In the loop

Mythology of the Szechuan Sauce: Or How (Not) to Take Advantage of a PR Opportunity

This year, April Fool’s Day brought an unexpected new episode of the hit cartoon “Rick and Morty” that, even more unexpectedly, brought a massive PR opportunity for fast-food chain McDonald’s. The show highlighted a promotional dipping sauce from 19 years ago, giving McDonald’s a chance to take advantage of a huge surge in publicity. Their response was a mixed success – and is well worth learning from.

Being Ready For Anything

Few people could’ve predicted the sudden release of a new episode of the hit cartoon series “Rick and Morty” – but even fewer could’ve predicted that the closing moments of the episode would segue into a mad rant about the 1998 McDonald’s “Szechuan Sauce”. The sauce, released in limited quantities to promote the movie “Mullan”, found legions of new fans from Rick and Morty, demanding more. Only 10 days later, a packet of the sauce sold on eBay for the staggering sum of $14,700.

McDonald’s seemingly bowed to popular demand (following a petition of over 35,000 signatures) –issuing a press release for the return of the sauce accompanied by a whole website and range of sauces and posters in a curiously “Rick and Morty” style. It’s a great example of a company using a situation it couldn’t have seen coming – and doing so in a way that respects its audience – the graphics and language surrounding the website and press release play on the style of the show and include many phrases associated with it, without directly referencing it. (Which is worth noting on its own - directly referencing the distinctly adult show, or attempting a collaboration, could have been a potential PR nightmare for family-friendly McDonald’s – so it was gutsy to go as far as McDonald’s did.)

The result: a company quickly and cleverly taking advantage of a great PR opportunity, setting a date for the new sauce to hit stores. What went wrong?

Underestimating the situation

Given the effort they put into this campaign, McDonald’s oddly ultimately misjudged the subsequent demand for the re-issued sauce. On its release day, many stores across the US had huge queues, with demand that could not be filled – some stores weren’t even aware of the promotion. The result was a media backlash – including a lot of unhappy fans on Twitter. McDonald’s issued an apology for the fiasco – still visible on the sauce’s main webpage. The apology still played on the theme, using Morty’s words, “Not cool.”, and promising to make it right with “a portal gun” if necessary – but whatever follows will be a minor success compared to getting it right first time round. The day that McDonald’s had built up to so cleverly proved a disappointment, and generated negative PR.

There’s an important warning here. When faced with random PR opportunities – even from the lunatic inter-dimensional ambitions of a cartoon character – it’s not enough to tap into the zeitgeist. Taking advantage of a PR opportunity also means trying to predict how far you can take it, for maximum effect – and while McDonald’s showed an excellent understanding of the customer and the show, they executed the final promotion poorly. There wasn’t enough sauce, and it wasn’t well co-ordinated. Whether this could have been avoided with more communication between departments, or a more committed PR push, the source of this unfortunate sauce situation has to be that McDonald’s did not, in the end, recognise the full potential of the opportunity.

It’s arguable that with any unplanned PR opportunity it’s difficult to gauge how far to take it. No one wants to waste money with poorly conceived ad hoc PR campaigns. But in this case, all the indicators were there. The petition had been signed, and vintage tubs of sauce were being sold for staggering sums of money. McDonald’s realised the opportunity was big enough to embrace, but somehow missed quite how big it was.

The show isn’t over yet, though –the latest press release suggests McDonald’s aren’t ready to let this one go, and the new edition sauces are now selling on eBay for alarming amounts. The full measure of McDonald’s success here is yet to be seen – but hopefully they’re working on it with a fervour that would make Rick Sanchez proud.

Why it’s worth outsourcing your writing to a professional

Writing is a necessity for any modern business – with such an abundance of our communication coming through email, website content and social media. Because writing has become so common, everyone is at it – and there’s a temptation to do it all yourself. However, writing for business, and editing texts, is a learned skill that shouldn’t be downplayed - hiring a professional writer can have a huge impact on your business – particularly if you can find specialist writers to cover areas such as PR. So how can outsourcing to a pro strengthen your business?

