31/03/09

By David Martin

There are, on the whole, two approaches to marketing and PR during a recession. Some business owners view marketing budgets as a luxury that can be dispensed of to save money. Others take the view that it is when times are tough that marketing spend can have the greatest impact.

For those who fall in to the first camp, the chances are that their business will plod along relying on current clients and customers to keep things afloat until the storm has passed.

Whilst their peers are battening down the hatches, the ambitious entrepreneurs realise that keeping a high profile is the only way that they will be able to come out of the recession bigger and stronger.

It is all very well having the ambition to keep a high profile, but for small and start-up businesses who already operate on tight PR and marketing budgets, the biggest challenge is knowing how to maximise the exposure they get without committing unnecessary funds.

Editorial coverage is always going to be a cheaper alternative to advertising, but most entrepreneurs will be reluctant to take on a PR agency on a retained basis at the moment as it means committing to a high monthly upfront fee.

For those that want the benefit of PR without the upfront monthly fees, the idea of pay per hit PR is the perfect solution as it can allow you to continue to push your business forward using targeted and strategic publicity, whilst staying in complete control of how much you are spending.

Traditionally PR agencies have always tried to avoid working with clients on a pay per hit basis because it means they do not get paid for the many hours spent chasing coverage that does not come off. As a result they tend to cover their backs by charging high fees for each hit and committing fewer man hours and less experienced staff to those clients.

However, the market is now full of freelance PR professionals who have come from well reputed agencies that are able to be more flexible with their own service fees. This allows businesses with smaller budgets to access the same PR support that has previously cost large companies anywhere between £5,000 and £20,000 per month. The low overheads that freelancers tend to have is enabling them to charge fees that are more appealing to small business owners who do not want to pay the extra for fancy offices and staff perks.

The biggest advantage of pay per hit PR is that you can carefully manage when you are spending your money. You are not paying on a month by month basis so you can create campaigns to meet specific needs at specific times.

It is important however to bear in mind that newspapers and magazines have different lead in times. While news coverage will tend to appear in newspapers within a few days, features will often be written a number of weeks in advance. Glossy magazines on the other hand can have anything from a two to six month lead in time, so if you want a product to appear in their November issue for Christmas then you need to speak to your PR consultant in April or May.

Tell your consultant what you want promoted and when for and they will be able to put together a time line plan for you that will help you budget in advance.

The cost of using outside support on a pay by result basis can vary hugely depending on who is being used. The most common ways of charging is either being quoted a set price based on a scale of coverage types or having a set percentage of the cost of advertising in the specific publication you appear in. Both methods will see you securing editorial space for a fraction of the cost of advertising.

Due to the fact that everybody has a slightly different way of charging it is important to do a bit of research and shop around before agreeing a contract.

Equally, before signing any agreement it is important you have a conversation with your PR consultant and set a clear budget cap and then have it put down in writing that you will not be charged beyond that budget regardless of coverage that appears.

In order to get the most out of your coverage it is important that both you and your consultant understand exactly who you want to reach. Whilst it may be tempting to be very specific about the publications you want to appear in, that is likely to limit the effectiveness of your campaign.

Any PR professional worth their salt will have a very good knowledge of who reads which publications. For example if you are an upmarket retailer then don’t rule out The News of The World on the basis that you think it is a trashy tabloid and all it’s readers are uneducated slobs. Accountable industry research shows that of the papers seven million readers, three million fit in the ABC1 social group (middle and upper class working professional adults). That is almost two million more ABC1 adults than read the Sunday Telegraph.

This does not mean that you shouldn’t agree boundaries, but don’t shoot yourself in the foot by not listening to the expert advice of your consultant. The biggest stumbling block that a PR consultant will often come across when trying to secure coverage are the clients themselves.

The advantage of using an experienced PR professional on a pay per hit basis is that you are getting a skilled expert for a fraction of the cost of many of your competitors. Your consultant will know what will work and what will make journalists run a mile. When sending out material to a journalist it is their own reputation they are putting on the line as well as yours, so trust their advice because they should have your best interests at heart.

David Martin is the founder of Be Known (www.be-known.co.uk) an ad-hoc freelance PR and communications consultancy for small and medium sized businesses.

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