Ask me about PR on any given day of the week, and I'll likely tell you it's all about ensuring you can showcase the tremendous value PR brings to the table via solid metrics. In other words, you must understand what exactly you are attempting to accomplish through PR, make sure these things are tied to solid business goals; then track activities in a way that attributes outcomes back to PR efforts.
I know, I know. It's a tough gig. You just want to tell stories, and build relationships, and make sure your company is putting its best foot forward to win over public opinion. Measurement, to say the least, is a complete drag. But, for better or worse, it's also absolutely necessary, particularly as Marketing and PR are converging faster than Apple can update its iOS software.
This is a continual learning curve for me as well, as PR isn't exactly the simplest thing to define, let alone track and measure. Part of the fun of being immersed in an evolving industry like PRTech is the opportunity to incorporate best practices from a variety of established and emerging brands, as well as disciplines (Marketing, Sales, Customer Success) then use those learnings to guide technology product development.
During one such "discovery" session, I sat down with Saucony's winning Marketing-PR duo Mary (Creedon) O'Brien, VP of Global Marketing, and Sharon Barbano, VP of Public Relations & Events, to learn about their continually impressive recipe for successful branding and customer engagement via PR. Then, you guessed it, understand how they "measure" success.
To give you some background, Saucony's founding story sets the tone for customer loyalty in a way that makes other brand stories green with envy. The first Olympic Marathon was held in Athens, Greece in 1896. One year later, Boston held its first marathon. The following year, Saucony was founded in direct response to runners' growing needs for athletic shoes. Since then, you get the picture.
It's easy to get caught up in the hype of optimized measurement, but that doesn't negate the need for true creativity and collaborative strategy that continually keeps the bottom line in mind. Here, I've shared a few takeaways inspired by O'Brien and Barbano's success at Saucony.
#1 - Benchmark success in a way that makes sense for your brand
"Our ultimate function is to increase sales while engaging the running community through PR. For example, we launched a new shoe called Kineta. We were targeting fitness consumers, so we needed to get it placed in publications like Shape magazine. We weren't planning on featuring the shoe in an advertising campaign, so sometimes we rely a little heavier on PR for certain products. This was also around the time of the Boston Marathon. After the PR campaign launched, we started to sell through the shoe and it became one of our best sellers," shares Barbano.
In this instance, instead of measuring with analytics Saucony kept it simple: It was all about sales. O'Brien adds, "we do measure on an annual basis. There are so many elements to the marketing mix, we really see it as sum of the parts. PR supports all of our growth initiatives. It's considered another marketing tool or parallel tool."
#2 - When it comes to PR, it's about quality, not quantity
"Sharon and I always set our strategies at the beginning of the year. We have our trade and our consumer publication targets. We know how many 'impressions' we get from those placements, but it's more about the quality of the placement than quantity," says O'Brien.
Another important thing to note: message pull-through is most valuable. They both agreed that when you can land a key brand message in an editorial story, the brand will directly and indirectly benefit.
#4 - Be of value to reporters and invest in those relationships
As anyone who has ever practiced PR knows, one of the most important things is solid, mutually beneficial relationships with reporters and influential bloggers.
"Before the New York City Marathon, we landed two major articles in The New York Times. It all leads back to credibility and journalist relationships. We're a trusted source. Sharon did a great job of bringing something of value to the reporter," shares O'Brien.
"Additionally, in this industry it's important to have solid relationships with bloggers and reporters. They can see right through you if you don't understand the running community," says Barbano.
#5 - Niche communities require niche targeting
"Though we'd love to be on the Today Show, we've found that it's also important for us to look at smaller outlets reaching the runners that actually buy running shoesmore of a direct-to-consumer PR strategy," remarks Barbano.
Her take: Effectively reach niched communities by going after smaller outlets that foster higher engagement. In turn, the "ROI" on these relationships is also higher.
# 6 - Focus on inspiring your customers
"When we launched our #Findyourstrong campaign, our social media numbers took off. It wasn't about a product. Our overall mission is to empower the human spirit through running. Saucony is a company of runners. We speak to runners every day. We know that runners run for a range of reasons: personal journey, their moving meditation, alone time, burning calories, sense of community. #Findyourstrong was a way to engage with them in a real way," shares O'Brien. "We aim to inspire and change their lives in some way."
So what's the bottom line?
With the right rhythm of creative marketing and measurement that makes sense for your business, you too can hold the reigns to your brand's public perception. Not every company gets the luxury of a community as engaged as Saucony's, but smart marketing and customer-centric PR can get you fast and efficient enough to win that race.