Talking Shop with New Brand CMOs

I was invited by my pal Jeanne Meyer, founder of Watch This Space and advisor to Venwise, a membership-based community for C-level executives, to join a roundtable for a number of CMOs. With me was my old friend, Laura Nelson, Chief Communications Officer at Nielsen, and Steph Tuck, VP of Comms at PopSugar, to provide an insider perspective on PR dos and don’ts.

With marketing leaders from innovative brands including insurance marketplace Policygenius, healthy dog food brand Ollie, home services marketplace Handy, flexible spending shop FSAStore.com and premium custom menswear company Knot Standard, I was excited about hearing their questions and doing my best to answer them.

One of the most interesting/surprising questions was whether they should expect that their PR firms come to them, proactively, with fresh, new ideas. Needless to say, all of us “experts” agreed: if your PR agency isn’t coming to you with ideas, then it’s time for a new agency! After all, their creativity is among the reasons you hire them, so it is absolutely expected to be part of the deal.

Once we put that to bed (!) they wanted to know how to measure the success of their PR activities. And, as we know, attribution is a much tougher question to address. PR is not a science, and it’s hard to get marketers – who are metrics-oriented by profession – to accept the murkiness of PR as a discipline (sometimes, despite the various measurement tools that exist, the most meaningful metric is your neighbor telling you they saw you in The New York Times!). Ollie co-founder Gabby Slome mentioned a Wired story on her company that drove more customers than any other – even one in a more consumer-y outlet like O Magazine.

Bottom line, we can’t always predict which stories will have that certain something. But in the end, lasting momentum and impact is driven not by one story or another. It’s the accumulation of stories over time and the combination of tactics that work best to achieve the desired outcome. It is, however, our obligation as the agency to provide whatever metrics we can to enable marketers to convey value to their higher ups.

Additionally, we pointed out that seeing the results of PR campaign on brand value often takes more time to work than a paid campaign does. But that time is often worth the investment because PR can generate a third-party halo with influence that cannot be denied.

As the event was wrapping up, one of the CMOs asked what the secret to a successful PR campaign is. Once again, consensus reigned: an open and collaborative partnership with a constant flow of communication between agency and client. Plus a good story, of course.

I thank Jeanne and Venwise for giving me opportunity to meet to this group of dynamic young marketeers, and I look forward to seeing great things from these brands in the future!

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