First, it’s vital to recognize that PR builds brand awareness, the ultimate driver of business success. But it can only do that if the company has the right PR partner in place, the right budget and realistic, mutually agreed-upon goals.

Those goals need to be set at the relationship’s inception. In a PR partnership, the ramp-up and strategy time are essential. As I know from more than 25 years of experience, PR success means something different for every client. No two campaigns are alike, in either goals or achievement.

Identifying the goals that determine success--and the structures that assess when those goals are met-- has to happen early, during kickoff and initial strategy meetings. It’s a crucial conversation that helps to reveal, early, whether the partnership will work.

Here are some concrete pillars for the success of any PR client-agency teamwork:

STRATEGY. Anyone can throw together a press release, but a strong strategy that integrates PR and digital marketing is what attracts the recognition and customers a business needs. Before jumping into tactics, you and your agency should discuss how you, the client, envision PR playing a role and the results you hope to achieve. That helps the agency decide on the right mix of elements as well as a timeline, from crafting the company narrative to key announcements to thought leadership positioning and target media placements. It may include building out your website or holding a press-worthy event. You want a PR firm that takes the time to sit down with you to map all this out, pushes back when goals aren’t realistic and demonstrates how you can get there with the right plan. Strategy is really what you’re paying for with PR—along with results.

PRESS COVERAGE. Let’s face it: most companies want PR to get them good press, but first it’s important to figure out what such coverage would be and what you want it to achieve. Will particular storylines--company or executive profiles, product use cases or thought leadership on industry trends--help attain certain business goals? Which media outlets are most visible to audiences you are trying to reach? A smart PR partner will determine how you can differentiate from your competition; track the number of key press hits you get weekly, monthly, quarterly and year over year and decide if the right stories are being told.

PRESS IMPACT. Make sure your PR firm has an analytics platform that shows the press coverage you’ve had in the past, versus now and six months from now, and which articles are sending the most traffic to your site. Those analytics also reveal where your competition is being covered and clue you into their messaging consistency and PR approach. From there you can carve out thought-leadership strategies to help you stand out even more.

BRAND AWARENESS. With a well-orchestrated PR campaign, you’ll find that key people recognize your brand, they know what you do, they tell you they read about you in TechCrunch, Forbes, American Banker. That awareness goes beyond traditional dollar-for-dollar ROI or any equivalent old-school ad equivalency. The truth is, putting a price on the brand equity you earn when someone talks positively about the company in the press is next to impossible. You didn’t pay that person to write or say those things, and the public knows it. It’s something your sales team can proudly share and your employees will be jazzed to see; your investors will also notice, glad that the outside world is starting to see the value they saw when they placed their bet. Social media will keep such articles moving in the right circles, broadening your appeal with target audiences and building grassroots rapport with an expanding number of fans and customers.

INDUSTRY SHARE OF VOICE. Do you know how your visibility and media coverage compare to the competition’s? In the public relations world, this is a measurement we call share of voice. Imagine a pie chart that shows the amount of press you have versus theirs. Now imagine exploring it to see if you are in better publications more often, if you have spokespeople who are called on for expert opinions or quotes, and whether your press releases are associating you with trends that matter to your target customers. In getting press regularly, you are holding your own as an industry leader and keeping your competition out of the media by being the more prominent presence with an informed voice. A PR firm can highlight this process at the beginning of each client relationship by benchmarking your current share of voice and how your visibility and messaging stacks up against competitors’.

I recently sat down with a startup CEO who dismissed some of her competitors until I showed her their share of voice, and she realized that while she’s out there scoring funding and doing deals, so are they, but they’re also positioning themselves squarely in her space, albeit with an inferior service offering. This is something that burns to the core of any founder or CEO: “What? This company is being taken seriously, but we’re the best!” To that I say, “It’s time to take your PR plan seriously.” A flimsy strategy that lacks true integration won’t cut it; a purposeful, steady one will.

SOCIAL MEDIA BUZZ. If your social media channels are up-to-date and current, you should begin to see mentions and discussions about your company, your offering, and even your business culture when you launch a PR campaign. You’ll want to make sure those discussions are taking place in your industry groups online and that you have a voice in these! This buzz will grow if you keep your brand in the limelight with new product launches, partnership announcements, expansion news and more.

TRAFFIC AND LEADS. Sure, a well-executed PR and marketing campaign generates leads, but how do you know if a specific article got you that particular client? It’s important to ask customers how they heard about you. Often you’ll hear, “I read about it online,” although they’re not sure where. Still, that tells you all of the press, social media and digital ads are creating a positive echo chamber that is driving traffic and building status for your brand. Which part comes from PR? Your PR agency can show you with an analytics tool measuring, among other things, website traffic. Another tactic is to drive actual human traffic to a brick-and-mortar opening or event—for instance, forming strategic marketing partnerships to celebrate a newly launched restaurant. We make sure to ask people what brought them there so we can determine which approaches worked best.

PARTNERSHIP. Ultimately, another measure of PR value is the strength of the client-agency relationship itself. Have you and your PR firm worked well together? Was the chemistry right? Were you able to communicate well, shift strategies when needed, meet deadlines and celebrate successes together?

At Red Fan, defining success with our clients is a discussion we have early on: Together, we first need to pinpoint what success looks like. If that conversation doesn’t happen, we might all reach the finish line and have different opinions about what happened or how much public relations helped. Setting business and PR goals together, and regrouping on these weekly and monthly, is essential. Our strategies have been a definite business driver for our B-to-B and B-to-C clients: We’re competitive and we want you to win. What winning means is something we work with our clients to figure out, and to strive for.

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