Get Your Money's Worth

by David D. Menzies

Businesses and organizations large and small use the months of October, November, and December to perform end-of-year examinations of internal business practices and budgeting. Responsible communications professionals, whether they be in-house or contracted vendors, should participate in performing an audit of external marketing, advertising, and public relations initiatives to make sure they are producing a positive return on investment while effectively reaching prospects, customers, and other stakeholders with strategic messaging.

Marketing

As businesses and organizations grow and contract, often there are changes to personnel, products and services. Marketing collateral pieces such as direct mailers, business cards, event exhibiting/sponsorship, brochures, information packets, print and electronic newsletters, and perhaps most importantly social media marketing tools (website, Twitter/Facebook/LinkedIn profiles) need to be reviewed annually to ensure they are on-message and reflect and overarching corporate changes. Something as simple as a tweak in a logo, website URL, or company slogan can wreak havoc with branding and reputation management.


If changes or updates are needed in any marketing materials, previous invoices for design and printing should be referenced in the context of soliciting at least three quotes from vendors for any new work. If a company or organization is happy with previous vendors, they should of course be included in any new quotes, but with a constantly shifting industry for marketing materials being heavily influenced by technology, even a reliable vendor may have new options and/or pricing available. Additionally, letting a reliable vendor know that you are seeking competitive quotes -- and that they are at the top of your list -- helps to keep them on their toes while reassuring them that you are happy enough with their work to include them as an option.

General Pricing: $1,000 - $7,500/month average investment in support of ongoing marketing efforts.

Advertising

Handled on an ad-hoc basis, buying ad space and producing print or electronic ads themselves can quickly become a financial "black hole" sucking the life out of a communications budget. Most industry print media outlets offer discounts on next-year advertising if you approach them in October/November/December, and sometimes throw in H-U-G-E discounts on Q3 space if you close on ad space for the coming year. I've actually seen magazines with readership above 40,000 offer half-page ad space for 75% off their December print editions, along with discounts of 35% - 40% for the coming year, just so they can make quotas. Now is the time to strike!

The general rule of thumb with both print and electronic advertising is consistency. Even if there is a special issue of a magazine that you really want to be in, if you just do one ad you are wasting the several thousands of dollars you will pour into it. Firstly, you cannot guarantee that all the regular readers of that magazine will read that one particular issue, and secondly you are not establishing a connection with readers who would otherwise regularly see your ad and associate your business or organization with the particular magazine they rely on and come to trust you as being a legitimate partner and expert in the field. Think of it as driving along a familiar street and seeing a new restaurant open-up; will you try it right away, or wait a while to see if it sticks around, seeking more information and feedback on it first?

Most trade publications produce editorial calenders for the coming year in October/November, so you can effectively plan for which issues you want to be in as determined by the topics the magazine, newspaper, or media outlet will be featuring in a particular month or week. Pricing is all over the map, ranging from the low hundreds for multiple placements of 1/4-page ads to several thousands of dollars for half- and full-page ads. Never, EVER place an ad last-minute, usually after an ad rep calls you with a special offer, as it is extremely difficult to maximize your return on investment on such short notice without effective public relations and marketing coordination. Besides, you could end up with an ad on the same page as an article featuring one of your competitors. (Who do you think the readers are going to view as a legitimate expert on the subject matter of the article in that case?)

Make sure if you are placing magazine ads that you are getting into issues with additional distribution at trade shows, and then coordinate your event planning and public relations efforts to maximize your advertising dollar. As for events themselves, never, ever advertising via sponsorship or exhibiting without seeking some sort of presenting or speaking opportunity. Depending upon the event, you could find yourself with exhibit space, sponsorship, and place on a discussion panel for the same price as competitors would spend on exhibiting.

General Pricing: $1,500 - $40,000/month average investment in support of ongoing advertising efforts.

Public Relations

Of the three pillars of external communications -- marketing, advertising, and public relations -- PR is by far the most complex element to successfully implement, in addition to returning the highest possible return on investment. For what a company can pay for one full-page magazine ad, it could support several months of ongoing public relations outreach via the creation of strategic messaging; dissemination of that messaging via press releases, opinion pieces, podcasts/videocasts, and white papers; and the successful placement of the company or its leadership in high-profile articles in targeted media outlets.

Whether a business or organization is using internal resources to create and manage a publicity and branding campaign, there really should be no need whatsoever for using a paid distribution service for press releases. Number one, they are expensive, and number two, they don't do anything that a responsible PR professional couldn't do his or herself. In concert with marketing and advertising planning, a PR manager should research which media outlets their target audiences are relying on for news and information, and create a list of reporters and editors to build relationships with. At the same time, editorial calendars should be referenced to find out which months or weeks will feature articles on subject matter of relevance to their business or organization. A press release topic list should be developed quarterly, and each press release sent out should be followed-up with targeted media relations outreach to a particular set of reporters and editors. This way, a business or organization is not simply spinning its wheels, throwing a bunch of press releases at a wall to see what sticks. Instead, it is building relationships with reporters and editors who feel comfortable over time to call upon the business or organization as a thought leader on a particular subject, featuring executive leadership in articles and interviews.

General Pricing: $500 - $5,000/month average investment in support of ongoing public relations efforts.

With all three pillars -- marketing, advertising, and public relations -- businesses and organizations must track effectiveness of their efforts and measure them against incoming queries, website traffic, and of course sales. This should be done at least annually, and preferably quarterly, depending upon the specific corporate goals.

Done properly, at the end of the first year of measuring the cost and effectiveness of a well-thought-out, planned approach to communications, the average business or organization will be shocked at the return on investment for its efforts, as compared to years of scatter-shot, reactionary efforts.

David D. Menzies is president of Global Media Strategies, an innovative media relations and online publishing firm. He is a 22+ year public relations professional with expertise in strategic messaging, publicity and branding. For more information visit www.gmsinnovate.com.