Working with proven techniques

Your audience doesn’t always see your business the same way that you do – so knowing your product, and your business, is not enough to know what message will carry the most appeal. A professional writer makes that kind of knowledge their job – using techniques like split testing email campaigns to demonstrate which text produces the best results, a copywriter takes the guesswork out of the written word. They lose sleep over things like which synonym consistently produces the best response – and go further to consider how words interact with design, and which combinations are best received by the reader, regardless of the writer’s personal preference. That kind of deep knowledge doesn’t come from everyday use of a language – it comes from study and passion that’s worth paying for.

Making sense of your message

Being close to your product or service can work against you – when everything matters to you, how do you know what’s most important for an outsider to know? Working with a professional writer can be like working with a translation service – it’s not just about saying something clearly, it’s about making it relatable and relevant for your audience, and focusing on only the information that is most important. Imagine a business executive trying to promote a wild new TV show – without figuring out the best style and tone, your writing could be working the same way. And involving a writer from the planning stage is important here – it’s so much easier to create the right focus from scratch than recover it from a misjudged start.


Effective language requires study – even your native language. If you’re used to communicating in another language, it’s possible to lose some of the nuance of your native tongue – and conversely, knowing and using a language for many years does not guarantee a natural fluency. Being able to communicate and understanding exactly how to write accurately are far apart – after all, if everyone was an expert in the language they used, there’d be no need for linguists, let alone professional writers or editors.

A professional writer doesn’t just avoid mistakes, they delight in an ability to tell you why mistakes matter, with the same level of intrigue for what generates the best responses. A good writer revels in picking apart areas of grammar and nuanced vocabulary that amateur writers may never be exposed to (blood may have been shed over concepts like the Oxford Comma). And you can be sure that if a skilled writer doesn’t help you create your texts, that passion may come back to haunt you when likeminded members of your audience get a hold of your writing.

Generating action

Finally, and most importantly, a professional writer provides a particular sense of focus for your writing. All the fine details aside, the writer is there to do a job – to create the desired result Whatever your personal motives with a piece of writing, a professionals motive is focused on the purpose of your project. All of the above issues feed into this – professional writing generates more interest, more effectively informs and increases awareness and action. Professional copywriters exist to make your writing work for you, leaving less to chance.

How effectively editing your company text can protect your image

Your website, your press releases and any other writing you use to inform customers and clients can make or break your company image. There are a number of pitfalls companies fall into with writing, especially when translating your texts from another language, making careful editing is a must for professional, engaging copy. Consider the following examples of what companies frequently do wrong, and how you can improve your writing.

  1. Generalisations

Writing generally can seem a safe way to appeal to a broad audience, avoiding specifics and relying on superlative language.

Smith Partners is a global leader in financial planning. Hundreds of wealthy individuals, businesses and funds rely on our expertise in this area. Our highly qualified professionals work as an international team to generate significant returns on your investments.

Grammatically, this text is fine, and it may even seem persuasive. By talking in general terms, however, it could be applied to almost any company – making much of the wording meaningless. Expressions like global leader, expertise, and highly qualified professionals are clichéd and often redundant – for example, it would be surprising to find a business staffed by anyone that wasn’t a professional. Likewise, claims like hundreds of wealthy businesses rely on us and significant returns are too vague to make an impact, and are unlikely to convince a reader. The text can be made much stronger if we add examples in the place of generalisations and clichéd claims.

Smith Partners provides financial planning for individuals and businesses in the manufacturing and energy sectors. Our international team advises on investments in equity, fixed-income and index funds – and was responsible for $6m in returns for our clients in 2016.

 Note there is now no claim that this firm is a global leader or has expertise – the confidence of offering a simple statement of who you are and what you have done demonstrates that with no fluff.

  1. Overblown language

Unnecessary and ineffective wording can also occur when a company tries too hard to sound clever (using excessively ‘wordy’ phrasing) or to sound appealing (using too much descriptive language). Overblown text is difficult to read and appears unprofessional, demonstrating poor communications skills.

Faraday Interior Design offers a professional and exquisite service, by listening to our clients’ needs, requests and requirements in order to achieve 100% client satisfaction and ensure the best designs and resources are provided. We are on hand to provide the very best care so you can rest assured you will receive an incomparable service.

