April 9, 2020

No risk, no reward: The danger of not taking chances in Digital PR

One of the most regular challenges I face in my day-to-day job is overcoming clients’ cautiousness when it comes to selecting new campaign ideas. 

Whatever the budget or scale, creating a pitch for a new campaign takes a huge amount of work. From several rounds of deliberation and refinement, to background research of available data, the team sinks several hours into their ideation process to make sure that each campaign proposed will be able to stand on its own two feet if it gets the green light. 

With that said, the deflating moment – for any creative agency, in any discipline – is when a strong idea is turned down because the client feels it too risky for them. 

Now, if a topic is controversial in itself, then that’s just fine. Some campaigns we come up with are a bit risky, I’ll admit, but we always relay that to our clients and provide two options – like a sort of ‘wild card’ and safer alternative. 

However, if the subject really isn’t that contentious, how do you persuade a client that it really is something they should consider?

 

All publicity is good publicity… isn’t it?

Ah, the classic statement uttered by all the best rent-a-mouthpiece figures. On the contrary, it might be a sentiment Prince Andrew is now reconsidering. Or Boeing. 

I have been in meetings at previous agencies where, in order to persuade a client of a tricky campaign’s value, this line leaves somebody’s mouth. It doesn’t help. 

Although there can be strong long-term benefits to a story that, on the face of it, doesn’t seem that positive, this approach must be very carefully evaluated and managed. It isn’t for novices. 

In truth, though, no PR campaign is without some level of risk. Not necessarily of an active backlash, but certainly of the story not landing any coverage and therefore being time wasted. 

 

News is New

The nature of online news, and the digital PR that partly feeds it, is largely dictated by its volume. Up to 1,200 articles are published on the Mail Online – the world’s most read news site – every day. 

With that amount of material available to readers, and the journalists who write them partly measured by the number of views per story, each one needs to stand out. As well as that, journalists often receive hundreds of press releases a day. 

Amongst that level of noise, a story that calmly reiterates something already known or suspected will achieve little. One of the easiest traps to fall into when creating a campaign based on the opinion of experts, your client themselves or both, is to shore-up the status quo. 

 

Change is Good

One of the ways in which PR is most effective is in attempting to change an industry, sector, or particular working practice. 

Just like being the first individual to voice an alternative opinion or concern, it takes bravery to go against the grain. Yet, this is one of the most effective ways to both achieve a successful PR campaign and improve your client’s standing amongst peers. 

Every industry has aspects that those working within it know need to change – that is how commercial evolution occurs. Drawing the attention of those outside the sector to this is important. However, more so is suggesting how the issue itself should be improved or overcome. 

For example, we recently worked with car leasing specialist AMT on the question of vaping whilst driving, using expert advice from an insurance firm and RoSPA. (Check out the campaign here!)

Had these quotes simply reiterated that driving and vaping is a legal grey area, but that the situation might possibly be reviewed in the future, the story would have been very poorly covered – if at all. 

However, the advice from the two companies led AMT to call for motorists to review how they approach vaping and driving, or risk voiding their insurance in certain circumstances. This is what earned the story the 136 linking pieces of press coverage it received – with much more coverage from prestigious news sites besides.

 

Take a Chance

The most common things clients can be overly wary of are:

  • Being critical of their own industry
  • Highlighting difficulties in their sector
  • Discussing anything connected to a contentious topic – even if indirectly
  • Suggesting something should change
  • Targeting people beyond their usual core audience

The important point is that, in taking a calculated risk on campaigns around these aspects, your client will demonstrate greater sector knowledge. 

The particular benefit to digital PR and SEO is that, if a campaign successfully widens an issue to a broader audience, the resulting media coverage means that the client’s link profile is diversified and enhanced. 

A timely example of a powerful sentiment can be found in a Guardian article, following the cancellation of this year’s Grand National

In it, Unibet’s spokesperson honestly conceded that the cancellation would “cost the racing industry millions”, rather than just saying that the company was disappointed or that they were sure it would recover in a few months. 

One approach wouldn’t have been covered at all. The other saw the brand named on what, amongst many digital PR professionals, is seen as the most difficult news site to appear on. 

 


 

So, instead of trying to convince a reluctant client that there’s no such thing as bad publicity, explain the need for a story to stand out. Say something unexpected in the media, because consensus isn’t news. And use it to suggest how a particular issue should change, as that’s the opportunity to show off their expertise. 

Remember: there are hundreds of companies out there saying much the same thing. Taking a risk and going against the grain is what grabs the attention.  

Written by Glen Davies, Senior PR and Online Media Relations Specialist at Blueclaw.

 

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