Stop Creating Content. Start Building Relationships.

What if you stopped creating content to post on every social network and publishing platform and focused instead on building relationships?  Think about it.  How much time, money and energy are you wasting by creating content in the name of marketing that has no noticeable impact on your business?

Sure, you might get a few people sharing a post; you might feel good that somebody liked what you wrote; but what’s the tangible value from spending hours every week creating content?  Don’t know?  Don’t want to know?! If you’re doing it because your ‘PR’ or ‘marketing’ company told you to there’s a pretty good chance the only winner in the process is them!

What if you stopped creating content and, instead, focused on building and maintaining relationships with the people who matter most to the success of your business?  What if, rather than creating a piece of content you picked up the phone and talked with somebody? A potential investor; a prospective customer; a journalist; a former customer that just became an ex-customer.

What if, rather than trying to sell them something you asked questions? What if you tried to gather insight, rather than convincing them you’re the Uber of X or that you have a unique, innovative whatever that they simply must buy?  What if you spent the money you’re wasting creating content that nobody reads; nobody cares about; and invested it in the relationships that matter most to the success of your business?

What’s the worst thing that could happen?

How to measure ROI on public relations

As the year draws to a close–you’re probably trying to calculate the return on your investment in public relations.

Public relations companies have long struggled to measure the value of what they do. Some cite “awareness” or “engagement” but both are meaningless based on current metrics. Part of the problem is that they’re not selling public relations; part of the problem is that they’re selling something that is reliant on so many unknown variables – there are so many things that traditional PR agencies have no control over. The other problem is that their definition of return is based on an estimated financial value of advertising, rather than the value of the product of their labors.

I read an article recently that talked about how AVE [Advertising Value Equivalent] was outdated and suggested that a better measure of publicity activities should be gAVE [Google Advertising Value Equivalency]. It might be me, but it doesn’t sound much of an evolution – you’re still measuring an estimate of advertising equivalency based on a cost per page impression and using a value defined by a publisher – Google. The problem remains that a gAVE calculation makes assumptions: the most obvious one being whether the audience is the right one for your business but others like whether customers have a need, whether they have purchasing authority or influence in the purchase decision, or that they will be motivated to enough to reach out or click a link to a website to find more information. It also relies on the assumption [often incorrectly] that the reader or website visitor will initiate a conversation.

As entrepreneurs, we’re building businesses around a set of, hopefully validated, assumptions. We know that the problem we’re solving exists and we know who our ideal customer is. Right? So, what if, rather than trying to measure the value of public relations using an abstract like advertising equivalency we measure it on something that we already has value – relationships with the people that will help us grow successful, profitable businesses such as prospects, customers, industry luminaries, purchase influencers, advocates, journalists and investors.

We subconsciously measure relationship strength in our personal lives every day. We know if we’ve annoyed or irritated our spouse or partner, or whether a friendship is strong enough to support a disagreement. Whether we can count on somebody to help us when we need it – no matter what – or whether they’ll make promises but never follow through on them.

What if we measured the strength of our professional relationships in the same way? We could measure the strength of the relationships needed to achieve commercial goals and monitor whether our behaviors strengthened or weakened them. We could identify which relationships were necessary – and the strength of each – to achieve a specific outcome.

Try something with me now. Who are the 6 – 10 people that you need to have relationships with in order to achieve your next milestone? Write them down.

How strong do you need each of those relationships to be in order for you to achieve your desired outcome? Give each of them a rating between 0 and 10 with zero being no existing relationship and 10 meaning you have a relationship with them that you could call them today to ask for their help and they’d do whatever they could to help you.

Now use the same scale to give your relationship with each of the people on the list a value using the same scale. Zero being no relationship at all and 10 being a relationship you could bet your business on. How do they compare?

Chances are that there will be gaps – and that’s OK. It is the function of PR to help strengthen relationships where you need them to be stronger–and maintain the relationships that are where you need them to be. In many cases, to build a relationship with somebody on your list, you’ll need to build relationships with other people that can provide you with credibility, testimonials, social proof and, in some cases, introductions.

The list you have will contain the most important relationships for achieving your next milestone. Revisit and update it every time your goals change to ensure that you’re PR strategy is always focused on building and maintaining relationships with the most important 6 – 10 people for achieving that specific outcome.

