertising, only cheaper. 

The two are so distinct that they shouldn’t be compared, or, worse, pitted against one another. As Freddy J. Nager once put it, debating their merits is like arguing which is more important in a football game, offense or defense.  It’s a useless argument because each has a different function, and they ideally work in concert.

And, cheap? Although a modest PR investment is peanuts compared to, say, TV advertising, it’s not actually cheap. Budgets vary widely, and many programs require significant out-of-pocket expenditures to be effective. The key, of course, is to match the need with the right PR resource and approach.

2.  PR is publicity. Preferably Oprah. 

Sure, media coverage is often an end result of a PR program, but a well-crafted plan covers so much more. And to get to the earned media outcomes, there’s plenty of foundation to be laid. Overall brand positioning, media strategy, relationship-building, messaging, etc. – all are critical to a successful result. When the publicity breaks, it’s not usually a magic bullet. The old adage that we trade control for credibility still holds. (And what publicists don’t like to admit is that Oprah’s producers rarely take ideas from PR people.)

3.  PR is about getting the word out.

This is true, but many marketers don’t realize that it’s a two-way street. A successful public relations program is often designed to tell a brand or business story, yes. But a PR team should also function as a source of feedback and intelligence on what customers and influencers are thinking and saying. If you’re not using them that way, you’re not maximizing your investment.

4.  PR drives sales. 

When I hear a client say they’ve put their ad budget into PR because it’s a cheaper way to generate sales, it doesn’t make me happy. It’s a red flag, because PR isn’t designed for demand generation.

Despite some spectacular exceptions, what PR does best is build brand visibility and enhance reputation over time. When it comes to driving sales without a built-in sampling program or other promotional piece, it will nearly always fall short, particularly because frequency is nearly impossible to achieve with publicity alone.

5.  PR is about press releases.

The news stream is important, but the release itself is a commodity. Press releases don’t add up to a strategic PR program, and the impact of any one release is likely to be minimal. If you’re paying for news releases, you’re wasting your money.

6.  PR isn’t measurable. 

Actually, it is, but this one’s tricky, for two reasons. One is that the traditional metrics of volume and outputs, like ad equivalency or impressions, are outdated and inadequate. Again, the comparison to advertising doesn’t really measure what PR does well. 

The second challenge is that the research needed to demonstrate PR’s value is sometimes as expensive as the program itself. The good news here is that as social media adoption grows, things like sentiment, message delivery, impact, and action are now trackable.

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Dorothy Crenshaw is CEO and Creative Director of Crenshaw Communications, a boutique PR firm focused on marketing and reputation-building strategies for consumer and technology brands under the banner “Creative Public Relations for a Digital World.”

She founded her firm after a 15-year career in marketing PR that included senior posts at Edelman and Grey Advertising’s GCI Group. You can find her on Twitter or follow her blog about marketing, PR, and reputation, imPRessions.

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Is Real Time Bidding the Future of Advertising?

August 23, 2010

One of the hotter trends in the on-line advertising field is the rise of real time bidding (RTB). One journalist, Nick Saint, even went so far as to headline a recent RTB article “The Rise of Real Time Bidding is the Biggest on-Line Advertising Story of 2010.” How important is RTB and could it ever move beyond the web?

Real Time Bidding: 2010 Online Advertising Trend

Real Time Bidding – What is It?

Real time bidding combines web browsing behavior, sophisticated algorithms, and ad inventory platforms which make it relatively easy for advertisers to bid on specific audience profiles in real time.

Key players in the RTB space include AdMeld, Invite Media (recently purchased by Google), and AdSafe. Advertisers use platforms like MediaMath which combines all of the relevant data—who advertisers want to target, how much they’re willing to pay, etc.–to make buying on-line inventory simple and fast.

Real Time Bidding: Web Browsing & Behavior Analytics

The RTB Value Chain

Conceptually, RTB makes a lot of sense:  why buy inventory impressions when you can buy against a much more targeted audience? Everyone benefits:

  • Publishers can sell targeted inventory at higher prices
  • Advertisers are willing to pay a premium to get more targeted ad coverage
  • Middlemen supply the platforms and technology and benefit as well

Setting aside privacy issues, which the Wall Street Journal and others have reported on recently, RTB is a classic case of how marketers can operate in a more efficient manner with the right information and technology.