 This phrasing seems unnatural and frequently redundant. Needs, requests and requirements all cover the same point. Ensure the best designs…are provided dilutes the more direct (confident) provide. Exquisite and incomparable are lofty, even arrogant claims with no evidence. A much simpler, direct introduction is more appealing.

Faraday Interior Design provides premium services in home and event design. We bring your vision to life through close, personal consultation.

In this edit (which you can see is far shorter), fewer, simpler words replace the many drawn out statements in the original. Customer satisfaction is demonstrated through a specific image with bring your vision to life. Close, personal consultation stands for all the phrasing covering listening, care and servicing.

This revised text contains arguably woolly descriptive words– premium and close, personal – and a rather cliché phrase, bring your vision to life. In limited capacity you do need to choose something to represent you – and you can make attempts to be convincing. The important point is that such language is chosen carefully and used sparingly. In this example, these phrases emphasise working closely on the client’s personal idea at a higher tier of service.

  1. Inaccurate language

Mistakes in your text are the first sign of an unprofessional service. This is an especially important area to consider with translated texts, where poorly edited translations can create red flags for readers.

Our core business is to providing website assessments, primarily to customers in England’s North. By partnering with a specialized service providers, we have expanded capacity to analyse your website in detail.

This example contains three red flags that suggest a bad translation: a confused verb structure, to providing, an incorrect article, a specialized…providers, and unnatural phrasing, England’s North. On their own these could seem like minor errors, but if a reader is alerted to a bad translation then they may become critical of other aspects, such as clumsy phrasing like we have expanded capacity.

Any mistakes in your writing weaken your company image, but if a reader notices these mistakes come from a poor translation they will jump to two immediate conclusions: (1) you are not used to operating in their market, suggesting you may be new or providing a long-distance service; and (2) by not investing in a higher quality translation you are either lazy, cheap or ignorant. This may sound harsh but you will be judged harshly on your mistakes.

  1. Writing without an audience in mind

All of these points speak to one overall issue – failing to consider who is reading your text, and how they will read it. This occurs when you simply want to put your information out there without questioning its active purpose. Not editing your text for a specific audience can lead to providing inappropriate information and using inappropriate language.

Providing too much information, such as a thorough company history on a website’s blurb, fails to appreciate that a client may want just enough information to form a decision about you. Less is almost always more in this case – and a failure to filter your information can seem like you either do not respect their time or you do not understand the most important points you have to offer.

Inappropriate language or information is a more nuanced problem, and one that is especially problematic when writing for a new market, such as a new country. Different cultures have different values that must be considered – in English, for example, you may find that direct sales language is acceptable in the United States while more modest text is expected in the United Kingdom.

Effective editing of your text starts with this consideration – the question of who you are writing for and why – and brings all the other problems into line. It is not enough to produce a piece of text with information that you wish to share. You must consider what the client or customer wants to know and how that information can produce an action. This is a delicate process that requires more than just putting your ideas in writing – you are not the best judge of how your own writing is interpreted. A proper edit helps the final text meet the intended purpose.

How social media can improve your PR

Communication between companies and customers has changed significantly as social media has provided new tools for your company image and delivering important news. Used correctly, these tools are an asset for public relationships – used badly they can severely damage your reputation. Here are some guidelines to make sure you’re getting the most out of this revolution in communication.

Be where your audience is

There are plenty of options to raise your visibility online – but it is important to choose the right social media platform for your audience. Instagram, for example, is a must for promoting a fashion brand but wouldn’t be much use to an accountancy company. 80% of Pinterest’s users are woman so it is not the best platform for a company which focuses on men’s products. Different countries also have different trends for social media, which you must understand when entering a new market. Social media platforms are used very differently in Russia than the UK, for example.

On top of choosing the right location for your online presence, you also have to speak in the language of the audience. What is acceptable and expected on one platform may be frowned upon on another – meaning you must understand how to interact as well as where to do it. It is perhaps a given, though, that sharing valuable information and encouraging conversation is the most likely way to get your content shared on any site.