Measuring public relations is easy when you know what you should be measuring – it’s all about measuring relationship strength with the people that are critical to the growth and long-term success of your business. When you’re defining the measures of success you want from for your PR activity in 2015, focus on relationship strength with named individuals and ask your PR company or your own team members about how they’ll help you achieve it.

Startup and SmallBiz PR and marketing tip: be clear on what your desired commercial outcome is before you start any public relations, marketing or publicity activity – it’ll make it far easier to measure whether you have delivered it.

This post also appeared on Launchable Magazine–About-Relationships-Not-Coverage

Public Relations is long-term, not just real-time

DISCLOSURE: Ford Motor Company Canada provided me with a 2013 Ford Fusion Hybrid to drive from Toronto to SXSW, in Austin, TX, and back. I covered all additional costs including gas. Since my return I have also driven two other vehicles from the company – a CMAX and a Focus Plug-in Hybrid.

In return, Ford has not asked for anything. They have not asked me to write anything or that anything I choose to write be favourable. Nobody has seen or asked for editorial oversight prior to publication.

This post has been almost ready to publish on more than a few occasions, but each time I’ve read it one last time and thought it could be improved. I think it’s a more interesting piece as a result.

“When can I expect coverage” is the question I’ve been most often asked by clients during my public relations career. They’d done an interview and the focus has then switched to when the article or news piece will get published. Over the years it’s become a bigger issue: the real-time internet has grown and publications have switched to online-first and this has driven the the requirement for instant gratification.

Almost eight weeks ago Ford Canada kindly agreed to lend me one of their Ford Fusion Hybrid vehicles to drive from Toronto to SXSW, in Austin Texas, and back again. In total, I drove more than 7500km in the car and, as I’ve worked on this post in its various iterations, how often do you think they’ve asked me when something was going to be written about my trip? Not once. Never. Zilch.

If I’m honest, they’d have been perfectly justified in asking. They gave me a vehicle, worth more than CAD 30,000, for a week. They could, justifiably, be keen to see some kind of return for their investment. And yet…

The initial focus of my post was going to be on the car. I’ve never been a fan of hybrid vehicles and wanted to see how the Fusion worked. As a bootstrapping entrepreneur I wondered whether a hybrid could deliver significant additional value for people like me. I’ve not actually counted, but I think I went to the gas station seven or eight times during the whole trip – that’s about once every 1000kms, which – compared to the other cars I’ve driven, is pretty impressive.

I recorded more than 200 videos during the trip and, if you’re really interested, this video – as I drove back in to Toronto on March 14th – tells you everything you need to know. Would I spend my own money on the 2013 Ford Fusion Hybrid?

But, as time has gone by what I thought about the car has become less important.  I started with lofty, an unrealistic, ambitions of creating some kind of Top Gear challenge video, but with only a few days between finding out I could have a car and the trip, and a business to run, I wasn’t properly prepared. I had also hoped to tweet as I drove down the backbone of the US but driving 3000km in three days leaves very little time for tweeting or blogging. I could blame Ford – they hadn’t created a tweeting car – but that’s not accurate. OK, so they’ve not actually built a tweeting car, but they’ve created a vehicle that, had I had a cellular data package for the US and one of the voice to tweet apps on my handset, the car could have tweeted. Location, gas economy, temperature, photographs… it’s going to happen.

Earlier in the year I was invited by Ford to attend the company’s digital summit, held alongside the North American International Auto Show and got my first insight of how it is approaching public relations and is using social communications, bloggers and influencers. I spoke with the Ford’s Head of Global Social Media, Scott Monty and I was impressed, but it’s easy to present an image over a short period of time when you know people are watching – isn’t that what public relations is all about, after all? It’s delivering the right message, to the right people, at the right time, in the right way… it’s all about perception, right?

Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t that I questioned Ford’s commitment to its community-building PR and marketing strategy – just that, having worked in PR for so many years and helped companies to create the right perceptions, it’s not always easy to maintain the standards you set when the focus isn’t on you. It’s all too easy to forget one of the key, but often forgotten, parts of public relations – the creation of mutually beneficial relationships between an organization and an audience [technically described as a public].

It’s far easier to focus on the short-term “when can I expect the coverage” than it is to build a long-term mutually beneficial relationship, but if I had any doubt that FORD gets it the last few weeks have answered them. Their tagline says Go Further – and FORD’s PR and social strategy is focused on the journey – building long-term relationships with its stakeholders – not just the destination.  More businesses need to understand this.