Are PR careers ticking time bombs?

by | Jun 11, 2015 | Public Relations

If you’ve been in PR or marketing long enough—you understand that you have finite moments in your career that can serve or sabotage your success.  And you know it’s up to you to get a seat at the executive table, acquire the resources you need to be successful and demonstrate ROI.

The fact of the matter is—the stakes are just higher for PR & marketing pros.

Take CMOs for example. A study from CMO.com showed that the average tenure of a CMO is 45 months or four years, roughly half that of an average CEO’s tenure (Douglas 2014). This gives each CMO and his or her staff a few critical chances to make a significant impact, or risk being replaced.

So, why exactly is there such a massive divide between CMOs and CEOs? Statistics from Chief Executive.net state that, overall, “80% of CEOs claim they have lost trust in their marketers, and this has resulted in Chief Marketing Officers (CMOs) losing a seat at the strategic table, often ranking lower in title and stature and having a reduced scope of responsibility.” The website also states that “because of the lack of trust in their marketers, CEOs have stopped imposing Key Performance Objectives (KPOs) and Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) for marketers” (Whitler 2013).

Why is there this level of distrust? It seems to be a vicious cycle of executives with little experience in marketing and communications, asking their marketing and PR teams to do something based on a “hunch” and then requesting metrics that prove how the campaign went.  All the while, you knew this strategy wouldn’t work and you knew you were wasting time pulling metrics on something that shouldn’t have even been done in the first place.

We’ve all heard the classic “I want this to go viral. Make it happen.” Or even worse, “I want us to be on the front page of the New York Times and this awesome (but totally boring) campaign is just the thing to get us there. You can do this with the same budget, right?”

These initiatives are such a time suck that they leave us unable to actually do the important work that matters. I’ve heard some of the best CMOs in the world complain about this problem. It is a constant balance to get the good ideas to rise to the top, while managing the expectations of executives who think they know how to do PR and marketing.

I often hear people talk about getting PR a seat at the illusive “strategic table.” But, I believe that we need to take a few steps back to see what is really going on.

The funny thing is, you’ve probably never been called into a meeting with the CFO to talk about how he or she manages the company’s finances. And how many brainstorming meetings have you been in with the COO to discuss operations and how to improve them? That’s right, quarter past never. Yet, whenever a CMO, senior-level PR professional or a marketer comes up with a new concept or initiative, we need to gain buy-in from executives who have little to no experience in our field but consider marketing “fun.”

So how can you make executives understand our importance? How do you convince them that you have the power to generate and execute perception-changing ideas that will affect bottom-line results?  You need make yourself indispensable. How? By only selecting campaigns and ideas that will lead to real behavior change.  Not campaigns that distract from your company or organizations core mission. It’s riskier, but the results are easier to measure. And if you are going to get fired anyway, why not?

While we all want to be likeable – we’re in PR for a reason — we still need to provide critical feedback to executives. We can no longer let hunches slip through the cracks. It’s not just the executives. You may be guilty of this too.

Cue the latest round of ambulance chasing. Just a few weeks ago, several top-tier companies tried to jump on #thedress hashtag including Zyrtec, Ram Trucks, Crest White Strips and countless others. These brands were looking to get a quick “zing” while everyone was buzzing about it. Something they could take back to their bosses and say “look at how much attention we got?” But where does that get you in one year, two years or even four years?

Did these brands spend hours thinking up the perfect tweet in hopes of getting more than a few hundred retweets? Probably – and they likely have little to any ROI to show for the time spent trying to insert their brands in that real-time opportunity. This type of quick win is sure to show a few good short-term metrics, but in a year if sales haven’t moved and perception hasn’t changed, the small win will never matter. No wonder why CMOs are the first on the chopping block.

When you start looking at your marketing and PR campaigns more critically, you might be less popular, but won’t be doomed to fail.

Guest contributor Adele Cehrs is CEO of Epic. If you’re looking for more examples, case studies and best practices check out her latest book on PR strategy: SPIKE Your Brand 

Adele Cehrs


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