Provide important news immediately

Social media is a great tool to inform people about company news. This does not just mean engaging your customers – it has significant practical implications for dealing with the media. Journalists actually check company tweets rather than inspecting press-releases, making the process easier and quicker. PR professionals now have direct access to journalists and can make contact with them in a more personal manner, instead of clogging their inbox with impersonal emails.

Social media also provides a buffer if your other communications channels experience problems. If there is a problem with a company’s website, customers usually go to a SM account to find out what’s going on. This can be a great way to manage a crisis – or it can compound the problem, if customers check your social media and find nothing of use.

Indeed, frequent updates to your social media are a must, to avoid people thinking your company has stagnated. It is now a measurement of genuineness and sincerity of your company – and it would be better to have no social media account than one that is rarely used.

Every word counts

We live in a time where every word from a company or its employees may be scrutinised online. Your online presence can therefore be a great promotional tool or a potential pitfall. One misstep can greatly damage your reputation. It’s become increasingly common to read news about people who have been fired because of tweets that don’t “represent what the company believes nor what it stands for”. This article contains numerous recent cases of this problem – including an example of man who lost a social media contract for Chrysler and forced the company to apologise to the city of Detroit for a single mistaken tweet.
Listening, talking and learning

Social media creates a feeling of personal connection between companies and customers, thanks to the increased number of communications channels available, and the real-time nature of interactions. This provides excellent opportunities to receive direct feedback from your audience - if there is something wrong with the product, people will share it immediately (and the effectiveness of this can be seen in how companies such as BT, Halifax and LA Fitness have developed Twitter customer support strategies).
Yes, there will be negative reviews too, sometimes unfairly, but it is the company’s duty to reply to and try to understand the situation. The quicker your reply (and the more effectively you deal with the problem) – the better your reputation. People don’t want to deal with an old-fashioned 48 hours reply policy.

This new reality has created a new position in organisations – the online reputation manager. This comes very close to PR and involves listening and monitoring conversations on social media to provide insights into what customers and prospects are talking about and how they feel about brand and products.
It is a two way street – the more you put into social media, the better your audience will respond to your company message, and the more engaged they will be. This engagement can be used to not only bolster your position, increasing opportunities for publicity and sales – it can be used to provide valuable insights into who your audience are, and how you can better serve them.

Understanding the importance of PR for a low-profile company

For some, PR only conjures ideas of public appearances and major publications. Even when not drawing attention to a company, however, PR still provides a crucial management function. If your customers or clients value anonymity, as with a small hedge fund, there is an in inherent risk in being unknown. When you face a crisis or are looking to expand, you need to sell your brand – and preparation for that requires a long-term PR strategy.

The Subtlety of Public Relations

Truly good PR does not look and smell like PR. It is strategic and consistent – building a certain expectation from clients and the public over time. Unlike advertising, which pushes products through high-profile campaigns, PR considers the perception of a company in general – not merely in relation to a particular piece of publicity. Through consistently embodying the right values in all communications, this can ensure people associate your company with certain standards – which is crucial for credibility, loyalty and even sympathy.

For example, with our low-profile hedge fund an external problem such as uncertainty in the financial market could cause doubts with investors. They are more likely to continue to invest confidently if they trust your company to always do the right thing. To earn that trust, your message needs to be conveyed naturally and consistently – this is where PR comes in.

Taking control of your message

Even without a crisis, strategic messaging can pay dividends. Consider NTechLab’s facial recognition technology – which could inspire fear in some – whose PR message has presented a message of security instead of risk. Being proactive with PR in this way can prevent potential negativity before it has begun – as well as help you reach a wider audience.

On the other hand, controlling your message could also lower your public exposure – getting your message out before a problem occurs could stop something from becoming a story. It also builds confidence in your brand – and confidence can be as valuable to investors as discretion.

Building Credibility and Loyalty

Developing your company’s overall image also pays off when you will need to convince clients of your efficacy. A lesson can be taken from the findings of MarketInvoice, a company providing an online alternative to banking: PR proved crucial in obtaining their first customers, because the proposition was so different to the norm. As MarketInvoice’s Anil Stoke found, PR was not about publicity, it built the confidence and credibility that was necessary for clients to join them.