The RTB Value Chain: Linking Web Behavior & Publisher Demand

What’s Wrong with RTB

Sounds great, right? Currently, RTB is essentially focused on better targeting. And better targeting is important. In fact, past analyses using single source data from the TV world would suggest that better targeting based on buyer behavior instead of demographics can increase advertising effectiveness by +10% or more. But, there are important areas where RTB currently fall short:

  1. RTB doesn’t Consider the Contextual Power of Content – As I’ve written about in other posts, content—in this case web page content–makes a big difference in how your ad performs. If content providers had access to data showing how ads perform on brand recall, purchase intent, etc. in different content, this data could easily be factored into the RTB buying algorithms to yield a better advertising outcome.
  2. RTB doesn’t Focus on Business Impact – Why stop at better targeting? If the data existed, why not buy media based on actual impact—either brand equity improvements or volume and share growth? In the past, the industry got hung up on click-thru rates as a surrogate for impact—a bad decision. But, the general intent was a good one—to more closely link the impression to actual performance. In an ideal world, advertisers would buy inventory not just against a target, but against real business impact.
  3. RTB is only On-Line – On-line is important and getting more so every day. But, for some categories like CPG, TV remains the medium of choice for driving high levels of reach very quickly at relatively low cost. For RTB to really have an impact, it will need to migrate out of on-line and into the world of TV. As TV morphs into an increasingly “networked” on-demand form of entertainment, this is becoming more and more plausible—albeit still a ways in the future.

RTB—Where Next?

RTB is a great concept and its beginning to come to life on-line. The AdMeld CEO estimates that the 2010 RTB market will be approximately $1B, so this is no longer a niche phenomenon. But for perspective, this is still only 4% of estimated on-line ad spend, and just a tiny fraction of the $55.8B TV advertising market in the U.S.

Real Time Bidding: Small Percentage of Online Media Spend

All of the shortcomings outlined above aren’t meant to suggest that RTB is a bad idea. Far from it, I think it’s a huge advance forward and one that we should watch very carefully.

For RTB to realize its logical potential, it will need to increasingly measure brand impact and cross into other mediums like TV. But the potential is truly enormous—imagine being able to buy media in real-time based on how it actually builds your brand and your Marketing ROI.

Now that would be nirvana for any CMO or CEO—whether it’s the biggest advertising story this year or any other year.

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3 “Big Shifts” in the Advertising Paradigm

August 16, 2010

From my July 11th guest post on Meng Blend:  

In the old advertising paradigm, Marketers worshipped at the altar of pre-market “copy-testing,” myself included. The belief system was simple: get great TV advertising—measured by above norm copy testing results—and in-market success would follow.  

3 "Big Shifts" in the Advertising Paradigm

 

It was a pretty simple world—with a clear route to business results nirvana. Marketers knew exactly what they needed to focus on. And, it actually worked pretty well. In fact, some CPG companies “validated” copy testing by showing that some of the key copy testing metrics, for example persuasion, were correlated with in-market results.  

It was a great system—while it lasted.  

The Future Advertising World Looks Different  

The advertising world is changing before our viewing eyes. Beyond the obvious move– to consumer engaged, digitally enabled, social media — advertising will be revolutionized by several “big shifts.” These big shifts will upend and largely destroy the monolithic model of a single ad effectiveness measure—and will enable a much more nuanced and sophisticated understanding of ad performance in the future.  

3 Big Advertising Shifts 

Big Shift #1 – Form Factors Matter 

Advertising device “form factors” are proliferating. It’s now possible to run the same basic advertising on linear TV, non-linear DVR, on-line video, and mobile. And it doesn’t end there. With the Apple iPad, we have the makings of a whole new form factor. And newer forms are proliferating all around us—think of app driven advertising via iAd, in-store video networks, etc.  

Big Shift #1: Media Form Factors Matter -- And Are Proliferating

 

Why should we care about the proliferation of media device form factors? Beyond having interesting, cool new ways to consume content and connect with others, these new form factors matter to Marketers because they change how we should view ad effectiveness.  

