If you’re in the SaaS industry, Jason M. Lemkin is a bit of a rockstar. He’s the founder of SaaStr and has built the largest community of SaaS founders and entrepreneurs in the world.
He’s also very active on Quora. Last count shows that he has answered 3,115 questions on this platform! That’s how I first discovered him, and any SaaS founder I’ve ever worked with has spoken of Jason Lemkin in almost reverential tones.
While all of his responses on Quora are insightful, one post that he wrote in October 2016 has had the cogs of my mind whizzing around more than most. The post in question is the Saas Founder’s Guide to PR, and three years later I’m still vacillating between agreeing and disagreeing with Jason on what he says.
The Agreement Corner: The Importance of Measuring PR
Jason begins his highly readable post explaining how he got fired by three PR firms. The first firm fired him for insisting on measuring results.
To which I can only say what the freaking hell once I pick my jaw up from the floor.
Measuring your PR activity is the very least any PR firm or solo practitioner should be doing! As a small and not encouraging aside, even though this post was published nearly three years ago, my experience in 2019 is that measuring PR is still seen as not entirely possible or necessary.
And it absolutely is. On both fronts.
PR metrics to measure
The most obvious metric to measure when you embark on a public relations campaign is how much media coverage you’re landing.
This is where the rubber hits the road. While PR is a broader business practice than purely media relations, if you’re embarking on PR campaigns it’s 99% certain that you want to appear in mainstream or niche media, be that print, online, radio, TV etc. There’s no place to hide if that coverage doesn’t start happening.
I’d like to add the caveat here that PR is not a quick-fix strategy, and that it can take time to identify the correct journalists or editors, craft a bullseye pitch etc. But the fact remains, if you’re not landing coverage, your PR is not working.
That said, there are other metrics that should be considered as part and parcel of measuring PR too. No, I’m not speaking about press clippings and measuring inches of column coverage. We’re not the Flintstones, and that’s an old and dated way of doing PR measurement. Worse, it’s irrelevant.
I am talking about using PR tools (which are SaaS – nice irony there;)) to help analyse the performance of your earned media by looking at:
- Website referrals – setting up your Google Analytics so that you can gather information on referral traffic that comes from media coverage is the fastest way to power PR measurement. Not every online publication will include a link to your website (understand the value of implied links) and some readers may read an article mentioning you or your business and then land on your website through a search engine anyway, but it’s still possible to map website traffic performance against media coverage. Capturing data this way will also tell you whether users to your site from earned media convert.Obviously, it’s unlikely you’ll be embarking on a PR campaign purely to increase traffic to your website. But one of PR’s main jobs is to build brand awareness and trust. Increased website traffic, and what the traffic does afterwards, will give you a good idea of whether your PR is delivering.
- Mentions – your one article placement might land you more than one mention, and you need to be able to measure that. For example, I work for a SaaS company that provides plain language software to enterprise clients. I actively work with the finance media in the USA to share stories and data of why using plain language is so important when you’re communicating with people about their credit cards, pensions, insurance etc. A month ago, we were mentioned in an article on a niche, high-quality investor website that discussed the trends investor websites need to pay attention to. This was not an online publication I’d targeted, but what a brilliant mention to receive – and they included a hyperlink to our site! Perhaps the reporter had seen mention of us in another article and realised we have something worthwhile to say in the finance space, and decided to include us in their own post.While I can’t prove this 100%, there’s no doubt that a consistent PR strategy starts building its own momentum, and mentions can and do happen almost on their own. Capture them, not least to identify which media professionals are covering stories that fit with your brand. Google Alerts is a free tool that helps you do this, but it’s not comprehensive and doesn’t cover social media monitoring.
- Share of voice (SOV) – you need a software tool to measure SOV, but what a powerful metric to measure. At its most basic, SOV will tell you how many mentions your brand has received compared to how many mentions your competitors have received. But SOV is more than that. Advanced PR solutions can also calculate SOV based on readership figures and what type of press releases or announcements gained media coverage. This is valuable intel in itself as you continually refine your PR strategy.And let’s not forget the competitor analysis report that you’ll have at your fingertips as you gain insights into which media organisations have covered your fellow brands. Sneaky!
Still in agreement with Jason; a PR professional should land coverage for your firm within 60 – 90 days.
Towards the end of Jason’s post, he provides a few tips for SaaS founders who are thinking of using a PR firm or individual PR practitioner, on what they should and shouldn’t do. (Needless to say, I advocate very strongly, and so does my T-Rex, for the solo PR professional.)
One of his non-negotiables is to fire whoever is doing your PR if they don’t deliver coverage for you within the first two to three months of working together.
Brutal; but I’m 100% in full agreement.
PR is all about relationships, and successful PRs are cultivating those relationships all the time. These relationships are very rarely built over tea and scones, or lunches in fancy hotels, since editors, journalists and reporters have even more frightening inboxes to get through than you or me every day. Instead, these relationships are formed over email or Twitter, and very seldomly, a call and/or in-person.