You don’t need to see your name in a major publication to achieve this – quality coverage in the right niches is what counts. You can reach an audience discretely through social media or in producing specialist online content. You may host your own, select events or look to organic PR like conferences and competitions or ratings. Whatever the case, PR is at its most effective when it is not extravagant – consider starting from within, by engaging those people you trust and respect most (such as your board, partners and mentors). With an inner circle of influencers as a foundation, you can establish a trustworthy message that they then help to spread. Even when you do look to more public avenues, this can be done in subtle and natural ways – such as Cemaphore’s coverage in the New York Times, which lead to great publicity and ultimately acquisition.

What it really means to be seen…

With a strategic, controlled message and the right foundations for sharing it, you both increase stability with existing customers and create a better proposition for new ones. Being newsworthy is only a part of this – you may prefer to stay out of the news entirely – the key to effective PR is that you take an organised and considerate approach to how people perceive your company.

Why internal PR can be as important as external

As a company, it can be easy to prioritise your external PR and forget about the information you share with your internal audience – your employees, those responsible for the work being done. However, internal PR can play a crucial role in a corporate environment, with benefits worth considering as part of a complete communication strategy. It is something all too often left to the HR department, though – without truly considering its importance.

Why do you need internal PR

Engagement. Having a tool for communicating your key messages to your team and generating employee engagement leads to a more productive workforce and better business. This is backed by research: it has been proven that organisations with highly engaged employees achieve an average double the annual net income of those with low engagement.
Information. Employees should always find out news from the company first – not from the media. It not only builds a sense of loyalty, and unity, it helps you control how the message is delivered – and when.
Talent. An effective internal PR strategy can attract better specialists - and keep them in the company. In addition to aiding productivity, studies show that highly engaged employees are 87% less likely to leave their jobs than disengaged employees.
Stability. If one person lives, strong internal PR ensures it doesn’t affect the whole company.
Administration. Good internal PR ensures clearer communication with your employees, for reminders, announcements and more.

How can you make your internal PR effective

Create one platform for communications. The starting point for an effective system is to provide a single, simple point of access with an internal web portal, corporate magazine or a similar platform. There are many ways to engage with your employees – all of them have potential to build motivation and a team spirit. You simply have to commit to one.
Connect your internal and external PR. Internal PR can help employees embrace your external successes, raising morale and building pride in employees’ work. Why should just the public enjoy your success, after all? Conversely, your own staff can generate ideas for external PR and advertising campaigns – after all, who knows the product better? Bringing external PR and internal PR together draws the most out of both strategies – and can help deliver the company’s ethics and message to an external audience. For example, many companies have found success through using real employees in advertisements.
Listen. Your employees need a way to submit questions and feedback. This feedback also needs to be acted upon. It’s vital that this system be in place, as your employees may be your best ambassadors but they can also be your harshest critics.
Use internal communications appropriately. Internal PR is not just a channel to send your company news to your internal audience – it is a tool that can both celebrate your achievements and consider the impact your company news with have on employees. Do not merely send messages out, tailor them and develop a strategy – put your internal PR to a real, deliberate purpose.

Who is responsible for internal PR?

The final question, and one that brings us back to a point that, unchecked, could hinder an effective internal PR strategy: who is responsible for putting this system? It could fall to HR or a separate PR department entirely, depending on the size of the company, but whoever is made responsible the responsibility must be made clear and a strategy developed. And it must be connected to the PR department in order to strategically leverage public relations. The external team and internal PR specialists and managers have shared expectations about processes and procedures.

These are just the starting points for putting an effective internal PR system into place. The particulars will depend on your company – but whatever your size or industry you can be sure that strong internal PR will mean strong employee engagement and a more stable, better performing business. This in turn, can lead to a stronger outward image and more effective external PR. Consider the examples of Chobani’s CEO giving 10% of his shares to his employees or Admiral Group’s CEO’s $10M parting gift – these aren’t just companies people are talking about, they’re companies people want to work for.

What’s the difference between PR, marketing and advertising?

