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PR Up Close: ROI and Expectations

The Challenge: One of the biggest challenges a publicist faces is being perceived as advertising agencies when it comes to expectations, rather than a PR firm. Experts and other clients come to us to gain exposure and to increase credibility. After 20+ years in this business, I have seen clients soar to the highest levels of achieving their dreams, and others who do not reach their goals and end up very frustrated.

The Reality of PR: In some cases, experienced clients realize that no publicist can ever guarantee media placement or how that placement will be received. Even the most well connected, experienced publicist cannot possibly know how a media outlet, or the public at large will respond to a client’s message. PR is not like advertising where you pay for exposure on specific media outlets. And even then, results from that exposure can never be guaranteed.

Seasoned authors, experts and life coaches, as well as companies promoting a product, are fully aware that response from any exposure takes patience, consistency and specific presentation for messaging to grab the attention they seek and to see an increase and momentum over time.

Are You Setting Yourself Up for Disappointment? There are certain factors that indicate a client is not realistic in their expectations. One of the most prevalent is expecting overnight results. And by overnight I am referring to clients who think 1-6 months is sufficient for a publicist to elevate them to a level of being a sought-after expert, author, speaker or coach. It can take years to create a highly effective media platform.

Most publicists won’t work on engagements for less than 6 months, as many placements won’t go live until after the agreement concludes due to lead times. The beginning months are focused on presentation and content/website prep work, with outreach and follow up in the following months. Clients are rarely ready to start placement from the first day. It’s a long-term commitment to build consistent, credible and research-based content, in some cases lasting 5 years or more.

It can happen faster for some clients, however, again, a publicist cannot know how this trajectory will go in terms of time. I have sadly encountered occasional clients who became very angry and, in some cases, retaliatory, due to the fact that they were not responded to by the media or the public after short term campaigns.

In their view, it is the fault of the publicist, as if we can control the media and the public through the outreach we create. When the results don’t materialize, it becomes a battle for refunds, negative reviews and additional placements, all to accommodate unrealistic expectations of both the media exposure and its impact and the content itself that may have been lacking in strength.

Securing prominent media placement takes persistence and it takes extremely strong content. It also takes time, as placements build on placements in many cases. A good publicist can help guide the client on content presentation, but ultimately it is the client’s knowledge, expertise, voice and responsibility to create core content that will gain the attention they seek. Clients who do not understand the burden is on them to create the substance for pitches, and, in some cases, do not follow the guidance from the publicist are going to be disappointed.

What Does a PR Agency Do? Many clients don’t understand the role of a PR agency compared to an advertising agency. PR is focused on guiding the client on crafting their message, securing media exposure and increasing credibility. Given time and strong content, that will potentially increase sales and attract opportunities.

Ad agencies work more on the specific short-term goal of sales per impressions. PR is all about creating a unique presentation to increase credibility and attract new business over time. It is meant to attract opportunities. Being positioned into the media conversation to provide your content is the focus in PR. How that affects business specifically is not the responsibility of most publicists. It is always a potential benefit and long-term goal, as great content will often attract opportunities, but PR is not a direct strategy for sales, any more than buying a great suit guarantees you will get the job.

Check Your Intention at the Door: The pursuit of fame and notoriety, or EGO driven motivation for PR, is often the downfall of a client-agency relationship. PR is set up to position your work to gain new attention, not to make you special or famous for your personal knowledge or experience. If your message is powerful, credible and proven, exposure will help you grow your public platform over time. If the exposure does not succeed, it is not the fault of the media outlets or the publicist for how it’s received.

Media are looking for newsworthy, research based and timely content. Providing news tie-ins and consistent research backed strategies is crucial to landing major media placement. Time and again clients fail to provide that and then become angry at a publicist for not securing the media and ultimately, sales, they seek.

Online PR is often most effective, as SEO builds over time based on people clicking on and sharing the article. Your goal needs to be focused on exposure and building a solid platform you can leverage ongoing, rather than expecting a placement or even several placements to turn your business inside out with results.

ROI comes down to several factors:

· Amount of media in a specific time period. It’s very straight forward. If you pay for and receive massive media exposure quickly, ROI can happen faster. For most agencies, placement takes time and preparation, meaning ROI will occur slower and not with the first few placements. Client budgets also can determine a slower course, as PR placement is not paid for. Thus, the content and message must be crucially crafted and pursued, and then leveraged with repeat placements over time.

· Research and newsworthy content are essential. The more your content is considered newsworthy, credible and supported, the more the media will respond and will want to publish your work. If you are offering strategies and information based on experience only rather than research, it can be compelling, but ROI will not be as immediate. In this scenario you need to build a connection with audiences who are interested in you personally, like a Tony Robbins, and that takes time and a specific branding presentation to connect with audiences.

· Implement strategic pathways for promotion. Social media, sales pages, speaking event pages etc. can all be highlighted to create interest in your revenue models. You can’t expect people to buy on the first impression any more than we would get married on the first date. Big or small, the choice to invest emotionally in someone’s work is a big step for people and they need the emotional connection repeatedly to feel confident before acting.

· Long-term results are the key ROI determination factor for PR. It’s similar to an actor ‘suddenly’ becoming a ‘Tom Cruise’. It is often the result of years of exposure, content promotion, networking, and demonstrating a solid base of knowledge, research and thought-leader guidance, along with developing an emotional brand and appeal that people can rely on and connect with over time.

The Final Take Away: Judging a PR agency based on placements provided or lack thereof, needs to be carefully weighed with the content provided by the client as requested by their publicist, the branding strategies implemented by the client and the consistent placements, rather than simply prominent placements, that are achieved.

It’s is far more effective to be on a few key media outlets many times than many media outlets 1-2 times. PR is about building solid trust and credibility. If you do not want to take your publicists’ guidance on what is needed, don’t be frustrated when things don’t work as you had hoped.

And even when you do provide exactly what is requested from your agency, know that it takes time, as in months and often years, and no publicist can ever guarantee how you will be received. That awareness is the single the most important factor in your overall success. The alternative is that you will spend your days arguing, debating, defaming and suing a publicist who has no real control over your ultimate exposure or sales.

Focus on improving your content and strengthening your message over time to create the secure the attention and the impact you seek to change lives in a powerful way.

Anne Leedom is the Founder of Anne Leedom PR, a premier online branding and placement agency for experts, authors and products. Anne is featured regularly in national media and has provided the branding strategies for many of today’s leading experts. For more information visit and


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