Media device form factors influence ad effectiveness. The evidence to date strongly suggests that the same ad performs differently based on the “form factor” the consumer views it on. Surprise—you don’t really have a single ad—you have multiple ones—each one performing differently via the device it’s viewed on.  

Big Shift #2 – Content Matters 

Every Marketer intuitively knows that programming content—whether it’s a TV program, a web-site, or some other content—should either enhance or detract from an ad’s effectiveness that sits within it. Contextual ad measurement is now rapidly moving beyond on-line search and digital into other areas—including TV. And the early learnings are compelling—content does, indeed, make a big difference in how ads perform.  

For example, consumers’ attentiveness to TV programs is highly correlated with their ability to recall ads—the more attentive the program, the more they recall the ads. TV genres also matter. Web site performance varies too—the same ad works differently across sites. Content and context matters—in a big way.  

Big Shift #2: Linking Consumer Engagement, Context & Content

 

What’s different now is that these content based effects are measurable in ways they weren’t before. Hard facts and data about ad performance is replacing gut instinct or intuition by media planners.  

And as our understanding of the impact of content and context grows, these effects will eventually be priced into the content itself—so advertisers have to understand the differential performance by content or risk being placed at a major disadvantage in the market.  

Big Shift #3 – Synergy Matters 

I grant you that the word “synergy” has come to have negative connotations—puffery, or as one old boss used to say “all clouds, no rain.” What’s synergy anyway but a hope and a dream from a desperate salesperson? All the synergy bashing aside, advanced measurement is proving that 1+1 can really equal 3 when it comes to cross media impact—synergy is real and it’s big.  

We now know that consumers exposed to TV + On-line ads, on average, react more favorably than to either individually. At a more refined level, we also know that ad effectiveness among consumers exposed to  TV + On-Line video ads is greater than either on its own. And finally, we even know that ads seen by consumers in a combination of all three — TV + banner + on-line video ads — perform best of all.  

Big Shift #3: Platform Synergy Boosts Online Advertising

 

And this is just the beginning. There are thousands of other permutations—all unique to the brand, ad and contact point. The message is this: the time is fast approaching where marketers will be able to measure and understand their ads’ impact across all manner of combinations and permutations of media contact points. This is big. Integrated marketing communications is finally for real.  

So What Does All This Mean? 

If your head is spinning, it should be. Advertising effectiveness measurement is going to get a lot more complex and complicated. Advertisers will now need to understand advertising performance across a range of dimensions that they didn’t previously understand nor have knowledge of:  

  • By media device form factor
  • By program content
  • By combination of media contact points

There will be no single “advertising effectiveness” score anymore. There will be hundreds, perhaps thousands of them, all based on the media form factor consumers view advertising on, the content ads sit within, and the combination of contact points that a consumer sees or interacts with.  

Managing a Future of Advertising Complexity 

There are two paths for dealing with this potential chaos.  

First, there will be ever more sophisticated algorithms and model based approaches for managing all of this data. Marketers will need to become a lot more sophisticated at understanding how all of this works and not be overwhelmed or misled by the potential “black box” phenomenon.  

Second, advertisers need to develop a set of “universal truths” that simplify advertising decision-making. Newton created the scientific formulations underpinning the theory of gravity. But, most people simply know that a dropped apple will fall to earth, Similarly, advertisers don’t need to know every fact or formula across the above dimensions for ad success. They just need to know the “essential truths” of how advertising works to be effective. Divining these essential truths will be key to success in the future.  

We are moving from a mono-theistic “single ad performance” world, to a more complex poly theistic “many ad performance” approach. This world represents both an opportunity and a threat to Marketers.  

Advertisers who take the time to experiment, learn, and divine the new “advertising truths” in media device form factors, program content and cross-platform performance will be amply rewarded. And those who don’t – well, they’ll probably still be arguing with the CEO that business results behind the new ad campaign can’t be bad—after all, they had great pre-market copy test scores.  

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Your Ad Spending: How Much is Just Right ?

August 9, 2010

Are you spending too much or too little on advertising? Don’t know the answer to this question? You’re not alone–it’s a big issue for almost all Marketers. Think about it for a minute: how do you make this decision for your brands?