When it comes to promoting a company or product, there are lots of options available – not just in the mediums used but in the professional services behind them. The differences between PR, marketing and advertising can seem minor – but the services offered in these fields can be incredibly different. Before you commit to a PR or marketing campaign it is worth considering if this is the right choice for your company at this time, and how they can complement one another.

PR: maintaining a good reputation

Public Relations operates in the field of the media, covering tasks such as press releases, tackling crisis situations, preserving (or improving) the overall image of the company and employing strategies to build relationships between the company and the public at large. These services can include representing the company as a spokesperson, and might be used by a range of companies for various purposes, as you can read here.

PR is all about being noticed in a positive light – making an impression that is not directly related to a commercial message. PR does have a strong commercial purpose, however – consumers in all areas are increasingly interested in who they make purchases from and it can greatly harm marketing and advertising campaigns if consumers are unaware of a company’s reputation – or, worse, see the company in a negative light.

Marketing: public awareness and generating action

Marketing departments usually cover promotions through product launches, online and offline marketing and organising conferences, exhibitions and other events. The field of marketing also covers market research and the development of new ideas for promotions.

These campaigns have a tighter and more commercial focus than PR activities. They are typically tied to a particular product, service or event, with an interest in driving sales. Crucially, they are activities geared towards generating a specific result: increasing revenues. While PR looks to promote the company’s overall reputation, marketing therefore promotes a particular aspect of the company – be it a product or service – to a particular audience: potential customers.

Advertising: directly driving sales

Advertising falls into the same field of marketing, covering actions used to grow revenues, but covers the more specific activities of these campaigns. This may include the production and promotion of television and radio adverts, print publications, online adverts, posters and billboards.

Like marketing, the goal of advertising is to directly promote to a consumer, and increase revenues, and is therefore different to PR in the same way. The difference between advertising and marketing, however, comes from what types of media are used in advertising. A marketing campaign may cover the running of events, promotions and advertising itself, while advertising on its own is concerned with specific items of public facing media. While PR has a broad appeal to the entire public, and marketing appeals to the company’s potential customers in potentially wide strokes, advertising often has a very focused market in mind, and will be designed with a measurable impact – for example using a poster to inspire an action when it is seen.

Who is your audience?

While PR, marketing and advertising might be broken down into specific tasks and strategies, the really important difference comes from this final point – to determine the purpose of these activities, ask who your target audience is. If your goal is to appeal to a broad community, to create a positive impression and build relationships with anyone interested in the company, then PR is the place to start. As your goals become more specific, targeting a specific group of people for a particular activity or purpose (such as driving sales), you may move towards marketing and then, in finer focus, to advertising.

It is important, however, to understand this is a chain of complementary activities. Avoid the fallacy that ROI and sales come only from marketing and advertising, as these are where results are most easily measured. The clear crossover between these 3 departments means they should be used together for the best results.

Who needs to hire a PR company?

It is not only big corporations that need a PR specialist. Indeed, the size of your company is not a key indicator of the necessity of PR services – public relations can be essential for small scale operations, and for individuals (consider a musician, an artist or a politician). The decision must be decided based on your specific situation – and the examples below demonstrate when it’s really time to hire a PR company.

You have a relationship with your audience

Some businesses are a one-way street, where a message, a particular ethos or a demonstrative expertise are not necessary (for example selling a low volume of products on eBay, where what little public image you require is easily personally manageable). Other businesses, though, must develop a partnership with the public – a more public-facing company must express expertise, aims and personality in a way that public understands and accepts. The companies that make these extra efforts can then form a healthier relationship of give and take.

A specialist is necessary when that relationship requires any kind of extra interpretation, connections or management. A PR agent will present you as an industry expert and help you to deliver your value proposition, creating a good, two-way relationship with your customers or clients through building your story.

You want to create brand recognition

Following from creating a relationship, you also need to create a memorable brand. Good public relations are recognised as the most effective way to do this, and it’s not unknown for strong business owners to spend less on advertisement and more on PR. For example, the tremendous success of the British health-drinks brand Innocent, came from the now famous story they delivered to the market (three friends created smoothies and asked people at a festival if they should leave their jobs to start a company). Such PR generates the right buzz about the brand, and spreads through word of mouth.

