By Ian Hood, Managing Director at Babel PR

For entrepreneurs looking to get their businesses off the ground, PR is often perceived as a ‘nice-to-have’ or an activity reserved for the biggest and boldest of budgets. I believe those common misconceptions are largely a result of a failure to properly define and measure campaign objectives. Getting those elements right from the start will ensure the business objectives are met and the benefits can be seen.

Do you think that Apple CEO, Tim Cook would still be sitting on top of the world if he didn’t shout from the roof tops about how much the latest iPhone or Apple Watch is going to change your life? For all their differences, the one thing the Apples, Googles and Sonys of the world have in common is that they use PR to establish and maintain their position in the market. They may now be huge operations, but for companies starting out in the highly competitive technology sector, the same lesson applies – establishing and maintaining reputation takes more than just a fantastic concept, it takes time and effort. The dream is for the one-man start up to be catapulted to household name status in the blink of an eye. But the question I hear the most is ‘Do I need PR?’ swiftly followed by ‘Can I afford it?’

In my experience, these questions come as a result of not fully understanding what PR is and what it can achieve. If you don’t know what you’re going to get from a service, then how can you justify the money you’ll need to spend on it? It’s firstly worth noting that PR can be successfully achieved without an eye watering budget that leaves the CFO tearing his or her hair out. Low budget campaigns can be targeted, valuable and impactful. The main thing to bear in mind in this situation is to keep things simple, and not try to tackle too much at once.

Secondly, many small businesses are reluctant to part with cash for PR because they believe it is more of an ‘icing on the cake’ activity; an unnecessary addition to the balance sheet. This could not be further from the truth – successful companies realise early on that PR is vital; it can feed directly into, and help achieve business objectives. Yet, in order to justify the investment, you need to be able to measure the impact of the campaign. You need to understand what worked really well and equally what may not have worked. That information allows you to make the investment decisions that can make the difference between business success and failure.

When correctly applied and measured, PR can accelerate business and work wonders in raising profiles. It will also help to establish a reputation in the market, but remember that reputations are primarily built on the realities of product, solution and service; what you actually deliver, rather than what you say you will deliver. The first piece of advice I give any SME is to think carefully about what it is they want to achieve and we can then design a bespoke campaign to suit.

For example, we recently worked with a company to promote a campaign they were launching on Kickstarter and the objective was simple - create media buzz that would attract the investment to help achieve a funding goal. In this instance, the campaign was targeted, singular and easily measured. Our quick-fire successes for a budding company helped achieve immediate business success, as media coverage equalled more public funding and the measurement of that was obvious. In this case there was a direct connection between coverage in key titles and funding pledges but measurement isn’t always that straightforward.

The inconvenient truth is that there are hundreds of ways to measure PR success, and what success looks like is subjective, depending on the company. There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach because the communication and business objectives will vary from one organisation and / or campaign to another. Most PR campaigns won’t link back to the success of a Kickstarter campaign, so the outcome – and what exactly is being measured – will be quite different.

So if you are launching a new product to the market, then the most obvious way to evaluate the success of your campaign is by looking at your sales figures and tracking these against key campaign activity to identify patterns. This means internal marketing or sales teams sharing data with their external PR teams in order to adapt the campaign to deliver more of the results that are impacting the bottom line, and scale back on any that aren’t having the desired effect.

However, if you’re launching a campaign to build awareness of an industry issue, for example, then the most effective way to gauge success might be by benchmarking awareness prior to a campaign and then measuring it again at the campaign’s conclusion. While this kind of measurement of outcomes can be time consuming, this example does illustrate that companies need to budget for the evaluation of campaigns as well as their creative output.

PR isn’t the silver bullet in helping smaller ventures achieve all of their business objectives overnight but with the right approach and mentality it certainly packs enough punch to transform an unknown player into a serious challenger in the longer-term. PR isn’t something for SMEs to shy away from – it is a powerful tool to put your company’s name on the map, reach new audiences, influence purchasing decisions and create a position in the wider industry. But for those SMEs who are reluctant to dip their toe in the PR pool, make sure your agency can demonstrate campaign success with appropriate measurement and don’t necessarily go along with an agency’s prescribed measurement and evaluation model. You know what is going to have the most positive impact so listen to their advice but make sure it links to your business objectives, not theirs.

Until you know what it is a PR campaign is trying to achieve, you can’t even begin to think about the key performance indicators you should be measuring. Agreeing early on in the working relationship with a PR agency to establish these details will help no end in terms of ensuring your agency works to best effect and delivers bang for buck.