How Much Should Your Brand Spend on Advertising?

The most common answer for many, it seems, is “whatever we can afford.” This is certainly the practical answer, and often the reality of managing a brand in a business environment that demands annual revenue and profit growth, but is it the right one?

There’s little glamour in this question, but I would argue that it’s a huge profit lever for Marketers that is rarely addressed in a systematic and rigorous manner. If you’re focused on improving Marketing ROI, it’s a question that deserves your time and thought.

The Usual Budget Approach

Many Marketers work backwards from a communications goal to determine ad spending levels. If we need 80% awareness to achieve our volume forecast, we can calculate the required GRP’s to achieve this. And, given our target audience and media strategy, we can then calculate the cost of the planned GRP’s. Presto—we know how much we need to spend. Or do we?

Advertising Spend: Volume Forecast & Planned GRPs

Requirements of Advertising Budgeting

How might CMO’s and Marketing leaders better defend their advertising spend levels? I’m always a fan of solutions that are:

  • Derived from empirical data and research
  • Connected to real business outcomes – revenue and profit
  • Are simple and practically possible to execute

Are there approaches to determining your advertising spend level that meet these requirements?

Advertising Responsiveness & Spending

One of the more rigorous approaches I’ve seen  to determining ad spend levels was written about by Malcolm Wright in the June 2009 Journal of Advertising Research. To greatly simplify, and avoid making anyone go thru the algebraic equations used (although you’re welcome to read about them here), Wright argues that advertising spend should be set based on:

  • Advertising elasticity as a % of gross profit

This requires that we know our gross profit—which every Marketer should know. But it also requires that we know advertising elasticity for our brand. This is a trickier topic.

Advertising Elasticity – What is it and how Can It be Measured ?

Advertising elasticity is simply the change in volume divided by the change in associated advertising spend. It’s essentially a return on advertising spend metric.

Within the CPG category, there have been a substantial number of studies done on advertising elasticity. These studies used rigorous single source data where it’s possible to observe what people watch and what people buy at the household level, and thus measure advertising elasticity with precision.

Household Level Research: Measuring Advertising Elasticity

What’s Known About Advertising Elasticity

These collective results show that the average advertising elasticity across 186 different studies is about .11. This means that for every $1 invested in advertising, sales increased by an average of $0.11.

Like all averages, it’s useful to deconstruct the .11 advertising elasticity to see differences under different conditions. For example:

  • Established vs. New Products – Using the case examples above, the average advertising elasticity for established products was .05. For new products, it was .24. So, new products are obviously much more responsive to advertising than established ones, and advertising levels should be set accordingly higher.
  • Cluttered vs. Non-Cluttered Environments – Another key factor in the studies was the impact of competitive clutter. In low clutter environments where competitors were not advertising heavily, advertising elasticity was .15. It was only .07 in a highly cluttered environment.

Competitive Clutter: Does Your Brand's Advertising Break Through?

Advertising Elasticity for Your Brand

The ideal is that you use single source research to measure advertising elasticity for your brand—and then use this learning to set affordable and appropriate spend levels.

Of course, this takes time and money and isn’t always affordable for small brands. For others, here’s a few useful guidelines:

  1. Start with the Advertising Elasticity Norms – A good starting place is the .11 average advertising elasticity norm. If you know nothing else about your CPG brand’s ad elasticity, you can assume that you should be spending about 11% of gross profit on advertising.
  2. Adjust for Other Meta Learnings – Adjust the ad spend up or down based on whether your advertising is for an established brand or is less than 3 years old. Consider whether your brand operates in a highly cluttered versus less cluttered environment. Review any additional learnings about differences in advertising elasticity by category, geography, etc. Make adjustments to the .11 as appropriate.
  3. Modify for Creative Strength – If your brand does copy testing, consider how your ad scored versus historical norms for the category or your brand. If your brand is well above norms, you should consider adjusting upward from the .11. If your brand scored below norm, reconsider whether you should be advertising at all until you get better creative.

Advertising Elasticity Guidelines: Copy Testing & Brand Learnings

I’ve spent enough time in Marketing to know that advertising spend is as much art as it is science. That said, there’s a big opportunity for CMO’s and their Marketing teams to be more rigorous in setting budget levels.