You need good quality content

From the writing of a press release or speech to coordinating media appearance and comments from company members, if you have outward communications they require quality control. Your PR is responsible for monitoring the quality and consistency of the content your company produces. This is especially important for international businesses entering a new market. Each culture is very specific and you have to deliver a message which appeals to this audience, which could be completely different from the country you are used to. This is a topic covered in more detail here Why traditional translation is costing global companies sales.

You have many press requests and don’t have a representative to deal with it

Timing can be crucial when delivering your message. If your company has press requests you need a spokesperson or at least somebody with enough expertise to can field questions in a timely manner. To make things easier for the press, and to build a strong long-term relationship, it’s also best if they can deal with one person, not merely whoever is available. A PR specialist will cover all aspects of the business and know how to present the information to the public effectively. Such PR also builds your relationship with the press and those connections are priceless.

You have a press officer but you need to outsource tasks for a big project

Companies occasionally have exceptional projects, like the launch of a new product, media event or press conference, where the in-house team is not enough. In order to benefit from PR services without a huge budget, companies can hire a PR firm or freelance PR specialist for a limited time and a specific job.

You have a crisis situation and need to protect your reputation

Information spreads extremely quickly now, making it more important than ever to react quickly to negative publicity. From something as simple as a negative online review or an angry comment from an ex-employee to an unexpected result of journalist investigation, you have to act fast. You need someone who reacts quickly and efficiently to minimize the damage – a PR specialist, working with the relevant teams, has the expertise to handle this. Consider the recent story about Samsung’s Galaxy Note 7 - over 2 million devices were recalled, costing the company USD 5.3 billion. In this difficult situation the company’s PR team highlighted the importance of user safety and was open about investigating the issue – adeptly handling the publicity. You can read more about dealing with negative publicity here.

PR is a strategic and complicated area. The person (or company) responsible has to know all about the business, competitors, internal/external relationships, issues, risks, and more, and must apply this information to most effectively benefit the company – in the right way and at the right time. Hiring a PR agency is certainly not always necessary – but it’s a smart move if you have clear business objectives and the resources to invest in such consultancy.

Public Relations: to measure is to know - and the pitfalls of AVE

How do you prove the effectiveness of your PR?

Fierce debate over the measurement of PR outcomes has been ongoing since the early 2000s. PR theorists have concocted schemes to calculate the value of PR activities, but no one has found a single standard system, as measuring PR is much more complicated than analysing sales or advertising. Yet it is crucial for companies of all sizes to find a way to evaluate their PR activities – so in turn is crucial to understand the right way to do it.

The Wrong Approach to Measuring PR

In the time when we had only traditional media to worry about, the work of a PR team was judged based on the number of press-releases and articles published in newspapers and the space that they took. Using a pencil and ruler, account executives physically measured the size and space that their coverage took up. Combined with consideration for the number of publications distributed, these calculations provided what is called the Advertising Value Equivalent (AVE) – a measurement of how much the PR piece was worth by considering how much an equivalent-sized advert would cost.

PR analytics have evolved greatly since literally measuring the size of publications, but the use of AVE to evaluate PR publications is still reasonably commonplace. For example, a PR agency may report they secured annual coverage with an AVE of GBP 2 million, while the cost of running the PR team was GBP 40,000, which appears to demonstrate value in the eyes of a small business owner.

The return on investment (ROI) is important, but can PR really be quantified this way? A PR team, after all, is responsible for building a brand, defending that brand and developing your identity and reputation – as well as downplaying your competition and forming valuable relationships for your company. Such things make all the difference for a business, but nearly impossible to assign a simple monetary value to.

Faced with concepts of brand awareness and “intangible” reputation, smaller businesses may roll their eyes, believing only the largest of companies have the resources to analyse such things. Meanwhile AVE is easily quantifiable, but narrows the role of PR to the scale of publications. It says nothing of the impact of those publications. AVE ignores social media, media events (briefings, conferences, sponsorship, press tours) and, crucially, the results of the publicity. It causes many PR managers to become hostage to spectacular numbers, forgetting where the real value of PR lies.

