Understanding the Real ROI of PR
If Marsha Friedman had a nickel every time a CEO or marketing executive asked her how many more sales they’d make by using public relations tactics, Bill Gates would be jealous of her island-sized yacht.
Friedman, a 20-plus year PR veteran and author of Celebritize Yourself (www.celebritizeyourself.com), said she understands why clients ask that question, but believes it is based on a fallacy.
“To answer that question, I like to ask people a few questions first,” said Friedman, also CEO of Florida-based EMSI Public Relations. “Do you like to be at the receipt end of obvious sales efforts? When you walk into a department store to shop for a new pair of slacks, are you hoping the salesperson on the floor finds you quickly? Do you watch TV in anticipation of all the cool commercials you’ll see? When you drive down the highway, are you excited when you see all the billboards dotting the skyline?”
Of course, she knows that anyone who answered yes to any of those questions would be in the minority.
“The truth is few people like to be ‘sold’ and that’s why PR works so well,” she added. “The soul of PR isn’t promotion or sales, but rather, education and branding. When people read newspapers or magazines or listen to radio or watch TV, they are looking to be informed and entertained – that’s what PR does.”
In contrast, Freidman said advertising is a numbers game, and the amount of response you get out of it is directly proportionate to the amount of money you put into it.
“You put X number of dollars in one end of the meat grinder, and you hope for Y number of sales to come out the other end,” Friedman said. “PR doesn’t work like that. So, the pithy way of answering the question, ‘How many sales will I make?’ is to say that PR isn’t a direct sales venue, but one thing is for certain – it’s difficult to sell anything without it.”
Friedman’s reasoning is that the information consumers get from PR fills in the gap between the point in which they become interested in something and the point at which they decide to make a purchase as an outgrowth of that interest.
“PR is not where sales are closed, but rather, it’s where sales begin,” she said. “PR doesn’t directly sell your products or services because it’s not intended to sell anything. It’s intended to educate consumers about who you are and what you’re about. It alerts consumers to your expertise, your intelligence, your message and is an integral part of the consumer’s decision-making process.
That’s why Friedman believes that PR’s return on investment is at least as valuable, if not more, than advertising.
“With advertising, you buy the space, and consumers know they are being ‘sold,’” she added. “In PR, your venues are the editorial sections of newspapers and magazines and interview segments on talk radio and TV. Here, you’re not a commercial – you appear in between the commercials, where consumers are looking for information. So whenever I get asked the question of how many sales will result from PR, I don’t answer with an imaginary number based on speculation. I answer with reality – PR is not a direct sales tactic, so it may not directly lead to sales in the sense that a million-dollar ad campaign might. But you will have a hard time getting any sales without PR educating the consumer that your company even exists.”
Marsha Friedman is a 20-year veteran of the public relations industry. She is the CEO of EMSI Public Relations (www.emsincorporated.com), a national firm that provides PR strategy and publicity services to corporations, entertainers, authors and professional firms. She also hosts a national weekly radio talk show, The Family Round Table, and is author of the book, Celebritize Yourself.
To interview Marsha Friedman or request a review copy of Celebritize Yourself – contact Russ Handler at (727) 443-7115 ext. 206 or firstname.lastname@example.org.