There’s financial upside to this exercise. Spending too much is wasteful and inefficient. Spending too little is missing a significant revenue and profit opportunity. Answering the “how much should I spend?” question is about getting your spend just right.

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Brand InEquity – Making Brand Equity Work

August 3, 2010

I recently came across an interesting Q&A with Professor Byron Sharp from the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute for Marketing Science. Byron was commenting on the validity, or lack thereof, of various brand equity measurement approaches: 

Professor Byron Sharp Talks Brand Equity

Interviewer:
But you don’t like these brand tracking services ? 

Byron:
There is an industry that provides special scores on brands, based on surveying customers.  These services mostly claim to be measures of things like brand loyalty or brand equity.  They usually have exotic names like commitment model, brand esteem, brand voltage, brand asset evaluator….Essentially they claim to be able to predict whether the brand is about to gain or lose market share. 

I think any claims made for these proprietary products should be subject to independent examination.  It’s the job of academics to do this testing. Some of the claims are so extraordinary, and so important that they deserve to be checked out.  If they turn out to be true that would be fabulous. 

Interviewer:
And do these proprietary brand health surveys, these metrics, work? 

Byron:
Well that’s just the thing.  No-one knows… 

This is pretty strong stuff. It’s an article of faith for almost all well-trained Marketers that building your brand’s equity is one of the most important things that you can do. But, the question is: is brand equity really important and if so, how are we doing at measuring it? 

How Are Marketers Measuring Brand Equity?

Brand Equity — Important or Not ?

I have to admit, it’s hard to summon any kind of rational argument that Marketers shouldn’t care about brand equity. Fundamentally, Marketing is about understanding consumer needs–articulated or not–and then delivering and communicating products and services that meet these needs better than competitors. 

If this is the core of Marketing, then it’s self-evident that brands will want to stand for the equities associated with the consumer need and how their brand addresses it better than competition. Can anyone seriously argue this point? I think not. Rather, I think Professor Sharpe’s point is not that brand equity is unimportant, but that people are just not very good at measuring it. 

Brand Measurement: Linking Equity & Consumer Need

What’s Wrong With Equity Measurement

As Professor Sharp points out, there are many different approaches to measuring brand equity or brand health. But, I have two fundamental issues with virtually all of them: 

  1. How Advertising & Media Exposure Impacts Brand Equity — On the front end, Marketers develop advertising and other communications programs to convince consumers that their brand is better than competitors. Hence, they need to understand whether and how these programs are working. Only by understanding this can they optimize advertising and media plans to improve equity impact. Currently, equity surveys generally tell us whether equity scores went up, down or were flat. But, as for what caused the changes, who knows? There’s no easy way today to see the cause and effect relationship between advertising and media exposure and changes in brand equity.
  2. How Brand Equity Impacts Business Results — On the back end, wouldn’t it be great to know that there’s  actually a relationship between brand equity and business results? It’s just assumed by most CMO’s that higher equity scores are better. I too assume they are, but then where’s the evidence? What’s needed is a more direct cause and effect quantification of how changes in brand equity actually cause changes in sales or market share. This would go a long way toward helping inform the debate that CMO’s often have with their CEO’s and CFO’s as to the value of “brand” marketing. And today, this is sorely lacking.

Brand Equity & Market Share

What’s Needed: An End-to-End System

In talking to many senior level Marketers, I hear over and over again that people are looking for an end-to-end system that links key communication and business metrics together. They want to: 

  • Link copy testing scores to real-time in-market tracking of advertising and media effectiveness
  • Connect in-market tracking results to brand equity scores
  • Have brand equity metrics that connect to revenue and share outcomes

CMO's: Chartering The Path From Brand Equity to Business Results

End-to-End Communications — Just a Dream ?

Is this kind of system possible ? Time will tell, but I think it’s within sight. The advent of single source panels which connect what people watch and what people buy at the household level offer tantalizing possibilities.

Until then, Marketers should continue to focus on building brand equity, but keep in mind that higher equity scores are not an end in and of themselves. They ultimately need to drive better business results–otherwise who really cares about brand building? 

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