Global PR: How do you halve your costs and double your coverage?

Simple. By reinventing how international PR is done …

… with this 5-step process …

… and then adding the secret sauce

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If something sounds too good to be true, so they say, then it normally is.

A five-step process for halving your PR costs while doubling your media coverage sounds MUCH too good to be true. Yet, it’s one that I have myself applied to real startups, in competitive markets, with conspicuous success – not once but twice.

In both cases, the results included global coverage, buzz and attention out of all proportion to the budget and far greater than achieved by rival brands.

This attention in turn played a key role in helping drive rapid growth for the brands concerned.

For those pressed for time, I summarize the essence of this five-step process in a single sentence at the end of this post. Feel free to skip straight to this summary.

If, on the other hand, you’d prefer to understand all five steps – and/or want to know the secret sauce – then please read on:

 

1. Step One: pay for the work, not the foyer
– Hire independents, freelancers and small agencies not big ones

Hire small and boutique agencies – or experienced freelancers and independents – rather than brand-name, corporate-style agencies, with high overheads and fees – and a business model that involves charging both a “foyer tax”, to cover their big overheads, and a “brand tax”, to pay for their brand name.

Big agencies tend to be superb at things like knowing how to charge and knowing how to PRESENT the coverage achieved – but are often less effective than smaller ones at generating it in the first place.

They can also be more constrained by their business model and fee structure when it comes to how much time they can devote to a given task – such as pitching a given story, for a given fee. In an age when media lead times are growing ever longer, the staff of large agencies are forced by their business models to move on to the next story, even when the media they’re pitching still need chasing on the last one.

Hiring smaller, owner-managed agencies and/or freelancers, if done properly, tends to have the further advantage of getting the work done by more senior and experienced professionals, rather than by the more junior and inexperienced ones likely to be deployed by larger agencies.

Big international agencies are able to offer clients oven-ready international networks of PR folks on the ground in each market.

This sounds appealing, until you understand the problem that if, as often happens, they have a terrific person.team in Country X but dud ones in Countries Y and Z, there’s not much you can do about, since you’ve signed up for the whole network and are stuck with them, good or bad.

In the brave, new age of custom solutions, you’re landed and stuck with one-size fits all.

It’s never been easier, meanwhile, to source and recruit smaller PR agencies and independents across the world, via one of the growing number of international networks of such independents.

You can therefore use one of them – plus your own contacts, if you have them – to assemble your own international network, over which you have more control. Or, you can hire one of the virtual agencies to assemble and manage one for you, while making clear that you want the flexibility to find good people in each market, and, when necessary, replace underperformers in particular markets.

This sort of flexibility applies not just across international markets but also within each national one. So, when you have an idea or story that requires the specialist expertise of, say, a travel PR or an entertainment PR, or some other specialist, you can hire one on a short-term, project basis to meet your one-off need.

Note, however, that to make this sort of approach work, you will need someone to act as your  trusted ringmaster and run the whole show. This person could either be a staff member or a trusted consultant or agency.

 

2. Step Two: Unpack the “full-service agency” model
– Pay for the services you need, not the ones you don’t

PR agencies like to boast of being “full-service” agencies.

This sounds convenient – what’s not to like? And can be really valuable when you definitely want to buy their full range of service.

But do you really want to pay for ALL their various services, when you might not actually need them – or might you be better off only paying for the services you want and not the ones you don’t?

In practice, it’s often better to break down or unpack the specific services that they’re offering and then charging you for – and then consider which ones you actually need and want and which you don’t.

Many if not most PR agencies, in my experience, are poor at generating ideas – something, I find, that I can do much better myself, often with the help of my own trusted network of associates. What’s more, the big agencies, which rely on less experienced staff, are often even worse than the small ones.

The model therefore that I’ve found works better is to hire small, owner-managed agencies or independents/freelancers to provide the specific services of pitching and media relations but not to pay them for services like idea generation and execution, which can be done better – and more economically – centrally.

Meanwhile, the advantage that the big, global networked agencies supposedly offer is that they are … well, big and global and networked and, as a result, work seamlessly as a perfectly cohesive unit and team.

But is this actually true? Is the big, global networked agency with its handsome offices and handsome fees truthfully any more of a seamless unit and cohesive team than a well-managed network of nimbler independent agencies and freelancers?

