A year ago the IBA team decided to bust the PR agency myth around “media engagements” vs. actual PR metrics and results. We’ve sat on too many multi-agency reporting calls only to hear some of the “industry leading” agencies explain away a lack of coverage by highlighting the fact they’ve spoken with a journalist about a release or article – then charge accordingly. Since then, IBA primary research has shown 41% of B2B marketing managers across North America, Europe and Asia-Pacific feel their PR agency is too focused on reaching media engagements rather than getting quantifiable content placements. Here the IBA team outlines three key questions marketers shouldn’t have to be asking themselves about their PR reporting.

The traditional retainer and timesheet-based approach to PR and associated reporting is beginning to creak and will only continue to do so as marketing budgets come under pressure in the current global environment.

Recent stats show only seven percent of organizations have increased marketing spend in the wake of COVID-19. I looked last week at how B2B marketers will increasingly scrutinize their marketing expenditure on the IBA blog.

All too often at IBA we hear the familiar lament from marketing managers: “I have no actual metrics, just a lot of talk about something called ‘media engagements.’ Following the weekly update calls, I am left with more questions about activity, metrics and results than at the beginning!”

Here are three questions to ask about your PR reporting. If you’re considering these on a regular basis, it might be time for a change.

  1. Am I getting too many ‘engagements’ and not enough actual ‘results’?

The ultimate yardstick for any agency is the media placements they can provide for their clients. Despite the move to digital – including measuring UVPMs, SEO boost and backlinks – the basic goal is still to achieve coverage in target media. B2B organizations don’t get any of these digital benefits if agencies can’t put the right copy in front of the eyeballs of the right person on a regular basis.

The problem is, placement methods and the media landscape have changed – but traditional PR agency practices haven’t. They struggle as they always have to achieve coverage for their clients and now turn to something called ‘media engagements’ as billable and reportable activities. They have a time-based unit price to generate a coverage item for a client. This means they charge every time they speak with a journalist. They speak with four journalists, they have a billable hour and, hey presto, we’ve spent all our budget – without a media placement in sight.

Look for deliverables, not hours. IBA has always worked on a per-deliverable basis, starting with a client’s placement goals and working up a fixed-price strategy to achieve the right media coverage for each and every article, press release or other type of media-facing asset.

Set goals with accountability built-in – give your agency no ‘media engagements’ to hide behind, just the delivery of physical placements.

  1. Why can’t I get a consistent picture of my global performance?

When running international campaigns, reporting is already complex enough internally for most global B2B organizations – with CMOs top of the pile, followed by regional marketing managers, country specific managers and in-field marketing teams. Why add an extra layer of complexity when reporting on global PR progress?

We see time and time again on international PR progress meetings, two, three or four geographic offices from the same ‘global’ PR agency join the call– same group, but entirely different teams each with their own priorities and reporting streams.

Yes, PR activity needs to be regionalized, but with this ‘traditional’ approach, the agency offices barely communicate between themselves and chart their own course. The result leaves the marketing managers with little messaging consistency and an expensive bill.

It is for this very reason why IBA set up its Global Outreach Hub, a PR team organized by skillset, not geography. From the hub we are able to run client campaigns across the globe. In a single year, IBA generated over 500 pieces of target media coverage in key enterprise comms/networking publications for our network infrastructure client. We drafted and placed articles, comments and opinion pieces as part of a thought leadership-driven campaign. Articles are always placed in the name of regional executives, and many of the articles reworked for regional placements across North America, DACH, Europe North and ASEAN.

  1. Am I really making a digital impact? Media engagements won’t make the boat go faster!

According to Gartner, “the ready availability of quality information through digital channels has made it far easier for buyers to gather information independently” and 27 percent of buyers begin their research independently online, the most common research tactic.

PR has become so much more than a brand awareness tool in the last decade. Every piece of placed content in reputable target trade and technology publications boosts SEO for the contributing company, but it’s backlinks which provide the real lead-gen value for B2B marketing campaigns. Not only does a backlink for your site boost your website domain authority and search engine ranking, it gives interested readers a direct line to your ‘shop window’.

With our Microsoft software client, IBA secured over 120 clippings in target UK media in a single year – predominantly thought leadership articles and strategic news announcements. The result? Over 200 organic leads from website referrals using backlinks in earned media placements.

Regularly placed content is key to driving a steady stream of backlinks. ‘Media engagements’ won’t ever translate into leads, only into billable items.

Time to switch?
No B2B marketing organization should have to ask these questions of their PR agency – least of all in the current economic climate. It’s time for transparent reporting, clear metrics and flatly billed PR services to come to the fore.

Jamie Kightley is Head of Client Services at IBA International.

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