The Right Approach to Measuring PR

 Some companies, such as Gorkana, create complicated evaluation systems for PR-campaigns, but such tools are designed for large companies. Small and medium-size businesses require a more comprehensive understanding of their business objectives associated with value, not just money.

The key point is to assign the goal and then measure the achievement of this goal. And the goal should not simply be a publication - even, let’s say, in Forbes. For example, If a company wants to change the public’s attitude to the whole industry, and communicate the company’s values to the people, a publication is only one step towards that goal. Consider the vast range of PR work that has been successfully carried out for companies promoting healthy food or organic cosmetics. For a small business the goal may be less ambitious but still should not rely on simply having a publication appear in a particular newspaper.

What must be measured, therefore, is the degree to which the PR has successfully impacted the public’s perceptions – and consequent behaviour. The most concrete measurement is inevitably in sales, if they can be traced to the PR activities – otherwise shifts in behaviour can be measured through focus groups or customer feedback. The outcome, however it takes shape, is the only basis for a meaningful measurement and the only measurement that carries value in a company’s ongoing strategic planning.

We live in a time where PR covers a very wide area - from pitching press releases to dealing with reputation management and crisis communications. It’s important to work with PR professionals who understand that value is about more than simplified numbers.

Polina Kuleshova, Link and Share:

As an owner of a boutique PR consultancy, I often explain to clients that we do not deal with publishing advertising texts, paying journalists to write articles about the company or giving free samples of products at exhibitions. Yes, we promote our client’s company (through its project, product or service), but using a different approach. Nowadays in PR, we do what we can to place the final decision of whether or not to buy the product or service in the customer’s hands – not the sellers. Unlike an advertiser, we convince audiences to make the right decision through methods which create trust and appreciation towards the brand. We use traditional media, social media, events, etc. to demonstrate the value of the product or service - and it’s worked very well so far.



How to deal with negative publicity in the digital age

These days, before taking on a client or establishing a business partnership, people gather all the information they can about a company on the Internet. While in the past we only had to think of traditional media, companies now have to be aware of a whole other world of social media and review websites. It’s made monitoring for negative publicity more important, and more difficult, than ever – whatever the size of your company. Everyone is at risk, and any mistake could be noticed and make headlines – from the height of political manipulation to the simplicity of a typo or misinterpretation. So how can you ensure your reputation is safe?

Plan in advance

Every company needs a crisis plan, including contingency plans and pre-considered answers to potential problems, which must be in place before anything bad happens. This plan is usually created by a PR specialist and a lawyer and confirmed by the head of the company or the head of the crisis team (depending on how big the company is). This precaution will save time and maintain calmness in a crisis.

Stay cool and respond

Dealing with any crisis, it’s important to take an analytical approach. Ask questions: is the negative comment/article accurate? Who published it and why? Is the publication well known and widely read by the target audience? These questions should be answered with help from a specialist from the company, responsible for the criticised department, and a lawyer. Only after such analysis should action be taken. But action must be taken – as doing nothing can be worse than ignoring the negative publicity. Silence allows people to believe the published information, exacerbating the current situation and weakening the credibility of the company.

Prepare a statement

It is essential to refute negative publicity: provide arguments of misconstrued positions and present real facts. Your statement should objectively consider the situation and the position of the company, and recognise fault where necessary. It should be published on behalf of the company through all the channels of communication available. This statement should be constructive, honest and without emotion. The speaker can be, depending on the situation, the head of the company or the press officer (or the nearest responsible alternative). It also helps to ask third party industry experts to support the company’s position.

Encourage more positive or neutral publicity

With one negative comment or article surrounded by ten positive ones, it’s be easier to maintain your company’s reputation. That why it’s important to consistently talk about the company’s activities, and its products and services, fostering a good relationship with the media and your customers by providing answers on any enquiry.

You can even start building your reputation using Wikipedia – though it may appear to be a non-traditional source of publicity, everyone can see it and share it. As a key example in how far you must go to preserve your reputation in the online world, maintaining and monitoring a favourable Wikipedia article is important, even as a company or organisation.