So any PR worth their salt should be monitoring the news daily, building an understanding of which reporters are covering which topics, following relevant journalists on Twitter and engaging with them – and that’s before you’ve signed a contract.
This means that when you reach the point where you start working together, your PR already has a good idea of who to target with an initial story. Yes, refining a PR strategy takes time. The news cycle also changes which means that different stories are of interest to the media at different times, but there’s no doubt that coverage should start landing within two months.
While the battle lines between media and PR folk are sometimes less than friendly, it’s clear to both sides that we need each other. Good PRs respect and work with the media in the way they want to work.
This courtesy goes a long way, and we get to the point where the reporter understands that they’re dealing with a PR who brings them worthwhile and newsworthy stories. The PR understands what the reporter likes and wants to cover. And suddenly we have the start of something beautiful.
In other words, a relationship where the PR is not simply another name in a reporter’s inbox, but a trusted and valued resource who can get stories covered.
These PRs exist, and it’s these professionals you want to work with as a SaaS founder. No, PR is not a quick win, but nor should it take an age to deliver. Two to three months is ample time to measure whether the PR you’re working with has the chops.
The Disagreement Corner: PR Can Deliver Enough Leads To Justify Cost
After all the agreeing I’ve been doing in this post, it’s time for me to nail my PR colours to the mast and explain why I disagree with Jason’s post too.
Jason writes about what PR can and can’t do within his post, and he makes a statement that PR can’t get you enough leads to justify its cost. I beg to differ.
Here’s where I have to speak of my own personal experience since I’m a freelance PR and the only I keep my clients is by delivering leads. What can I say, it focuses the mind.
PR absolutely can deliver enough leads to justify its cost if you do three things.
- Look at niche as well as mainstream media – as shared earlier in the post, I do the PR for a SaaS firm that operates in the finance space in the USA. My media lists for this client always include niche as well as mainstream media for one very simple reason – niche publications deliver the goods. Each side brings relevance to the conversation, and the large, mainstream titles do a lot to build brand awareness. Forbes anyone? But nearly ten campaigns have proven that it’s the niche publishers who drive the leads. In January this year, this client was featured on one of America’s largest news websites. Not CNN but that ballpark. We saw in Pardot that five leads came through from this coverage. That same week, an article went out on a specialist finance site, and, to keep things interesting, the article was placed behind a paywall. In one day, Pardot reported 63 leads from that one piece of coverage.
- PR, marketing and sales have to join forces – I’m clear that the PR work I do for clients is very much at the top of the funnel. Leads that come through from earned media have expressed an interest in your story, but now they need to be nurtured. Marketing will play a role here by mapping out the customer journey and setting up automated emails. Sales also has to come to the party to ultimately convert those leads into customers. One of the functions PR performs so well is to confer credibility. Sales teams can use this to line up conversations with potential customers.
- Make your media coverage work for you – too often I see companies going to all the effort of securing earned media, getting coverage and then… crickets. A small cohort might share their earned media link on their social media channels and then… even more crickets. Come on people! It’s cost time and money to land this coverage and you need to put it to work for you. For starters, a link can be shared way more than once on Twitter. Include the journalist’s handle to up your chances of a retweet. Set up an employee advocacy program, even if you’re a small company. It’s nothing short of staggering what even one employee consistently sharing content can do. Create a blog around your media coverage. Write a small blurb and share the link in your newsletter.
A lesser disagreement about a PR firm delivering high-quality media coverage.
Jason also doesn’t pull any punches that most PR firms can’t deliver high-quality coverage.
Now, I’m conveniently conflating PR firms with solo PR practitioners like myself here to just speak about a generic PR. To do otherwise would be to split hairs and add no value to the conversation.
This all comes back to relationship building before trying to land a story being covered which good PRs should be doing.
As a PR, I can tell you that you don’t just click your fingers and, boom, a headline appears in the Wall Street Journal for your client. But I can also tell you that consistent effort, and a smart strategy, does work and those headlines do follow.
I’d also suggest that there’s a job to do of understanding exactly what high quality media looks like for the brand seeking to run a PR campaign. Yes, we all know how TechCrunch drips off of the lips of nearly everyone involved in the tech world (myself very much included in this blanket generalisation) but there’s likely to be at least five other high quality publishers to target too. And, for the love of mercy, don’t forget what the niche pubs can do for you!
So, my advice to SaaS founders on this one is to find out how the PR you’re speaking to operates and have a conversation about the type of coverage you want. It’s the PR’s job to manage your expectations and explain what is and isn’t possible according to time frame, budget etc.
PR is both an art and a science. It’s also hugely powerful when done right. SaaS companies can benefit hugely from working with smart PRs who understand that securing the right earned media is a brand builder and lead acquisition driver in one.
PS: I still love Jason Lemkin.