If you run a PR agency, or you’ve brought PR in house, you know there’s been a sea change. The old push tactics the PR industry once relied on no longer work well in the digital age. Today’s consumers increasingly reject top-down, interruptive messages that try to sell a story. Instead, they do crave relevant content that draws them in, engages them, and helps them write the stories they want to write.
You know you need to provide this type of experience. What you don’t know is where to begin. Iliyana Stareva says the first order of business is to shift your mindset.
Shift your PR mindset
“Here’s the problem: Most PR firms are still outbound organizations trying to survive in an inbound world,” says Stareva, author of Inbound PR: The PR Agency’s Manual to Transforming Your Business with Inbound. “Other fields have figured out that the way people buy has changed. PR pros need to figure it out, too. This is the mental shift that will change everything and make you relevant again.”
Think about your own buying process, advises Stareva. When you make a purchase, you do your own research. You compare vendors and prices online. You seek advice from friends and peers on social media. You certainly don’t seek out salespeople or ads.
In response, many marketers have switched to an inbound approach. Rather than pushing messages on customers, they entice them with multichannel techniques that earn their attention and trust via relevant content. They create and foster meaningful dialogues. And it works: People come to these marketers on their own.
It’s time PR embraced this philosophy too, says Stareva—and many firms already have. They’ve figured out how to turn media influencers from strangers to visitors by providing fresh, engaging content that takes them through four stages: Attract, Convert, Close, and Delight. In the process, they’ve figured out how to solve PR’s biggest weakness: measurement.
If you’re ready to make this paradigm shift, Stareva suggests you start with these seven crucial steps:
1. Get crystal clear on your vision and positioning
PR firms and small businesses that succeed at inbound PR are the ones that undergo a complete transformation of their business model. It often means choosing to go “digital” and ditching outbound tactics (that don’t work anyway). Then and only then can you get 100 percent focused on positioning, both externally and internally. That means figuring out what you do best—your niche—and then specializing in that area alone.
“Your positioning is crucial,” says Stareva. “It helps existing and potential clients know what you do and what you stand for, and it ensures that employees know your values and can align their work with your mission.”
2. Become your own best client
Before you offer services to your clients—content creation, PR, social media, and so on—you must first deliver them to your own business. Why? Because you must prove to yourself that inbound PR works.
First of all, you need to learn the methodology inside and out; second, you don’t want to experiment on your clients; third, you want to be perceived as credible and trustworthy, and the way to do that is to practice what you preach.
“Becoming your own best client has the added benefit of positioning you as a thought leader in your field,” says Stareva. “In the digital era, that happens with content.” For example, a previous client “has hundreds of videos on YouTube. They do webinars, blogs, live video, Snapchat, and more. They generate 100 percent of their new business through their own marketing and PR and they’ve managed to triple their revenue in a year.”
3. Hire the right people (at the right time)
If you want to build a scalable business, you need people not just with the right skills (because skills can be taught) but with the desire to learn and grow. Your timing is also crucial, because once you make the decision to become an inbound business, the clients will come, and you must be ready to service them all. So be sure to plan in advance, and begin your recruiting process as soon as you decide to transform your business. “You need enough great people to make your clients happy and drive results,” says Stareva.
4. Build a strong, clearly defined culture
This should be based on your core values—so make those so abundantly clear that employees can recite them. These will guide everything they do and the way they deliver work.
Core values will also guide how you teach and train your people. Having defined your values will also determine your hiring standards; you’ll be able to better decide if the person you’re evaluating will be the right fit for your team.
5. Learn to say ‘no’
A key step to adopting inbound PR principles is the ability to say “no” to the wrong clients. You don’t want to work with companies that don’t have the budget or the willingness to grow, or those that don’t trust your expertise and want things done their way.
These clients are not worth your time or effort. The businesses that choose to say no early on are the ones set for success. Remember too, that being able to say no applies to your team. You may also need to make the hard decision and let the wrong employees go.
6. Consistently offer top-notch client service
It’s not enough to create a great service plan to get clients through the door. You’ve also got to deliver those services and drive real results. Inbound PR is all about showing ROI, so creating very, very clearly defined processes is essential. It also entails spending more time with your clients. Build and document your processes for on-boarding, retaining, and renewing and learn to be efficient at them.
7. Relentlessly learn and share knowledge
The drive to learn inbound PR and share it with your team, your clients, and your advocates is what will ultimately position you as an expert. You shouldn’t be afraid of competition—in fact, it should motivate you.
“Inbound PR can be a wake-up call that will transform your [business],” concludes Stareva. “It is a mindset change that will allow PR to reinvent itself and earn a seat at the table as a truly value-driving disciple. Don’t wait another moment to embrace it and see what it can do for you.”