Many CEOs tell me that they have PR, but that it isn’t working well for their company. They say it’s not contributing to the bottom line.
But, when I dig a little deeper, I find that there’s nothing wrong with their team, instead, the CEO is sabotaging their PR efforts! Here are the most common ways they do this.
Being too short-term
Reputations take time to build. The money you spend on it now will still be delivering ROI in 5 years’ time. So turning the budget for PR on and off at a moment’s notice is disruptive to your team and their planning.
The wrong focus
CEOs can skew the PR process. Insisting that precious budget is focused on corporate stories, events, charities, social channels, sponsorships, initiatives, celebrities, personal projects, that interest them but don’t fit with the company’s needs.
The wrong media
Similarly, business leaders forget about the media that matters, (i.e. the media that reaches the end audience) biasing things towards their personal preferences.
For instance, I recall the CEO of a big bank I was working with only wanted to be in the FT – a paper he read and rated. While FT exposure was good for reaching investors, influencers and the wider banking community, it wasn’t the way to reach the bank’s potential customers. And that was the priority for PR at the time.
I argued that customers and prospects were more likely to be tabloid readers and that the CEO’s prejudices risked diverting his team. Once he recognised this fact, he got excited about tabloid opportunities and enthused his team to pursue them.
With new social channels and technologies coming on stream, it’s all too easy to get excited about the latest thing without thinking through whether it’s right for your marketing strategy.
I’ve seen a few CEOs divert marketing funds which were meant for a well thought-through PR programme, to a ‘pet marketing project’ which had no strategic substance. Purely because it involved the ‘latest thing.’
Not saying anything
Many want their business to be famous but when ‘push comes to shove’ they won’t say or do anything of interest.
They play it too safe – never having an opinion or at best-making vanilla statements. Sitting on the fence and never giving comments with any news value makes you and your business ignorable.
Lots of CEOs expect media or influencers to work on their terms. Well, I’m sorry, the media doesn’t need to send you articles for approval. They have deadlines that matter and that you should respect. They don’t have to be interested in what you want to tell them.
If you make it awkward for the media/influencers to work with you, they will simply find someone else to work with.
It is understandable that CEOs who are used to reading balance sheets are very drawn by numbers. But this can make them impressed by influencers who are not right for their business.
For instance, Kim Kardashian may have a gazillion followers on Twitter and Instagram. But while she has an influence on subjects like cosmetics, she won’t convince anyone to buy home insurance or underfloor heating.
In fact, Kim Kardashian’s engagement and conversion rates (the numbers you should care about) are not that impressive. Niche influencers may be less glamorous, but they will offer more value for money.
Side-tracking the team
You cannot expect your internal PR team to deliver results if you keep distracting them by giving them tasks that are ‘below their pay grade’.
Find someone else to sort out your PowerPoint presentation or to book that venue. They are not a spare pair of hands; they are an expert resource.
Lead by example. PR takes time and commitment. It may need the involvement and co-operation of other people in the organisation such as technical experts.
That’s why it works at its best in companies where the CEO understands the process, values it and prioritises it. If the boss thinks PR is important and is prepared to support it, the rest of the business will too.
The final problem is around the PR agency. If your PR is not working, it could be that you have not got the right PR agency in place.
There’s nothing wrong with PR per se, you just have made a bad choice.
This often happens if the CEO gets involved in the selection process and chooses an agency with a CEO they like, one with a smart HQ, or a firm which invites them to big hospitality opportunities.
Lessons for the future
I’m not saying that it’s wrong to like your agency’s head (I hope all my client’s CEOs like me). But the day to day activity is going to be done by others at the agency. Who are they? Does your PR manager like them? It’s a team effort. So, by all means, show an interest in the agency selection process but don’t dominate it!
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