Blair Ennes, the author of the book Win Without Pitching and co-host of the 2Bobs, the popular podcast on running creative agencies, tells, in one episode of his podcast, the following story”

“… if you look at the global agencies, so I can’t name names here, but a CEO of a national division of a global ad agency was in a global pitch.

“He told me, ‘Okay, we’re making this pitch, and there’s 16 different business units and we’re presenting this cohesive front. What the client really should have asked us is, ‘Do those 16 different business units have 16 different PNLs?’ Because the answer is yes, and if that’s the answer, then there’s really not much difference between that global network and the global independent network.

“I think most of those stories that agencies spin of being able to leverage global resources are at least a bit of a fib, and there’s not much difference between the fib being told by the global network versus the independent who belongs to a global network of independents.”

 

3. Step Three – Create A “Central Ideas Factory” And a “Single Hub Model”

Work out what you’ve saved by implementing Steps One and Two above and then allocate a proportion of this saving to create a sort of “Central Ideas Unit/Factory” (Hub Ideas Team or HIT), tasked with generating, developing and executing these ideas centrally – and then feeding them to local agencies, where necessary translating and/or culturally adapting them for the needs of local markets.

When budget is plentiful, you can maybe afford to have multiple, local ideas teams – provided, that is, you can also find the people capable of generating the ideas you want, which is not always easy.

When your budget is tighter, however, it pays to rationalize. You can save money, avoid duplication and improve consistency by using “a single hub model” – both for generating and executing ideas and then for co-ordinating the pitching of them.

So, in early 2020, no less august an institution than the BBC reported The Times, that it “is moving to a centralised “story-led” commissioning model, meaning less duplication between its programmes and services”.

 

4. Step Four: Think Like Churchill – Get Creative
– “We have no money”, said Churchill. “We shall have to THINK.”

When British forces were cornered by the Nazis at the French port of Dunkirk in June 1940, they managed, under heavy German bombardment, to evacuate back across the channel to Britain. A miraculous escape.

The bad news was that they had been forced abandon their weapons on the beach behind them. Britain’s army was left, as a result, weaponless and penniless.

The situation was dire but the solution proposed by prime minister, Winston Churchill, was simple: “We have no money”, he declared. “We shall have to THINK.”

What Churchill – and the broader British war effort – then demonstrated was that ingenuity and creativity could more than compensate for lack of money. Even if you couldn’t outspend and outgun your enemy, you could still outthink and outwit them.

The lesson in the context of PR is that you should place a higher priority on creativity and a lower priority on paying more than you need, for large foyers and brand-name agencies.

You can win far more coverage and attention with a great idea than with a large agency or large budget.

You may not, in short, be able to outspend the competition by hiring pricey agencies with snazzy foyers but you CAN outthink them.

 

5. Step Five: Reap The Rewards:
– Double the coverage for half the costs

And finally … The secret sauce

What exactly IS the secret sauce – the X Factor – in this whole process?

Well, what it is NOT is simply hiring smaller, nimbler agencies that charge less and do more. That’s definitely a huge help but it is not the magic ingredient.

The secret sauce is, in a word, creativity. Or, in another word, ideas. They are the key to the whole five-step process – what ignites it and makes it work.

The ideas that you’re able to generate are not just the fuel in the car and the bullet in the gun but also the jewel in the crown … and ultimately the money in your bank.

Without good ideas, you’re just another brand doing the equivalent of standing in the street shouting, “Look at me” – and annoying everyone in the process.

WITH good ideas, you can beat your rivals and move the world.

The fact is that you don’t need a brand-name agency or huge budget to win international attention.

What you need is a good idea. And if you have one, you can win attention that money can’t buy.

It all boils down to this one sentence …

Halving your PR costs while doubling your coverage represents a four-fold increase in ROI.

I’ve just described in some detail a five-step process for achieving this but what the whole process boils down to is the following single sentence …

Instead of hiring expensive PR agencies with big foyers but few ideas, instead hire smaller, cheaper, nimbler ones, with no foyers and more experienced people doing the work … and make sure that their efforts are powered by creativity and good ideas, typically generated and supplied by a central ideas unit or team.

Or, if you want an even shorter sentence, it all boils down to this: Avoid hiring large, pricey agencies with big overheads but few ideas and instead hire small ones, turbo-powered by ideas that you supply yourself.